Dr. Suzanne B. Phillips

Licensed Psychologist, Psychoanalyst, Diplomate in Group Psychology, Certified Group Therapist, Author, Radio Host and Media Consultant Covering a Wide Range of Psychological Topics

Post: Sex, Statistics, Happiness and Your Marriage

couple walking

  • Does sex influence your happiness?
  • Do you consider sexual satisfaction in terms of sexual frequency?
  • Would comparing your sexual frequency with others affect your happiness?

An extensive study by Tim Wadsworth, including 27,500 men and women aged 40-80years in 29 countries and using the Global Study of Sexual Attitudes and Behaviors, found a relationship between frequency of sexual behavior and happiness. The more sexual frequency—the more reported happiness.

While this study confirmed the findings of earlier large sample studies with regard to the correlation of frequency of sexual activity and happiness, Wadsworth’s study added another dimension. He found that when respondents compared their frequency to the sexual frequency of others, their happiness decreased or increased depending on whether their frequency was lower or higher than others in their reference group!

What Does this Imply?

If we consider statistics as starting points for thinking, than these findings invite self–reflection and mutual consideration of sexual satisfaction and social comparison for ourselves and with our partners.

The Frequency Factor

There clearly is evidence that when we control for age, physical health, gender, educational levels etc. sexual activity is associated with well being and happiness.

But is the happiness from sexual activity only a function of frequency?

Yes and No. When you work with couples and look at the findings from other couple studies it seems that active ongoing sexual connection does matter; but, it is more complicated than just numbers.

  • It is valuable for you and your partner to know that many studies suggest that sexual satisfaction is a complex and multifaceted construct.  Notwithstanding what else is happening in your life that makes sexual intimacy more or less likely, multiple aspects of sexual behaviors such as frequency, types of behaviors and expectations all affect one’s sexual satisfaction and your satisfaction as a couple.
    • It is particularly important for heterosexual partners to recognize that there are gender differences that very much color issues of frequency, triggers of arousal and even behavior after sexual connection. Men take their cues from their bodies—something that affects frequency. There is an automatic connection for men in thinking about sex, in visual cues and in sexual arousal. For women, sexual arousal is a function of connection, trust, tenderness and feeling desired.
    • Allan and Barbara Pease in their sensitive and funny book, Why Men Don’t Listen and Women Can’t Drive push the gender differences into our awareness.  With respect to sexual issues, they invite couples to consider that the man becomes tender, caring and romantic after being sexual—the woman needs tenderness, caring and romance to feel sexual.
    • This would be a problem were it not for our brains. The authors invite men to remember their tender caring self out of the bedroom as a way into the bedroom. They invite woman to remember their partner’s tender self and their own sexual self out of the bedroom as a way to connect with their partner inside the bedroom.

The Social Comparison Factor

Wadsworth’s finding that happiness from sexual activity was relative to the comparison of frequency rates of others, is perhaps not that surprising. As humans, from our earliest days, we define ourself in terms of others. It is perhaps understandable that we want to match the norm or surpass it.

Because most couples don’t really know how others are doing in the bedroom, (men don’t talk and women don’t talk that specifically) people often want to know – Is this normal? Is she/he right? Is something wrong with me?  As such, there may be some merit in an individual or couple reading and comparing their relationship with the results of an online survey, an article in a popular journal or a self-help book to normalize, validate or inform them.

If statistics become a starting point for an intimate discussion about sexual life together, encourages more initiation on both parts, validates the sentiments of a partner who wants more intimacy or another who feels obliged to give in–rather than a cause for judgment or reduced happiness—then statistics that invite comparison with others will serve them well.

Can Happiness be Absolute?

If comparison with others becomes a starting point for an endless attempt to be and have more than others, be it in income, sexual frequency or cars, than the quest for happiness will be a difficult one.

In his extensive study, Wadsworth gives us a great deal to consider.

The question and answer that we might take away is whether, when all is read and said, the sexual relationship we share brings us mutual and absolute happiness–regardless of what the rest of the world is doing!