Well Being

The Simplest Way To Feel Better About Your Sex Life: Get Less Sexy Friends

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Apparently how happy we feel about our own sex lives depends a lot on how much sex our friends are having, at least according to a new study from the University of Colorado Boulder.

Using national survey data, sociology professor Tim Wadsworth found that—are you ready for this?—having more sex corresponded with higher happiness levels. Not terribly surprising. But what’s interesting is how the happiness linked with having more sex “can rise or fall depending on how individuals believe they measure up to their peers,” as the school’s press release puts it.

Aha! I knew all those Cosmo-style “average American sex life” features were bad news. Back when I didn’t want to have sex all the time (a weird thing happened around age 25 or 26 where my sex drive ramped up intensely), I used to always worry about how my sex frequency stacked up to other people’s. Was I having too little sex? Was my boyfriend going to secretly hate me for it? Should he be wanting to have sex more? Etc. etc. etc. All those silly thoughts that awful ‘this is how many times a week people have sex!” facts and figures provoke.

It’s a really destructive mindset. Tallying the number of times you’ve had sex in a given week, tracking how it compares to some imagined normalcy. Silly silly stuff. The only indicator of how awesome your sex life is should be how awesome you and your partner feel about it, not how it stacks up to anybody else’s.

But apparently a lot of people are given to anxiety and unhappiness about how much sex they’re having compared to others. In Wadsworth’s study, “Sex and the Pursuit of Happiness: How Other People’s Sex Lives are Related to Our Sense of Well-Being,” he found that people who believed they were having less sex than their peers were unhappier than those who believed they were having as much or more sex.

“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.”

Compared to people who reported having no sex in the previous year, those having sex at least two to three times a month were 33% more likely to report a higher level of happiness and those having sex two to three times a week were 55% more likely to be happy.

Wadsworth cites media reports and magazines like Cosmopolitan, Glamour, Men’s Health and AARP the Magazine as contributors to this sense of sexual dissatisfaction that comes from feeling like peers are having more sex. Television and film might also play a role, he wrote, and “there is plenty of evidence that information concerning normative sexual behavior is learned through discussions within peer groups and friendship networks.”