How Much Sex Makes You Happy?

Surprisingly, having sex once a week seems to be all you need.

Photo illustration by The Daily Beast

Happy people have more sex. Or is it that people who have sex are happier? It’s hard to say for sure, but according to a study published Wednesday in the journal of Psychological and Personality Science, there’s definitely a sweet spot when it comes to sexual frequency and happiness. Surprisingly it seems to be about once per week.

Researchers from the University of Toronto Mississauga looked at data from the U.S. General Social Survey (GSS), which since 1972 has collected data on more than 25,000 Americans between the ages of 18 and 89. In this study, the researchers analyzed marital/relationship status, sexual frequency over the past 12 months (0 = not at all, 1 = once or twice, 2 = once a month, 3 = 2–3 times a month, 4 = weekly, 5 = 2–3 times per week, and 6 = 4 or more times per week), and happiness (1 = not too happy, 2 = pretty happy, and 3 = very happy).

This analysis identified that for people in relationships, there’s a positive trend between happiness and sexual frequency, but only up to a point. From the paper “there was a significant linear relationship between sexual frequency and well-being for people having sex once a week or less… and no association for people having sex more than once a week.”

These trends were found to be consistent across both men and women, and across all age groups. One factor that did matter significantly was whether people were in relationships. For people identifying as “not in a relationship,” there was no observed trend between sexual frequency and happiness.

Later parts of the study used a statistical technique called “reverse mediation analyses” with two other data sets, specifically 335 people from Amazon’s Mechanical Turk and 2,400 couples from the National Survey of Families and Households (NSFH). The trends from the GSS data were observed here as well, but the researchers this statistical technique revealed across these other two datasets, “relationship satisfaction mediates the link between satisfaction with life and sexual frequency.”

Wanting to quantify the amount of happiness gained from more frequent sex in “more practical terms,” the researchers compared it against happiness gained from income. People who had sex less than once a month were less happy than those having sex once a week, and so were people who made $15,000-$25,000 a year versus $50,000-$75,000, though the difference was greater with respect to sex.

The researchers propose that once-per-week sex tends to be the average because engaging in sex more frequently is no longer associated with well-being. The researchers press the importance that this was an observational study, so causal claims of whether happiness causes sex or sex causes happiness can’t be made. In fact, the researchers found evidence for both.

Previous studies have reported that couples did not report greater well-being when they were instructed to double their sexual frequency, but the results of this particular paper suggest that this is because the couples in these studies were already having sex about once a week. Because of this, the researchers propose that “an interesting avenue for future research would be to test whether increasing sexual frequency benefits couples who are having sex less frequently than once a week.”

This paper goes a long way in terms of dispelling the notion that more sex will always lead to more happiness, for both genders. For people in relationship “sexual frequency is no longer significantly associated with well-being at a frequency greater than once a week.”

To conclude, the researchers offer a humble suggestion: “More is not always better. Instead, sex may be like money—only too little is bad.”