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More sex may not always make you happier, according to new research published by the Society for Personality and Social Psychology.
“Although more frequent sex is associated with greater happiness, this link was no longer significant at a frequency of more than once a week,” lead researcher Amy Muise said. “Our findings suggest that it’s important to maintain an intimate connection with your partner, but you don’t need to have sex every day as long as you’re maintaining that connection.”
Some previous studies, and a plethora of articles and self-help books, have claimed that more sex equals more happiness. But this study, based on surveys of more than 30,000 Americans collected over four decades, is the first to find that association is not there after couples report having sex more than once a week on average.
The study was not designed to identify the causal process, so does not tell us whether having sex up to once a week makes couples happier, or whether being in a happy relationship causes people to have more frequent sex (up to once a week). In addition, these findings were specific to people in romantic relationships and in fact, there was no association between sexual frequency and well-being for single people, said Muise, a social psychologist and postdoctoral fellow at the University of Toronto-Mississauga.
It’s possible that for single people, the link between sex and happiness is dependent on a number of factors such as the relationship context in which the sex occurs and how comfortable people are with sex outside of a relationship. The findings, which were published online in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science, are most representative of married heterosexual couples or those in established relationships.
In one study, researchers analyzed survey responses about sexual frequency and general happiness from more than 25,000 Americans (11,285 men, 14,225 women) who took the General Social Survey from 1989 to 2012. The biennial survey, conducted by the University of Chicago, has a nationally representative sample and covers a wide range of sociological issues, including opinions about race relations, religion, and sex. For couples, happiness tended to increase with more frequent sex, but this is no longer true after couples report engaging in sex more than once a week. This study and other previous studies report that established couples tend to have sex about once a week on average.
Despite common stereotypes that men want more sex and older people have less sex, there was no difference in the findings based on gender, age, or length of a relationship. “Our findings were consistent for men and women, younger and older people, and couples who had been married for a few years or decades,” Muise said.
Sex may be more strongly associated with happiness than money. The researchers also conducted an online survey with 335 people (138 men, 197 women) who were in long-term relationships and found similar results as the first study. These participants were also asked about their annual income, and there was a larger difference in happiness between people who had sex less than once a month compared to people who had sex once a week than between people who had an income of $15,000-$25,000 compared to people who had an income of $50,000-$75,000 per year.
“People often think that more money and more sex equal more happiness, but this is only true up to a point,” Muise said.
A third study analyzed survey results collected at three-time points over 14 years from more than 2,400 married couples in the United States. There wasn’t a strong link between sexual frequency and overall life satisfaction, but couples reported more satisfaction with their relationships as sexual frequency increased up to once per week, with no noticeable benefits of engaging in sex more often.
The study findings don’t necessarily mean that couples should engage in more or less sex to reach the weekly average, but partners should discuss whether their sexual needs are being met, Muise said.
“It’s important to maintain an intimate connection with your partner without putting too much pressure on engaging in sex as frequently as possible,” she said.
Schoenfeld, E. A., Loving, T. J., Pope, M. T., Huston, T. L., & Štulhofer, A. (2017). Does sex really matter? Examining the connections between spouses’ nonsexual behaviors, sexual frequency, sexual satisfaction, and marital satisfaction. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 46(2), 489-501.
Villines, Z. (2022). What a dead bedroom is and how to address it. Medical News Today
A “dead bedroom” means that sexual partners rarely or never have sex. It is an informal term, not a diagnosis. Sexual health professionals tend not to use it, as it can add shame or stigma to the situation.
The word “dead” can imply that a relationship has lost its vitality or spark. In reality, though, sexual intimacy can decline for many reasons. It does not necessarily mean that partners no longer care for each other or find each other attractive. In addition, the causes can change over time.
If all partners want to, they can work together to understand what is contributing to them having less sex.
In this article, we discuss what a dead bedroom is, what can contribute to sexual difficulties in relationships, and how people can start to address it.
The term means that sexual partners are having sex infrequently or not at all. It is not a medical term. There is no formal definition and no time frame that experts use to identify a sexless relationship.
How often people have sex varies considerably, as does a “normal” frequency. For some people, sex every week or month might feel infrequent, while others may go many months or years before they feel this way.
A person may consider their relationship to be sexless if the frequency of sex significantly reduces or stops. This is fairly common, particularly in long-term relationships.
A 2017 study by Trusted Source of people aged 18–89 found that 15.2% of males and 26.7% of females reported not having had sex in the previous year.
If all partners are content with having no or infrequent sex, it is not a problem. Having less frequent sex does not necessarily mean that the relationship is over or that the people in it are unhappy. In fact, in the 2017 study Trusted Source, people who did not have sex reported similar levels of happiness as those who did have sex.
Whether the amount of sex is a problem depends entirely on each partner’s perspective and how important sex is to them.
If one partner wants sex more often than another or thinks that their partner’s level of interest has reduced, they may feel:
- abandoned or lonely
- less desirable
Their partner may feel guilty, anxious, and down. If more than one partner is frustrated by the amount of sex, they may have a mixture of these emotions.
It is possible to increase intimacy and sex in relationships, but it requires several things.
First, all partners have to want more sex. If a person does not want this, they have no obligation to do it. No one owes anyone sex, even if they are married or in a long-term relationship.
Second, all partners need to be willing to work cooperatively, with compassion and love. It is understandable that a person might feel hurt by a lack of sexual interest from a partner, but blaming or resenting them will not make things easier. A person can vent or work through these feelings separately, with a therapist, for example.
Finally, all partners must be willing to explore the underlying causes of a decline in sexual desire or activity. Depending on the specific causes, this process may be difficult. It may mean that a person has to revisit past experiences, challenge their beliefs, learn new skills, or take responsibility for unhelpful behavior.
Partners may want to work with each other, as well as with healthcare professionals, to identify the causes of a lack of intimacy. This may involve speaking with a:
- couples counselor
- sex educator
Many factors can contribute to low levels of sexual intimacy in relationships. They may be related to:
- desire, or how much a person wants to have sex
- arousal, or the body’s physical response to stimulation
- opportunities for sex
Although desire and arousal are connected, they do not always match up.
For example, a person might want to have sex but have a physical problem that prevents arousal. Similarly, a person’s body might respond to pleasurable sensations, but their mind might be too preoccupied to feel desire.
A lack of opportunity can stem from not having enough space, time, knowledge, or access to sexual healthcare to make enjoyable or safe sex possible.
Below are some factors that may be playing a role.
Stress can reduce the desire to have sex. Some people temporarily lose interest in sex during highly stressful times, while others may experience chronic stress that causes longer-lasting changes.
A person may feel stressed for many reasons. Both personal and systemic problems can be stressors.
For example, a 2018 study found that financial worries are associated with less frequent sex in men and women. But for men, earning under 20%Trusted Source of the household’s income was strongly associated with short-term sexlessness.
This suggests that the pressure of traditional gender roles influences sexual frequency, perhaps because not fulfilling these roles causes stress.
Many people have sex at bedtime. But for someone who is very tired, the need to sleep may outweigh sexual desire. Low energy levels can stem from:
- household duties
- exercise, such as intensive training
People may be more interested in having sex when they feel contented. In a 2019 study of women aged 40–73, life satisfaction was a predictor of healthy sexual function. Other important predictors included:
- emotional support from others
Data from the 2017 Trusted Source also suggest that financial and job satisfaction correlates with more frequent sex among heterosexual adults.
Sexual stigma and shame
Sexual stigma is prevalent in many cultures and communities throughout the world. It can lead to shame or embarrassment about wanting sex, pursuing sex, learning what feels good, and speaking openly with a partner.
In the 2017 surveyTrusted Source of American adults, having conservative attitudes about sex correlated with less frequent sex, suggesting a link between the two.
Problems in a relationship that are not directly related to sex can ultimately affect desire, arousal, and whether partners make time for sex. There may be current or past difficulties with:
Even if a current relationship is a happy one, a person’s past experiences may make them reluctant to open up with their current partner.
Even when partners are satisfied with their relationship, they may not enjoy certain aspects of their sexual encounters. This may result in less desire and less frequent sex.
A 2020 study of young heterosexual couples found that communication about sex was very important for sexual satisfaction and frequency. Communication also correlated with overall relationship satisfaction.
Sexual pleasure is highly subjective, so getting to know what a person enjoys is vital for satisfying sex.
Many mental health conditions and symptoms can affect sexual interest or arousal. Some examples include:
- past trauma
- negative body image
- low self-esteem
Physical health conditions
A number of physical health issues can affect sexual desire or arousal. They include:
- Hormonal changes: Changes in sex hormone levels can affect sexual desire and arousal. In every one, these hormone levels naturally fluctuate over time. Sleep, stress, substance use, and many other factors can also influence them.
- Sexual health conditions: These can make sex more difficult or lead to embarrassment. Some examples include sexually transmitted infections, vaginismus, and premature or delayed ejaculation.
- Chronic illnesses: Many medical conditions can affect the ability to experience desire or arousal. For example, high blood pressure correlates with Trusted Source an increased risk of erectile dysfunction. Heart disease, thyroid disease, diabetes, nerve damage, chronic pain, energy-limiting illnesses, and many others can also play a role.
- Medication side effects: Certain medications, such as antidepressants and hormonal birth control, can affect sexual desire and arousal.
Physical health conditions can also affect mental health, potentially impacting a person’s self-esteem and body image.
Set aside time to talk, and try these approaches for a productive conversation:
- Choose the right time: Aim for a moment when no one is distracted and when there is no significant conflict. Do not raise the issue during a fight.
- Avoid judgment and blame: Approach the conversation with compassion and curiosity about what the other person thinks. Ask the person if they have noticed a decrease in sex and how they feel about it.
- Listen: Give them time to talk freely. When they have said how they feel, ask questions to better understand, and express this understanding. For example, “I did not realize that work was getting to you this much, that sounds stressful.”
- Focus on what is good about sex: Speaking about sex in positive terms, rather than focusing on what is wrong, can make the conversation easier. For example, instead of saying, “You never want to have sex anymore,” try, “I love you and want to feel close to you again.”
- Offer strategies: If it seems appropriate, volunteer to make changes to help. For example, if a medical condition may be playing a role, suggest making an appointment with a doctor. If a partner struggles with exhaustion from childcare, consider taking on more responsibilities or getting extra help.
- Consult a professional: If people are finding it hard to talk about sex or hard to do so productively, visiting a therapist or couples counselor may help. They can mediate the discussion and give insights about what may be causing difficulties.
The term “dead bedroom” refers to sexual partners having little or no sex. Not everyone finds this distressing, and it does not always signal a problem. However, if the amount of sex is not OK with all partners, it can cause dissatisfaction.
Many factors influence sexual desire and arousal and people’s access to safe, enjoyable sex. Stress, relationship problems, mental health conditions, and physical health conditions can play a role. Because so many factors can contribute to the amount of sex that people have, it can help to work with a professional to identify and address the causes.
For people who want to change their sex life, a consultation with a sex therapist or couples counselor may help begin the process.
Age, Birth Cohort, Monotony, and Sex Frequency Among U.S. Adults in the NORC General Social Surveys 1989-2000