n today’s article, I briefly describe the main findings stemming from two studies that have tackled the sex-happiness link using large datasets (without getting into all of the methodological and statistical details). Prior to doing so, I delve into a short discussion of social comparisons.
Notwithstanding the supposed egalitarian ethos of some hunter-gatherer societies, humans are a hierarchical social species. We care greatly about where we stand in comparison to some relevant reference group. In 2001, I published a paper with Tripat Gill wherein we examined people’s preference between the following two options: 1) you and your colleague each receive a $500 salary increase; 2) you and your colleague receive $600 and $800 salary increases respectively (see my earlier Psychology Today article on this study here). Perhaps not surprisingly, many people (and especially women) preferred the “equal” option even if it meant receiving less money. This positional concern is central to the proverbial “Keeping Up With the Joneses,” a topic that I tackle in my books The Evolutionary Bases of Consumption, and The Consuming Instinct: What Juicy Burgers, Ferraris, Pornography, and Gift Giving Reveal About Human Nature. What does all this have to do with the sex-happiness link?
In 2004, in a paper published in the Scandinavian Journal of Economics, David G. Blanchflower and Andrew J. Oswald demonstrated that sex frequency is an important contributor to people’s happiness. I suppose that it is not surprising that a foundational evolutionary drive that is supremely pleasurable will engender happiness to those who engage in the act frequently. Now comes the surprising part. In a paper published earlier this year in Social Indicators Research, Tim Wadsworth showed that more sex does lead to greater happiness (replicating the earlier finding) BUT what also matters to one’s happiness is the amount of sex that relevant others are having. More sex for others implies lesser happiness for me! Again, this demonstrates that we are particularly sensitive to positional concerns. When others get into all sorts of positions, it places me in a position of unhappiness! ☺ Envy is a deadly sin after all (see my earlier Psychology Today articles on sex differences in the triggers of envy, and sex differences in the proclivity to succumb to the seven deadly sins). The classic restaurant scene from When Harry Met Sally is somewhat relevant to the current discussion: An orgasmic lady (even if faking it) triggers envious longing from another woman.
Bottom line: Have lots of sex and hang out with people who don’t have as much of it as you do. There is your prescription for happiness!