Quality, Not Quantity, Matters When It Comes To Sex (Says Science)

man kissing woman's forehead

In a study, couples told to "have more sex" had a decrease in their level of happiness.

A recent research study looked at the sexual frequency and degree of happiness between married, heterosexual couples. The researchers assigned couples to one of two possible groups, one of which the researchers instructed to increase their sexual frequency. The surprising outcome showed that there was a slight decrease in happiness in the "more sex" group. These couples also reported lower libido and a decrease in sexual enjoyment. These results seem to run counter to much of the self-help literature and professional advice about sexual frequency. Here are some potential explanations as to why researchers discovered these results.

Sex Is An Emotional Experience Between Two People

Sex arises from two people who are emotionally connected and truly enjoy each other. Sex in the relationship may happen spontaneously or with some planning. Personal motivation and attunement with your partner drives this. Being told to have sex may have been countervailing as pairing sex with a directive (to have more of it) offset the feeling of happiness.

Couples Had Sex For A Particular Purpose

Sex became an activity for participation in a research study. The researchers most likely hypothesized that increased frequency would increase happiness. Not the opposite! We know that sex for infertility causes similar problems. It becomes intercourse for a particular purpose other than fun, enjoyment or physical intimacy with your partner. However, increasing sexual frequency in the right ways can be beneficial.

Another study with a similar outcome reports that there are two reasons why people have sex with their spouses. In basic terms, either there is an "approach goal," such as wanting to be close, feel good and enhance intimacy. Alternatively, there is an "avoidance goal," such as not disappointing your partner. Those who more frequently chose avoidance reasons reported they were less satisfied with their relationships. This is another example that having sex for the "right reasons" is critical. 

The Frequency Affects Sexual Desire

When you have sex with the same person over many years, the level of sexual desire can be affected. Women in particular report problems around desire and often do not feel desire until after the initiation of sex. Women's sex drive is more complicated than men's, and they require more effort from their partner in order to be "turned on." Women are also much more likely to need an emotional connection with a man to have sex with him. This does not hold true for men.

The Takeaway

Essentially, it may be a better idea to focus less on quantity and more on creating an environment that sparks desire or making sex more fun. The couples with the most satisfying sex lives view the physical intimacy as a natural extension of the emotional intimacy. 
It is not as easy as it sounds to create emotional intimacy. It requires more than just expressing oneself openly and talking about feelings. It is essential to realize that fear and vulnerability can be barriers to emotional intimacy. The deeper emotions, along with your needs for nurturing must be expressed to your partner. You must also allow your partner in to nurture you and respond to those needs. Having many of these deeper conversations over time will increase your emotional and physical connection naturally.

Marni Feuerman, LCSW, LMFT is a Licensed Psychotherapist in private practice. She specializes in treating couples and is the marriage expert for About.com. For more information about her, go to www.TheTalkingSolution.com.