People have this unfortunate tendency to constantly compare themselves with others. And it turns out we're not just jealous of our friends' looks and salaries — we want to have more sex than they're having, despite the fact that more doesn't always mean better.
A new study from the University of Colorado, Boulder found that whether you're happy with your sex life has to do less with how much (or how little) sex you're having, and more with how much (or how little) sex you're having relative to your friends. Or rather, relative to what your friends are telling you, because those are very different things.
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The study's lead researcher, Professor Tim Wadsworth, said: "There's an overall increase in sense of well-being that comes with engaging in sex more frequently. But there's also this relative aspect to it. Having more sex makes us happy, but thinking we are having more sex than other people makes us even happier."
Wadsworth analyzed answers by 15,386 people surveyed between 1993 and 2006 about their lives and levels of happiness, controlling for factors like income, education, heath and marital status. He found that those who had sex at least two to three times a month were 33 percent more likely to report a higher level of happiness than those who hadn't had sex for a year. And that happiness seems to escalate the more frequently people get between the sheets: Those who had sex once a week were 44 percent more likely to report higher levels of happiness than the poor saps who hadn't done it for a year. Two to three times a week? Fifty-five percent more likely.
All's well and good until it comes to keeping up with the Joneses: If someone is having sex two to three times a month but thinks their friends are getting it on weekly, their probability of reporting a higher level of happiness falls by about 14 percent, said Wadsworth.
This begs the question: How do we really know how much sex our peers are having? Have you ever embellished details about yourself to impress your friends? Yes, yes you have. So this just becomes a nuclear arms race of sex until nobody is happy. Besides, do people really sit around and talk about numbers like that? When was the last time a good friend of yours asked you "How often?" rather than "Are you happy?" or "Is it normal if he wants to do such and such?"
Which leads me to conclude: People aren't trying to have as much sex as their friends. They're trying to have as much sex as what they imagine the (fictional) "normal person" is having. Everyone is measuring their normality based on the perceived actions of others, when they should be measuring it based on their own happiness.
According to The Telegraph, "Prof. Wadsworth speculates that people refer to magazine sex surveys and draw on television and film portrayals." Sounds plausible to me.
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Do you compare your sex life to that of your friends?
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