Although couples who have frequent sex don’t report greater relationship satisfaction, research examining automatic brain responses tells a different story.
Does a Robust Sex Life Make You Subconsciously Happier?
A new study published in the journal Psychological Science suggests that making plenty of love creates more happiness in a relationship, without the couple even realizing it. For the study, 216 newly-married couples answered questionnaires about their sex lives and rated various aspects of their relationship. Then they completed a task on a computer in which a picture of their partner would flash quickly on the screen for 300 milliseconds, followed by a word appearing on the screen. Subjects were instructed to indicate whether the word was positive or negative.
Just as in many studies done before, no association was found between frequent sex and self-reported relationship satisfaction. However, the researchers believe that when participants responded more slowly to a negative word than to a positive one after seeing their loved one’s image, it signified a positive attitude toward the partner. With this in mind, they found that couples who report having sex more frequently are also more likely to respond slowly to negative words during the computer task, implying greater relationship satisfaction on some deeper psychological level. These findings held true for both men and women.
The Many Reasons to Have Frequent Sex
Sex brings couples closer together in two distinct ways. One way is that sex bonds people together simply because it’s a fun shared activity, much like any other. Through sex, you can get to know your partner better and vice-versa. Working as a team toward mutual pleasure can strengthen your ability to work as a team in other areas of your relationship. Another way sex can increase intimacy is that orgasm releases hormones such as oxytocin that cause you to feel more attached to your partner.
Aside from improving your relationship, frequent sex has many other benefits. Frequent sex has been found to have numerous positive health effects, including improving your immune function and reducing your risk of depression, prostate cancer, heart disease and stroke. Having sex can even improve your memory and help keep your period regular.
The biggest reason to have frequent sex is that it simply sparks joy in our lives. One paper estimates that increasing sexual frequency from once a month to once a week increases life satisfaction by the same amount as if your salary increased.
Sex Is Just One Important Aspect of a Great Relationship
What happens between the sheets is not the only aspect of sex that can improve relationship satisfaction. What happens afterward matters a lot, too. A study involving a survey of 335 people, as well as a survey of 101 couples, found that affectionate behavior after sex, such as kissing, cuddling, and “pillow talk,” improves relationship and sex life satisfaction. Researchers note that affectionate post-sex behavior has this effect regardless of the actual frequency of intercourse.
Outside of the bedroom, there are many other factors determining how happy you are in your relationship. A study from Florida state discovered that people who had “angry but honest” conversations with their partner early in the relationship were happier in the long run than those who had never experienced such conflict. This suggests that even communication that feels disagreeable at the time is better for a relationship than no communication. Researchers at Brigham Young University found that people who argue with, make decisions with, or apologize to their partner over text message rather than in person tended to be less satisfied with their relationship. So, the type of communication matters. Communicating in-person and with complete honesty strengthens romantic bonds.
People who view their romantic relationship as an equal partnership are happier. A study done at UCLA found that couples who share household chores equally are happier in their relationship than couples in which the burden of housework falls mostly on one partner. Viewing your responsibilities and your partner’s responsibilities as one and the same is helpful, as is viewing your happiness as their happiness. A study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology discovered that people who celebrated their partner’s achievements as they would their own were happier than those who were indifferent toward their partner’s achievements.
The quality of your relationship is in your hands. The steps you can take are quite simple: Share affection, communicate effectively, tackle life as a team, and prioritize making time to have sex.