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More sex, better relationship?

By Sarah Moses Saturday, May 28, 2016 - 01:00
Does more sex make for a better relationship? Researchers asked newlyweds to go with their gut feelings when it came to the impact of regular sex on their lives together.

It makes sense that couples who have regular sex feel good together. The theory of evolution can help explain why, say researchers. People have evolved to enjoy getting it on often because the more intercourse they have the greater their chance of having kids and passing on their genes to the next generation. One of the things that makes regular sex enjoyable is the intimacy, which has a positive effect on how happy you feel together.

Lots of sex means happy?

So surely… if you have lots of sex with your partner, it probably means you’re in a pretty happy relationship, doesn’t it? Well, not necessarily. When in the past researchers have asked lovebirds if more sex makes for a better relationship, the results have not always been clear. Though basically, it always looks like having lots of sex doesn’t necessarily make you a happy couple.

But how do you find out if a couple is happy? After all, if someone asks you straight out if you have a happy marriage, and you think about it for a moment before you reply, how reliable is your answer? Is it the same as the instinctive gut reaction about the way you feel with your partner?  Past research just asked people directly about their feelings, and that might help explain why the findings have been confusing, the researchers of a recent US study reasoned.

Instincts revealed

So the researchers thought up a way to measure people’s instinctive responses to their partners. True feelings, straight from the gut, exposed.

In two studies, a newlywed couple told the researchers how often they had sex. Next, they filled in questionnaires which asked directly how satisfied they were in their relationships.

 

And then came the part of the experiment which unveiled the subconscious secrets about the participants’ feelings for their partners. They were shown pictures of their significant other quickly on a screen. Then the picture was followed by a word, and the participants had to press a button to say whether it was positive or negative. How fast they responded to these words would give the researchers an idea of their gut reaction about their partners. If they hit the button faster for positive words than for negative words, it would suggest they felt more positive about their spouse.

More sex matters

And the result? Well, when the researchers looked to see if there was a link between having more sex and simply saying you’re satisfied with your partner when you’re asked a straight question about it, they didn’t find one. It was just like all the old research. Newlyweds who had sex more often didn't actually say they were happier in their relationships.

But when it came to that gut-level reaction, the answer was yes, more sex matters. How often the newlyweds had sex was related to their instinctive feeling towards their sweethearts. Those who got it on more often were more likely to respond positively to images of their loved ones.

Sex culture

At this point, you might be wondering why someone would have a problem admitting that sex is linked to how well their relationship is going.

What people say about the impact of intercourse is naturally a reflection of their beliefs – and what they want to believe – about sex and relationships. So someone who’s not having regular sex with their partner might say that things are going well in their relationship even if they’re not, the researchers point out. They also give the example of a person whose cultural background makes them think that regular sex isn’t necessarily important in a relationship.

What this research doesn’t tell us is whether having lots of sex actually improves your relationship, or whether people in good relationships just feel more like having sex. But hey, if in doubt… it can never do any harm!

Source: Capturing the Interpersonal Implications of Evolved Preferences? Frequency of Sex Shapes Automatic, but Not Explicit, Partner Evaluations. (2016). Psychological Science.

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