We associate good relationships with sexuality, assuming quite naturally that happy couples have sex more often than their miserable counterparts. But have you ever considered just what it is about sex that makes it so beneficial to a couple’s relationship? A new and well-conducted investigation by Anik Debrot and colleagues (2017) points to the surprising role not of the sex itself, but of the affection that accompanies sexuality between partners. Over a series of four separate studies, Debrot and her fellow researchers were able to pinpoint the way that everyday kissing, hugging, and touch between partners contributes uniquely to relationship satisfaction and overall well-being.
Let’s break this sex-happiness equation down for a moment before looking at the details of the study: Debrot et al. began with the well-established finding that individuals experience higher levels of well-being when they have an active and satisfying sex life. As they noted, the results of previous research demonstrated that “the size of the difference in well-being for people having sex once a week, compared with those having sex less than once a month, was greater than the size of the difference in well-being for those making US$75,000 compared with US$25,000 a year” (p. 287).
Is it the sex itself, or something about sexual activity that is so good for our happiness? You might argue that people who are happier are more likely to have sex more often because they’re in a good relationship and are satisfied with it. The good sex, then, would simply follow the good relationship dynamics. It’s also possible that people who are more positive in general are more likely to get involved in a close relationship which, in turn, benefits their well-being. Such a cyclical process would imply that the happy just get happier.