Uh oh: Having more sex could actually decrease happiness

Study finds that couples who increase frequency of sex aren't better off -- unless the boost happens organically

Published May 11, 2015 3:03PM (EDT)

            (<a href='http://www.istockphoto.com/profile/shironosov'>shironosov</a> via <a href='http://www.istockphoto.com/'>iStock</a>)
(shironosov via iStock)

More sex is not necessarily better sex. This might seem obvious. But a new study suggests that more sex is not necessarily better, period -- and it might actually lead to decreased happiness among couples who make a concerted effort to get in on more often.

According to findings from researchers at Carnegie Mellon University, couples who were asked to have double the amount of sex they had on a weekly basis were actually less satisfied than couples who maintained their weekly average over a three-month period, because the boost in frequency ultimately reduced participants' overall desire for and enjoyment of sex. The study drew from 64 heterosexual married couples aged 35 to 65, divided into two groups based on the frequency of sex they'd been instructed to have. Researchers found that the couples who did have more sex exhibited decreased happiness by the end of the study, having become sick of "doing it" for the sake of doing it -- or, rather, for the sake of the study.

"Perhaps couples changed the story they told themselves about why they were having sex, from an activity voluntarily engaged in to one that was part of a research study," George Loewenstein, the study's lead investigator and a professor of economics and psychology, said. "If we ran the study again, and could afford to do it, we would try to encourage subjects into initiating more sex in ways that put them in a sexy frame of mind, perhaps with baby-sitting, hotel rooms or Egyptian sheets, rather than directing them to do so."

Still, despite finding that it might be detrimental to up the frequency of intercourse just 'cause, Loewenstein and his co-authors have maintained that most couples engage in too little physical intimacy for their own good -- so they should still try to increase the amount of sex they have anyway. If there's one thing the research does show, study designer Tamar Krishnamurti argued, it's that frequency itself doesn't make or break happiness. It has more to do with how couples foster desire.

"The desire to have sex decreases much more quickly than the enjoyment of sex once it's been initiated," Krishnamurti said. "Instead of focusing on increasing sexual frequency to the levels they experienced at the beginning of a relationship, couples may want to work on creating an environment that sparks their desire and makes the sex that they do have even more fun."

By Jenny Kutner

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Carnegie Mellon University Happiness Love And Sex Marriage Relationships Sex Sexual Satisfaction Study