When it comes to sex, people say they are happier if they believe they are having it more often than their peers, a new study finds.
In findings announced April 15, researchers say that "sex apparently is like income: people are generally happy when they keep pace with the Joneses and they're even happier if they get a bit more."
Sociology professor and lead author Tim Wadsworth, of the University of Colorado Boulder in the US, found that people reported steadily higher levels of happiness as they reported steadily higher sexual frequency. But he also found that even after controlling for their own sexual frequency, people who believed they were having less sex than their peers were unhappier than those who believed they were having as much as or more than their peers.
"There's an overall increase in sense of well-being that comes with engaging in sex more frequently, but there's also this relative aspect to it," he said. "Having more sex makes us happy, but thinking that we are having more sex than other people makes us even happier."
Wadsworth analyzed data from the General Social Survey, a sample that included 15,385 people living in the US surveyed between 1993 and 2006.
After controlling for other factors, including income, education, marital status, health, age, race and other characteristics, subjects who reported having sex at least two to three times a month were 33 percent more likely to report a higher level of happiness than those who reported having had no sex during the previous 12 months.
Compared to those who had had no sex in the previous year, those reporting having sex once a week were 44 percent more likely to report a higher level of happiness. Those who said they had sex two to three times a week were 55 percent more likely to report a higher level of happiness.
How do people know how much sex their peers are having? Wadsworth said that people can pick up plenty of clues from mass media, television, film, or talking in their friendship networks. As a result, if members of a peer group are having sex two to three times a month but believe their peers are on a once-weekly schedule, their probability of reporting a higher level of happiness falls by about 14 percent, he said.