While scientists have known for years that more sex is associated with more happiness, no one knew why.
Now a new study suggests that it’s the affection we show to one another — the cuddling — during the act that leads to greater bliss, according to the report published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.
There's so much focus on the mechanical or physical aspects of sexuality, but the quality of the bond is important, too, said the study’s lead author, Anik Debrot, research and teaching fellow at the Cognition and Affect Regulation Laboratory at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland.
“People feel more positive emotions after having sex, and this is the case because they feel more affection from and for their partner when they have sex,” Debrot told TODAY.
Debrot and her colleagues ran four experiments to see if they could determine what it was about sex that contributed to a person’s feelings of well-being. In the first, the researchers questioned 335 men and women about their sexual frequency, their affectionate touch (cuddling, kissing, hugging) frequency and their satisfaction with life. While the data did show that people who had more sex tended to be more satisfied overall, when the researchers factored in affectionate touch, the sex-effect was greatly diminished.
In another experiment, the researchers asked 106 couples to keep diaries for ten days. The couples tracked:
- when they had sex
- when affection was shown
- what their mood was like
Once a week is enough
The positive relationship buzz was long lasting, Debrot said. “People that felt more positive emotions, like joy and optimism, after having sex with their partner showed more relationship satisfaction after a 6- month period. This shows that what is good for you is good for your relationship.”
So, is there a perfect frequency to have sex?
“A previous study, showed that people report more well-being the more they have sex, up to once a week,” Debrot said. “If they have sex more often, they do not report less well-being, but neither does it increase their well-being compared to once a week.”
One question the researchers couldn’t address was whether people could have less sex, but more affection and be just as happy.
“We want to test this hypothesis in a future study,” Debrot said. “A life period where sexual frequency, and relationship satisfaction, tend to decline is the postpartum period. We want to test whether the couples who maintain high levels of physical affection are protected from those declines after the birth of their child.”
Dr. Lauren Streicher isn’t quite ready to accept that affection accounts for most of the happy buzz we get from sex. What they found was an association, said Streicher, an associate professor of clinical obstetrics and gynecology at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine and medical director of Northwestern’s Medical Center for Sexual Medicine and Menopause.
There are studies showing that if you have more sex, you live longer, Streicher said. “But it’s also true that if you are healthier you will have more sex,” she added.