Does Sleeping Around Make People Happier?

Research suggests that promiscuity is not associated with increased happiness and, in fact, that the number of sexual partners needed to maximize happiness is exactly one

Sex makes us happy (do I need to cite my source for that?), but how about 1970’s style love-the-one-you’re-with sex? You know the kind of sex that is preceded by fishing around in a bowl at a party for a set of car keys?


Research suggests that promiscuity is not associated with increased happiness and, in fact, that the number of sexual partners needed to maximize happiness is exactly one.*

First, you should know that everyone else is having less sex than you think. The median adult American has sex (with another person) 2 to 3 times a month. Even younger people, under forty, only have sex once a week, on average. Only 7% have sex more than 4 times a month and 18% have none at all. 

Students have less sex than others of the same age (except my students, who have assured me that is impossible) and married people have more.

If we take the information we have on people’s lives and combine it with a subjective measure on well-being, researchers can make predictions on how sexual behavior influences individual happiness.

For example, we know sex makes people happy and more sex makes people even happier.

Men and women are both made happy by sex. In fact, one study found that sex made women happier than any other activity.**

Younger people are happier in general, but not made any happier by having sex than older people are.

More sex brings happiness into the lives of the highly educated compared to less educated people.

Money may bring you happiness, but it won’t buy you more sex.

Being homosexual doesn’t make you any happier than anyone else, but it does mean having more partners.

So if sex makes us happy then surely, if variety really is the spice of life, having more sexual partners must make us happier. Well it doesn’t. People with more sexual partners are less happy than those who have just one.

People who cheat in marriage (10% of the married people in the sample have had sex with more than one person in the previous year) are less happy.

Men who use prostitutes are also less happy. That is, promiscuous people are less happy.

Obviously none of this says that it is promiscuity itself that make people less happy. It could very well be that unhappy married people are more likely to cheat and unhappy people are more likely to buy sex.

I also wonder how societal attitudes towards sexual behavior affect individual happiness.  If I engage in a behavior that is considered socially unacceptable and I am unhappy, is that because of the behavior or because of the social acceptability of the behavior?

For example, is a sixteen-year-old who loses her virginity in a society that celebrates sexual awakening regretful, or is it just sixteen-year-olds in societies that socially condemn early sexual debuts?

If a man buys sex on the market with a group of his friends who are doing the same, is he made less happy or it is just the guy who does it under the cover of stigmatization and shame?

If I am pulling car keys out of a bowl, and all my friends are doing the same, does that extra-marital event make me unhappy?

I said in my previous blog post that evidence suggests that people in Finland are more promiscuous than the residents of other nations in the forty-eight nation sample (You can take an online test to see where your behavior ranks on the promiscuity scale).  It turns out that if you rank countries in terms of happiness, Finland comes out very close to the top (ranking 6th in the world).*** 

So not the happiest place on earth – Denmark takes that spot– but pretty darn close. I don’t know what makes them so happy, but whatever it is, I'm curious to find out.

*Blanchlower, D. and A, Oswald (2004). “Money, Sex and Happiness: An Empirical Study.”  Scandinavian Journal of Economics, Vol. 106, No. 3, pp. 393-415. ** Kahneman, D., A. Krueger, D. Schkade, N. Schwarz and A. Stone (2004). “Toward National Well-Being Accounts,” The American Economic Review, Vol. 94, No. 2, 429-434.***White, A. (2007). “A Global Projection of Subjective Well-being: A Challenge To Positive Psychology?” Psychtalk 56, 17-20.

LinkedIn meets Tinder in this mindful networking app

Swipe right to make the connections that could change your career.

Getty Images
Sponsored
Swipe right. Match. Meet over coffee or set up a call.

No, we aren't talking about Tinder. Introducing Shapr, a free app that helps people with synergistic professional goals and skill sets easily meet and collaborate.

Keep reading Show less

Can the keto diet help treat depression? Here’s what the science says so far

A growing body of research shows promising signs that the keto diet might be able to improve mental health.

Public Domain
Mind & Brain
  • The keto diet is known to be an effective tool for weight loss, however its effects on mental health remain largely unclear.
  • Recent studies suggests that the keto diet might be an effective tool for treating depression, and clearing up so-called "brain fog," though scientists caution more research is necessary before it can be recommended as a treatment.
  • Any experiments with the keto diet are best done in conjunction with a doctor, considering some people face problems when transitioning to the low-carb diet.
Keep reading Show less

A world map of Virgin Mary apparitions

She met mere mortals with and without the Vatican's approval.

Strange Maps
  • For centuries, the Virgin Mary has appeared to the faithful, requesting devotion and promising comfort.
  • These maps show the geography of Marian apparitions – the handful approved by the Vatican, and many others.
  • Historically, Europe is where most apparitions have been reported, but the U.S. is pretty fertile ground too.
Keep reading Show less

Want to age gracefully? A new study says live meaningfully

Thinking your life is worthwhile is correlated with a variety of positive outcomes.

YOSHIKAZU TSUNO/AFP/Getty Images
Surprising Science
  • A new study finds that adults who feel their lives are meaningful have better health and life outcomes.
  • Adults who felt their lives were worthwhile tended to be more social and had healthier habits.
  • The findings could be used to help improve the health of older adults.
Keep reading Show less