Shared affection is one reason why sex is good for you, study finds

New research helps explain why there is a link between a satisfying sexual life and a person’s well-being.

The study, published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, found that sex is positively associated with emotional well-being in romantic relationships because it promotes affection between couples. Sex was associated not only with momentary increases in mood but also higher relationship satisfaction over time.

PsyPost interviewed the study’s corresponding author, Anik Debrot of University of Toronto Mississauga. Read her responses below:

PsyPost: Why were you interested in this topic?

Debrot: I was intrigued by the robust result showing, in people of different ages and in different parts of the world, that sexual activity within a romantic relationship is associated with a significant increase in well-being. The media predominantly focus on mechanical or physical aspects of sexuality (things like using objects, or trying different positions), giving an image of sexuality as a performance. Moreover, in the scientific literature, until fairly recently, the study of sexuality mostly focused on its negative aspects (STD, sexual dysfunction, etc.), and thus, little is known about the reasons why sex is associated with well-being. However, I’ve been studying romantic relationships processes for a few years now, and knowing how the importance of the quality of the bonds one has with one’s partner, I had the hypothesis that the experience of affection with the partner could contribute to explain why sex does so good.

What should the average person take away from your study?

In a set of four studies, we demonstrate that an important reason why sex is associated with well-being is that it promotes the experience of affection with the partner, and this, in turn, is associated with increased well-being. We could show this not only with broad measures of sexual and affection frequency and well-being, but also in people’s’ daily lives. We showed that people feel more positive emotions after having sex, and this is the case because they feel more affection from and for their partner when they have sex. This effect seemed to last over several hours.

Thus, the quality of the bond with the partner is essential to understand the benefits of sex. We could also show that this has consequences in the long term: people that felt more positive emotions (like joy, optimism) after having sex with their partner showed more relationship satisfaction after a 6 months period. This shows that what is good for you is also good for your relationship.

Are there any major caveats? What questions still need to be addressed?

Our set of studies have several strength: we found the important explaining role of affection in the sex-well-being association in several studies, that have been conducted in different countries (US and Switzerland), with people of different ages, SES, etc. Moreover, we could show that sex increases the positive emotions in daily life, showing that this is not only because people feel better that they have more sex.

However, affection only partially explained why sex is associated to well-being. This means that there are other factors at play, like maybe how sexually satisfying the sex was, or physiological processes. It would be interesting to know which of these factors are most important by investigating them together.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

Knowing that when having sex with one’s partner, one shares more affection with him and this does good to oneself underlines the importance of the emotional sharing during those interactions. I think it is important to know that, in order to approach sexuality not only as a performance, but to remember that sex is a great way to share an intimate and agreeable moment with your partner. I believe that it is also interesting that we (almost) did not find any gender difference in the importance of affection. This counters the idea that affection would mostly be appreciated by women.

The study, “More Than Just Sex: Affection Mediates the Association Between Sexual Activity and Well-Being“, was also co-authored by Nathalie Meuwly, Amy Muise, Emily A. Impett, and Dominik Schoebi.