March 20th marks International Day of Happiness, and we’re dedicating the latest research to sex and happiness, that is, why sex makes us feel good and what we can do to have sex that makes us happy.
What Does Sex Mean?
We may ask ourselves, what does sex mean to a woman? What does sex mean to a man? What does sex mean to people at different ages? The most accurate answer is that sex means different things to different people at different life stages. However, there are some general ideas we can gather from social and relationship psychologists.
When problems exist in a relationship, more than half the time, sex is also absent. Most often, when one partner can’t get over an issue, they begin to feel used and decide to no longer engage. There are two primary reasons to have sex at its most basic social level, 1. to get something, and 2. to exchange emotions. If you and your partner have mismatched views on sex, say you want sex and your partner doesn’t, you need to ask yourself WHY you want sex. There are a variety of reasons:
- Boost self-esteem
- Release stress or tension
- Feel loved or give love
- Make an emotional connection
- Feel powerful
- Feel complete
And many more.
The best thing you can do, if you’re even looking this question up, is to take responsibility of your reasons to have or want to have sex. That way you can share your reason with your partner in a mutually satisfying way.
Why Does Sex Make Us Feel Good?
To understand why sex makes us feel good we have to approach it first through a biological lens. The body releases 4 important mood-altering hormones: oxytocin, dopamine, serotonin, and epinephrine. You’ve probably heard of some of these because they’re directly related to happiness levels.
When analyzing brain activity during arousal we see that the limbic system, or the area that controls emotions, is activated. Arousal also has more visible effects, like increasing heartbeat and increasing sensitivity to certain areas of the body, like erogenous zones. Basically, the act of arousal prepares you for having sex.
Oxytocin is released during orgasm. Oxytocin isn’t just a “love hormone” that makes sex emotional, it also helps us establish trust and closeness with our partner.
A study conducted on 3,800 adults in China discovered that those who were the happiest not only had frequent sex, but quality sex. So, what are the biggest factors that affect sexual satisfaction?
Self-efficacy & Communication
Self-efficacy is the ability to achieve physical and psychological pleasure through intercourse. Some people argue that arousal is more prominent in traditional gender roles where a man is the sole provider for the family and intiates sex. However, a new study suggests that the frequency of sex is not affected by couples’ views on gender roles. As expected, the difference lied in their initiation and achievement of sex, which also affects quality.
Couples who practice more traditional roles in gender and sex are likely to achieve high self-efficacy for males, who are the drivers of intimacy, and lower for women who may be inhibited from reaching their sexual desires. While there have been many jokes about men receiving more sex when participating in housework, research suggests that gender display is more important than sex as a form of marital exchange.
A study conducted by the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships found that the combination of open sexual communication, length of a relationship, and gender significantly increased relationship satisfaction, but not necessarily sexual satisfaction. Instead, sexual satisfaction mediated the relationship between open sexual communication and overall relationship satisfaction.
The most important thing to take away from this is that talking about our sexual likes and dislikes makes us have better sex, orgasm more, and be happier. Sounds like a win-win situation to us.
Donna is a Volonté contributor and freelancer who lives in San Francisco with her understanding husband and not-so-understanding teenage sons. Her work has been published in The Journal of Sexology and she is currently writing a book on love languages.