Happiness and…(dare I say it) sex!

Happiness and…(dare I say it) sex!

Positive Psychology News Daily

Let’s Talk about Sex

Posted: 25 Nov 2007 09:54 PM CST

By Cassie Robinson

Cassie Robinson, University of East London MAPP student. Cassie is a Nesta Creative Entrepreneur Awardee, Designer, and Coach. Currently working as a service designer and as a coach, facilitator and engagement designer for www.thinkpublic.com, Cassie is now looking to grow conversations around sexuality, relationships and positive psychology. Full bio.

Cassie is a guest contributor, and her past articles are here.

Survival of the species depends on sex, so we have evolved to find intimate encounters pleasurable. But what is the role of sex in happiness and well-being, and why do some sexual experiences make us happier than others?

Virginia Lewis and DiAnne Borders (Lewis and Borders 1995) found sexual satisfaction to be the second strongest predictor of life satisfaction for single middle-aged professional women, after job satisfaction.

Why Should We Study Sex?

Sex seems both to contribute to and reflect how happy we are in a relationship. A mismatch in levels of sexual desire within a couple is associated with poorer relationships (Blais, Sabourin, Boucher and Vallerand 1990 ). And heterosexual women’s feelings of love, trust, passion, intimacy and overall relationship satisfaction have been found to correlate with the frequency and quality of sex (Costa and Brody 2007).

Recent research (Smith 2007) found that people report sexual experiences as more positive when they fulfilled each of the three basic psychological needs proposed by Ryan and Deci:

Positive sex happens when both partners are interested and actively choose what to do between the sheets. Rather than enacting scripts, by consciously being aware and able to communicate their own authentic desires their need for autonomy was fulfilled.

Partners who felt they knew what they were doing in the bedroom and were able to develop their sensual repertoire fulfilled the basic need for competence.

They also felt intimate, desired, loved and respected, fulfilling the need to relate to others.

Most positive psychologists have tended to modestly leave sex undiscussed. But research so far suggests it affects our overall happiness, and chimes with the Indian tantric understanding of sexual expression as an opportunity to experience psychological growth and well-being. When there are studies showing that arousal and orgasm also have positive and vital physiological effects, to advance and embrace a fuller understanding of the good life, it may be time for positive psychologists to be a little less coy.


Blais, M.R., Sabourin, S., Boucher, C., Vallerand, R. J. (1990). Toward a motivational model of couple happiness. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol. 59, 1021 – 1031.

Costa, R. M., Brody, S. (2007). Women’s relationship quality is associated with specifically penile – vaginal intercourse orgasm and frequency. Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy, Vol. 21, 319 – 327.

Lewis, V.G., Borders, D. L. (1995). Life satisfaction of single middle-aged professional women. Journal of Counselling and Development, Vol. 74, 93 – 100.

Smith, V. ( 2007 ). In pursuit of good sex: Self determination and the sexual experience. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, Vol.24, 69 – 85.