If having sex makes one happy, one might assume that having more sex will lead to more happiness. Currently having sex twice a week? Why not aim for daily!
But this isn't always the case. After all, we face a limited number of hours in the day and we have a limited supply of energy—so where's the sweet spot? What's the ~perfect~ amount of sex for maximizing happiness?
In a new study, researchers at the University of Toronto-Mississauga in Canada examined data from more than 30,000 Americans collected over four decades to attempt to answer this very question. They found that, for people in relationships, more sex is generally associated with more happiness—but only up to a certain point.
That point, they discovered? Having sex once a week appears to be the greatest bang for your buck.
"Although more frequent sex is associated with greater happiness, this link was no longer significant at a frequency of more than once a week," said Amy Muise, a social psychologist and the lead researcher, in a press release.
Muise and her team came to this conclusion after analyzing data from two big American surveys—the General Social Survey (GSS), a nationally representative survey conducted almost annually, and the National Survey of Families and Households (NSFH).
In both surveys, participants were asked questions about both their sexual frequency and their happiness levels, with questions such as, "Taken all together, how would you say things are these days—would you say that you are very happy, pretty happy, or not too happy?" Some participants also answered more general questions about life satisfaction, relationship satisfaction, and income.
For people in relationships, knocking boots once a week was linked to peak happiness, but having sex more frequently did not lead to the same return on happiness. Here's what that looks like in a chart—notice the curve is not the same for single people.
Notably, in one analysis, the researchers also compared how income was linked to participants' happiness versus how sexual frequency was linked to their happiness—and they found that "the increase in well-being gained from engaging in sex less than once a month compared to once a week is larger than the increase in well-being gained from making between $15,000-$25,000 per year and making $50,000-$75,000 per year."
In other words, switching your sexy time from once a month to once a week could bring you more happiness than a $25,000+ raise! Okay, maybe not. But it's fun to think about nonetheless. Here's what that looks like on a chart. (As you can see, the "sex" line follows that same curved pattern as the previous chart).
While any study that makes sweeping generalizations along these lines should be taken with a grain of salt, the general findings echo previous research. Earlier this year economists from Carnegie Mellon University found that forcing couples to have sex 40 percent more than usual did not increase happiness and mood levels; in that particular study, the increase in sex negatively affected their happiness.
In the current study, Muise points out that, in light of these findings and her own research, "Sex may be like money—only too little is bad."
Of course, the current study couldn't confirm causality—which means we don't know if sexual frequency caused the couples' happiness, or if couples who have a certain amount of sex just happen to be happier as well.
The study also couldn't answer why once a week seems to be the sweet spot, but the researchers did suggest a theory: "The average amount of sex reported in established relationships is approximately once a week, so perhaps this tends to be the average because engaging in sex more frequently is no longer associated with well-being."
Adding, "It is also possible that couples feel satisfied as long they think they are engaging in the amount of sex that is considered to be average for couples of their relationship status and duration."
The takeaway is not to have less sex if you're already having sex every day, said Muise. The point is to do what works for you as a couple and to make sure both partners are satisfied. "It's important to maintain an intimate connection with your partner without putting too much pressure on engaging in sex as frequently as possible."
Taryn Hillin is Fusion's love and sex writer, with a large focus on the science of relationships. She also loves dogs, Bourbon barrel-aged beers and popcorn — not necessarily in that order.