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If couples have sex an average of twice a week, some are dragging down the average with chastity while others are pumping it up with daily shagging. In addition, the averages tell you nothing about quality, or causality, pointing to a chicken-and-egg problem: Does positive feeling lead to more and better sex, or does the influence go the other way?
As much as the general public is obsessed with sex and what constitutes enough of it, researchers, too, are actively exploring these areas. The upshot of their findings? But our obsession with quantity might get in the way of the things that really matter—how issues around affection, unhappiness, and communication can drive our desire for more sex. Understanding where our desire or lack thereof comes from is the first step toward a better sex life for everyone involved.
If you aspire to a more active sex life, you probably have a vision of something steamier, more intimate, or otherwise just better than the status quo. But how does that vision line up with the research?
A February studyfor example, surveyed more than young couples several times during their first 15 years of marriage. An April study by Brian Joseph Gillespie of Sonoma State University drove this point home, dividing participants into four groups: a group with high-frequency and high-satisfaction sex 35 percenthigh frequency and low satisfaction 10 percentlow frequency and high satisfaction 12 percentand low frequency and low satisfaction 44 percent.
Respondents with active and satisfying sex lives did exhibit certain patterns, though. They tended to be in sync with their partners in how lustful they were and what kinds of activities they wanted to do and had more variety in the bedroom—everything from going on romantic getaways and giving massages to using sex toys and talking about fantasies.
In the high frequency-high satisfaction group, people had similar attitudes toward sex as their partners: They agreed that sex should be prioritized, takes work and negotiation, and benefits from an atmosphere of love and affection. Such partners communicated well around sex, expressing their desires and needs.
We are able to be open about preferences and new things. We are able to say what makes us uncomfortable. Meanwhile, the high-frequency-low satisfaction group had sex often, but found it boring and routine, lacking in intimacy and romance.
It lacks variety. These couples had all been together for more than one year, offering a snapshot that may not reflect all stages of a relationship. It turns out that this question is difficult to answer, simply because few experiments actually ask participants to have sex more regularly and then report back. In one such studycouples actually doubled their lovemaking over three months but decreased in happiness and sexual enjoyment.
That same study also found no improvements in marital quality. Several other studies have echoed this finding, debunking the commonplace notion that frequent sex will make your marriage better. In a January studyresearchers followed over couples—mostly white, mids partners in Ohio and Tennessee—during the first five years of their marriage.
About every six months, the couples answered survey questions about their marital satisfaction, sexual satisfaction, and of times they had sex in the past half-year, so researchers could observe changes over time. According to their analysis, couples who had more sex tended to be more satisfied with the sex a half-year later.
Practice makes perfect? And another February study found that more frequent canoodlers only had happier marriages when they were also more satisfied with the sex. Another April study complicates this story a bit. Here, researchers followed 56 newlywed couples again, mostly white and mids over three years.
But deep down, couples might actually feel differently, given how primal sexual desire is and how adaptive it would be reproductively speaking to want lots of sex. At the beginning and end of the study period, the couples answered questions about their marriage and came into the lab for a computerized test.
The researchers flashed a photo of their partner on the screen before displaying words e. The photo essentially primes the brain for a certain response, so the faster participants were in identifying positive words and the slower for negative wordsthe more positive they implicitly felt about their partners.
Jeremy Adam Smith presents Greater Good sex tips for guys. Discover why altruists have more sex. Learn why sex can improve as we age. Read Barbara Fredrickson's tips for keeping an old love going. Explore how mindfulness might help treat sexual dysfunction. Learn how love grows in your body. All of these studies mainly focused on opposite-sex couples in committed partnerships, which leaves out quite a few people whose experiences might help shape the big picture, from singles to same-sex couples to those in polyamorous relationships.
To figure out how much sex is enough for you, the best you can do, perhaps, is combine the scattered research with a bit of self-awareness. First of all, do you actually want more sex?
Their busy schedules sometimes get in the way of more action, but overall the sexual encounters they manage to have are fulfilling. However, some members of this group did report that they are hesitant to initiate sex with their partners, who they fear are uninterested—which of course contributes to a less active sex life. Working on communication could allow such couples to have their high-quality sex more often.
In that January studywhere researchers followed up with newlyweds every half year, frequent sex seemed to be a consequence of certain factors: being very satisfied with your sex life or, counterintuitively, being in an unhappy marriage. Their interpretation? The trick is to understand which condition best describes you. The research above offers some tips for doing that.
Kira M. Newman is the managing editor of Greater Good. Follow her on Twitter! Become a subscribing member today. Get the science of a meaningful life delivered to your inbox. About the Author Follow. Newman Kira M. This article — and everything on this site — is funded by readers like you.
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