Sex with a partner feels good – and is good for you. Anyone who has, well, been in a relationship and had regular sex can vouch for that. But it’s also backed by science. 'There is a lot of research showing that in a lot of different countries, actually all over the world, when people have sex more often, they also feel better – they’re happier, they’re more satisfied with their lives,' researcher Anik Debrot told Love Matters at the 2016 International Association for Relationship Research (IARR) conference.
Sex and affection
So everyone knows regular relationship sex is good for you. But why? Researchers aren’t all together sure. Debrot had a hunch that it might not just be to do with raging lust and ecstatic orgasms, but something sweeter: affection – when you and your partner show you’re fond of each other. Of course a hunch is one thing, and proof is another, so along with a team of colleagues, she set out to investigate the link between more sex, feeling good, and affection.
In the research, she tracked down couples in committed relationships and asked them about two kinds of affection. The first was affectionately touching a partner. The second was anything that a person felt was a sign of affection, and could include both words and actions. Then, in three studies, she looked at how often the participants had sex, how affectionate they were, and what that meant to their happiness.
More satisfying relationship
Affectionate touch is clearly a good thing, the research showed. In two studies, people who had sex more often experienced more positive emotions like joy or contentment and were more satisfied with their lives. In part, this was because they were giving and receiving more physical affection in their relationship.
But we’re not just talking about a short-term, post-sex boost to your mood or outlook. The increase in good feelings after sex builds up over time, leading to more satisfying relationships, the third study found. It used daily diaries to show that when people have sex the boost of positive emotions that follows is brought about by sharing affection with their
'Sex is a way to promote the experience of affection with a partner and this is what is driving the positive effect of sex on well-being,' Debrot says.
Of course, affection is only one of the things that links sex to well-being. Other factors that could play a role include the hormones released when things get physical with a partner. For example, studies have shown that affectionate touch can bring down levels of the stress hormone cortisol and boost oxytocin, which increases intimacy.
Caresses and fondness
What about affectionate touch outside of sex? In another study, Debrot found that physically showing you’re fond of your partner is pretty much always good for you. 'It’s not only that you feel good in the moment, but that it accumulates to make you feel better over time,' she explained.
So what’s the take-home message from Debrot’s research? Get affectionate! 'It can be verbal, but there are also non-verbal ways like caresses, having sex, or even showing concern – or other ways like helping,' she said. 'But it’s mostly about transmitting these feelings of fondness for each other.'
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