While researchers have long known that people who have sex more often tend to be happier than those who engage in intercourse less frequently, the phenomenon appears to have very little to do with the actual act of making love itself, according to a study published earlier this week.
In fact, a team led by Dr. Anik Debrot of the University of Fribourg has found that the time that couples spent cuddling after making love and post-sex conversations, not the ecstasy of reaching climax, were what led to an increase in long-term happiness, said Medical Daily.
The research, which was published Wednesday in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, found that it was post-intercourse expressions of affection that led to an increase in both immediate and long-term happiness among couples that made love at least once a week, and that the positive effects of sex lasted for several hours after the act itself was finished.
“When engaging in sex, people not only seek an intimate connection, but indeed experience more affection, both when having sex and in the next several hours,” the study authors told the British Psychological Society’s Research Digest. “Hence sex seems not only beneficial because of its physiological or hedonic effects, but because it promotes a stronger and more positive connection with the partner.”
Affection, not biological participation in the act, most beneficial
As part of their research, Dr. Debrot’s team conducted a pair of surveys using different groups. The first involved 335 predominantly heterosexual participants who were currently involved in a romantic relationship and who were recruited online, while the second involved both members of 74 couples who were recruited in California’s San Francisco Bay region .
Each of the participants were asked how often they had sex, as well as the amount of affectionate touch (kissing, hugging, cuddling, etc.) they participated in, how often they typically experienced joy and other positive emotions, and how satisfied they were overall with their lives.
The surveys revealed a correlation with greater life satisfaction and experiencing more positive emotions, Research Digest reports, but once the amount of affection was accounted for, the link between sex and happiness mostly disappeared, leading them to believe that making love more often resulted in more happiness because it tended to promote affection between couples.
A follow-up “experience-sampling” study found similar results: having sex during the previous 24 hours was associated with experiencing more positive emotions during the morning, but this link was reduced significantly when affection over the previous 24 hours was accounted for. The findings again suggested that it was what happened after sex, not the intercourse itself, that was responsible for the positive emotions experienced by the participants.
“Although the media (and past research) tends to emphasize biological, physical or mechanical aspects of sex, our research shows the importance of the emotional or affectionate connection experienced with the partner in understanding why sexual activity is good for you,” study co-author Dr. Amy Muise wrote in a story for Science of Relationships. “Affection and the quality of the connection with a partner are a crucial part of the positive effects of sex in romantic relationships.”
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