From your doctor to your partner to your Fitbit, chances are you’ve got something or someone monitoring your exercise, nutrition, and sleep habits. As the “big three” of lifestyle-related health practices, each one plays a significant role in preventing illness and keeping you generally upbeat. But you're forgetting about one crucial part of your health.
Rates of Sex Are Declining
According to 2017 research published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior, Americans living with their partners are having a lot less sex than they used to. Specifically, in the 10 years between 2004 and 2014, domestic couples’ sex lives dropped off by 16 fewer sex acts annually, while American adults as a whole enjoyed nine fewer sex acts per year.
Of course, some of this decline can be chocked up to an aging population. Baby Boomers are getting older, after all, and sex rates are lowest in individuals over 65 years old. But it doesn’t explain why researchers found that Millennials and iGen’ers — the generation following Millennials — have fewer sexual partners and less overall sex than their parents or grandparents before them.
The study authors also noted that this decline in sex corresponds to an overall decline in happiness. Job stress, new technologies, social and cultural stressors, ongoing concerns about international policies, terrorism, and the economy certainly all play a role. But if happiness and sex are declining in tandem, it begs the question: What’s the relationship?
“We’re pulled in a million different directions, spending more time online and less time connecting and relating,” says Dr. Holly Richmond, a Certified Sex Therapist. “Predictably, that leads to stress, causing our happiness to plummet. Which, in turn, can lead to reduced frequency of sex.” And it makes sense. Sex is often viewed as a carnal luxury, something everyone wants more of, but when forced to choose between sex and sleep, sex and career, or sex and exercise, sex is the first thing to go.
Sex Plays an Independent Role in Health and Happiness
The problem, though, is that sex isn’t just a carnal luxury. Frequent, high-quality sex (unsurprisingly) plays a role in overall health, independent of other factors.
“Sex is often misunderstood as merely another indicator of good health,” says Nicole Prause, Ph.D., a sexual psychophysiologist and the founder of Liberos LLC, a sexual biotechnology company. “For example, erectile dysfunction is often the first symptom that causes men to identify broader cardiovascular problems. We rarely recognize how sex promotes general health. Masturbation is often used as a sleep aid. Sexual arousal improves pain tolerance. Viewing porn increases feelings of joy, amusement, and happiness.”
In fact, prioritizing sex can help reduce and prevent the unhappiness that insidiously inserts itself into modern life. According to a 2017 study from Oregon State University, researchers found that office workers who engaged in sex frequently were more likely to enjoy greater job satisfaction and engagement at work, independent of other common mood-boosters like marital satisfaction and sleep quality. This boost in satisfaction is likely due to sex’s ability to the release the “feel good” neurotransmitter, dopamine, as well as the social-bonding neuropeptide, oxytocin.
Of course, Prause is quick to point out that everyone’s sex drive is different, and the choice not to have sex is a valid one. But in the same breath, choosing to engage in sex, whether with yourself or a consenting partner, is almost always a health-promoting decision.
Prioritizing Sex When You’re Just “Not Feeling It”
It’s one thing to know sex is good for you. But knowing and doing are two different things — and Fitbit doesn’t currently have a feature that reminds you to get your rocks off. The good news is, you don’t have to be “feeling it” to make sex and intimacy a priority.
“Many scientists have started studying ‘responsive desire,’ which largely rejects the idea that any person would just be wandering around during the day and spontaneously feel sexually motivated,” says Prause. “Both men and women with lower drives are more likely to experience ‘desire’ after the start of some intimate activity.”
This means scheduling time for intimacy — massages, kissing, masturbation, and so forth — is the first step to kickstarting a solid sex life. As unromantic as it sounds, go ahead and put a reminder in your smartphone, or use an app like Kindu to start sexual conversations with your partner. And at the end of the day, just remember, sex is good for you. If you can make time for exercise, surely you can make time for sex, right?