THURSDAY, April 18 (HealthDay News) -- A hefty chunk of your
happiness may depend on whether you believe you're having as much
sex as your peers are, new research suggests.
The findings raise the possibility that conversations with
friends about sex -- plus reading all those sexual surveys in
popular magazines -- create a perception about how much sex you
should be having. If you have more, the study's theory goes, you
are more likely to be happier. If you have less, the reverse holds
However, the researcher pointed out that perceptions about sex
vary, and so do reactions to it. "Obviously, we're dealing with
statistical averages here," said study author Tim Wadsworth, an
associate professor of sociology at the University of Colorado at
Boulder. "I'm sure there are lots of people who aren't having any
sex, and are leading incredibly happy lives."
And it's possible, although Wadsworth discounts the idea, that
some other factor better explains the differences in happiness that
seem to be linked to perceptions of keeping up with everyone else
in the bedroom.
The study doesn't closely track people over a period of time,
nor is it based on extensive personal details about their lives.
Instead, it relies entirely on surveys of English-speaking adults
in the United States from 1993 to 2006. The responses of more than
15,000 people were studied.
At issue: Do people's perceptions of their happiness as judged
by survey responses (happy, pretty happy, not too happy) differ,
depending on whether they're having as much sex as people similar
to them do?
Wadsworth said he decided to study the question because previous
research has indicated that getting richer doesn't contribute as
much to happiness as people might think. Instead, as people get
wealthier, they simply compare themselves to a wealthier group of
peers and may still feel like they don't measure up.
The study found that the same thing happens with sex. The more
sex people have, the happier they are. And if they think they're
having more sex than people in their peer group are having -- even
if they don't actually know how much sex their friends and
colleagues are having -- their happiness goes up even more.
The study design relies on a complicated statistical analysis
and doesn't allow the amount of differences in happiness to be
expressed in simple terms. But the findings told the story: People
who were having sex at least once a week were 44 percent more
likely to report a higher level of happiness than those who had not
had sex for a year. However, people who were having sex two to
three times a month but believed their peers were doing it once a
week were 14 percent less likely to report a higher level of
Is it possible that happy people just have more sex than their
peers? That the happiness comes first and then (not surprisingly)
more sex? Wadsworth believes his study debunks that
And how would you even know how much sex your peers are having,
to develop more or less happiness by comparing yourself to them?
Wadsworth said conversations about sex (especially among women) and
certain magazines like
Andrew Oswald, a professor of economics at the University of
Warwick in the United Kingdom who studies happiness, called the
study interesting. "We know that humans care deeply about things
like their relative income and relative body weight. Apparently
those concerns extend to the bedroom as well," he said. "You just
can't take the human out of humans."
However, he cautioned, "in all statistical studies of this kind,
it is difficult to reach the standards of causal proof that would
be produced by proper randomized controlled trials. I imagine that
one day investigators will try to run such experiments, even in the
sensitive area of sexual behavior and human happiness, and it will
be sensible for society to think through the ethical requirements
for such research."
What to do with the findings?
"We tend to compare ourselves to people who are more successful than we are," Wadsworth said. "They tend to have a drain on people's sense of well-being. If we're aware of that process, it gives us some control over the emotional content of our lives."
The study appeared recently in the journal
Social Indicators Research.
For more about
sexual health, try the U.S. National Library of Medicine.
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