“One key pattern associated with the development of a close relationship among peers is sustained, escalating, reciprocal, personal self-disclosure.” – Aron, Melinat, Aron, Vallone, & Bator (1997)
By Justin J. Lehmiller
In order to develop a close, intimate relationship with someone else, you need to be willing to open up to that person—to let your defenses down and become emotionally vulnerable. As you may have found in your own personal experience, this process sometimes takes a very long time to unfold. However, research suggests that it doesn’t necessarily have to.
In fact, scientists have found that it’s possible to generate a significant degree of closeness between strangers in as little as 45 minutes by asking a series of 36 questions. These questions are divided into three sets that escalate the degree of self-disclosure required as time progresses.
These questions allow people to become “fast friends,” but they also have the potential to lay the groundwork for romantic attraction.
To get a better sense of how this works, check out the video below from our friends over at ASAP Science. The full list of questions appears beneath the video.
Want to learn more? Check out the original study here.
1. Given the choice of anyone in the world, whom would you want as a dinner guest?
2. Would you like to be famous? In what way?
3. Before making a telephone call, do you ever rehearse what you are going to say? Why?
4. What would constitute a “perfect” day for you?
5. When did you last sing to yourself? To someone else?
6. If you were able to live to the age of 90 and retain either the mind or body of a 30-year-old for the last 60 years of your life, which would you want?
7. Do you have a secret hunch about how you will die?
8. Name three things you and your partner appear to have in common.
9. For what in your life do you feel most grateful?
10. If you could change anything about the way you were raised, what would it be?
11. Take four minutes and tell your partner your life story in as much detail as possible.
12. If you could wake up tomorrow having gained any one quality or ability, what would it be?
13. If a crystal ball could tell you the truth about yourself, your life, the future or anything else, what would you want to know?
14. Is there something that you’ve dreamed of doing for a long time? Why haven’t you done it?
15. What is the greatest accomplishment of your life?
16. What do you value most in a friendship?
17. What is your most treasured memory?
18. What is your most terrible memory?
19. If you knew that in one year you would die suddenly, would you change anything about the way you are now living? Why?
20. What does friendship mean to you?
21. What roles do love and affection play in your life?
22. Alternate sharing something you consider a positive characteristic of your partner. Share a total of five items.
23. How close and warm is your family? Do you feel your childhood was happier than most other people’s?
24. How do you feel about your relationship with your mother?
25. Make three true “we” statements each. For instance, “We are both in this room feeling … ”
26. Complete this sentence: “I wish I had someone with whom I could share … “
27. If you were going to become a close friend with your partner, please share what would be important for him or her to know.
28. Tell your partner what you like about them; be very honest this time, saying things that you might not say to someone you’ve just met.
29. Share with your partner an embarrassing moment in your life.
30. When did you last cry in front of another person? By yourself?
31. Tell your partner something that you like about them already.
32. What, if anything, is too serious to be joked about?
33. If you were to die this evening with no opportunity to communicate with anyone, what would you most regret not having told someone? Why haven’t you told them yet?
34. Your house, containing everything you own, catches fire. After saving your loved ones and pets, you have time to safely make a final dash to save any one item. What would it be? Why?
35. Of all the people in your family, whose death would you find most disturbing? Why?
36. Share a personal problem and ask your partner’s advice on how he or she might handle it. Also, ask your partner to reflect back to you how you seem to be feeling about the problem you have chosen.
“While it’s great that people are exploring their sexuality,” says Asmi Uniqus, an active BDSM practitioner and lifestyle coach, “it’s frustrating that there are so many misconceptions.” For example, BDSM does not have to be driven by sex or risky forms of play that involve drawing blood, asphyxiation or other such extreme practices.
According to Uniqus, “BDSM is a different form of expression of intimacy, love and care. It is sacrosanct consent. It’s about shared responsibility for safety and sanity, and detailed communication. Anything that violates consent, manipulates it or abuses the trust is not BDSM,” she says. “When trust supersedes the possibility of harm, the result is something incredibly erotic and intimate.” She would know. Uniqus has been a lifestyle submissive for over 10 years and has written several e-books on the subject. Here are some myth busters:
1. You can’t trust anyone blindly. Basic safety checks, personal responsibility and support systems are a must.
2. Uniqus calls it one of the most nurturing and intimate forms of human contact and play. “In vanilla or non-BDSM space, people can jump into bed without conversation, negotiation, or emotional connection. In BDSM, the players always arrange things in advance with clear, intimate communication.
3. Finding the right partner to ‘play’ involves communicating what works and what doesn’t. For instance, the Dominant partner may be a sadist, but the Sub may not want pain. “However, while not many people communicate clearly in vanilla sex, in BDSM that choice of not communicating isn’t there,” says Asmi.
4. “There are pre-decided safe words,” she clarifies. “These may or may not indicate that I want to close the book on the entire session. ‘Red’ may indicate closing the book, while ‘amber’ is for when I’m done with a particular aspect of it. ‘Green’ means I’m in my comfort zone.” When using gags, people decide on non-verbal cues to indicate distress.
5. Submissives in erotica are portrayed as doormats manipulated into ‘slavery’ by smarter dominants. “I am not coerced into being a submissive,” says Uniqus, “It is a lifestyle choice. The sexual aspect of my relationship is completely separate from other aspects of it.”
6. Alpha men, who always call the shots and men, in general, are expected to be in control all the time. For them, it helps to ‘let go’ in a safe environment, with a trusted partner.
7. “For some, BDSM may not be about sex,” says Uniqus. “There is an emotional connect between a submissive and dominant, but there may not necessarily be sexual contact. Some submissives are into domestic servitude and derive pleasure out of maybe just washing their partner’s dishes. I could kneel at my dominant’s feet without shedding a thread of cloth and still be satisfied. It is as gratifying as a sexual act.
8. Then, isn’t BDSM the same as submitting to one’s elders or authority figures? “In a socio-cultural context,” answers Uniqus, “we do submit to our elders’ authority, but we do not develop sexual bonds with them. BDSM may not always be about sex, but it has an undercurrent of physical and sexual intimacy, even when fully clothed,” she says.
9. “Choosing BDSM as a lifestyle just because you’re going through a bad phase in life is the wrong way to approach it,” says Uniqus. “Fifty Shades of Grey did help bring BDSM out in the open in India, and when its popularity increased, people’s sensitivity towards it decreased. Now 20-year-olds want to try it because it is a fad.” She warns that considering the legal ramifications involved, with some kinky acts coming under the purview of Section 377 (anal penetration, or oral pleasure, for instance), it is important to figure out which activities are medically and legally safe.
10. There are international books to guide you through the technique, however they have a different cultural context. There’s also Uniqus’s BDSM Concepts: A Practical Guide.
11. Keep a First Aid kit handy, and also arrange a ‘safe call’ i.e. a trusted friend who can come and rescue or support you, should anything go wrong.
12. Monogamy is still the leading form of relationship in the dominant and submissive equation. Couples who enjoy BDSM together, do not feel the need to add other people to the mix.
13. So what happens when only one partner is inclined towards BDSM? “Most spouses stay restricted to an academic interest in the lifestyle. People value families, relationships and marriages,” says Uniqus. “Some people may experiment outside wedlock, but there are also marriages where a spouse has been patient enough to slowly and lovingly initiate the other into the lifestyle, sometimes taking 10 or 15 years to do so.”
14. Those who enjoy pain are not necessarily wired that way because of trauma. “Pain acts differently for different people. For some, it is cathartic. For others, it’s as an aphrodisiac. Think of the adrenaline rush a heavy workout gives you. Although your body is sore, that pain gives you a high,” she illustrates.
In the prologue to her new book, What Love Is and What It Could Be, philosopher Carrie Jenkins is walking through Vancouver, from her boyfriend’s apartment to the home she has with her husband. She wonders at how the romantic love she experiences firsthand is so different than the model presented by popular culture and academic theory alike. “If indeed romantic love must be monogamous, then I am making some kind of mistake when I say, ‘I’m in love with you’ — meaning romantically — to both my partners,” she writes. “I am not lying, because I am genuinely trying to be as honest as I can. But if romantic love requires monogamy, then despite my best intentions, what I’m saying at those moments is not, strictly speaking, true.”
Her book examines the long, sometimes awkward legacy of philosophers’ thinking on romantic love, and compares that with a new subfield in close-relationships research — consensual nonmonogamy, or CNM. While singers and thinkers alike have been riffing on a “one and only” for decades, she argues that space is being made in the cultural conversation to “question the universal norm of monogamous love, just as we previously created space to question the universal norm of hetero love.” These norms are more fluid than they appear: In Jenkins’s lifetime alone same-sex and cross-ethnicity relationships have become common.
When I asked Jenkins to describe how it feels to have both a husband and a boyfriend — she rejects the “primary relationship” moniker altogether — she said that it’s like having more loving relationships in your life, like a close family member or friend. She and her boyfriend, whom she’s been with for about five years, used to work in the same building; he was teaching creative writing on the floor above her philosophy department, though they didn’t meet until they matched on OkCupid. While both men have met each other, they’re not close; Jenkins describes the relationship as having a “V shape,” rather than a triangle. Both helped in the development of the book: husband refining philosophical arguments; boyfriend editing the writing, and helping her to sound like a normal person, rather than an academic.
Still, CNM faces lots of stigma; even the study of it is stigmatized. Yet in the limited yet rich vein of research out there, the evidence suggests that it’s a style that, in some populations, leads to greater relationship satisfaction than monogamy. In any case, the researchers tell me, the insights into what makes more-than-two relationships work can be applied to any given dyad, given the communicative finesse required when three or more hearts are involved.
In a forthcoming Perspectives in Psychological Science paper, Terri Conley, a University of Michigan psychologist who’s driven the field, defines CNM as “a relational arrangement in which partners agree that it is acceptable to have more than one sexual and/or romantic relationship at the same time.” That’s distinguished from the “polygamy” practiced by some religious groups, where it’s not always clear whether wives can opt out of the relationship.
I was surprised to discover how common it is: A 2016 study of two nationally representative samples of single Americans — of 3,905 and 4,813 respondents, respectively — found in each case that about one in five people had practiced it during their lifetime. A 2016 YouGov poll found that 31 percent of women and 38 percent of men thought their ideal relationship would be CNM in some way. Other research indicates that around 4 to 5 percent of Americans in relationships are in some sort of CNM, be it swinging, where partners have sex with people outside their relationship at parties and the like; an open relationship, where it’s cool to have sex with other people but not grow emotionally attached to them; or polyamory, where both partners approve of having close emotional, romantic, and sexual relationships outside of the couple itself. People are curious, too: From 2006 to 2015, Google searches for polyamory and open relationships went up. Other data points to how sticking to the boundaries of monogamy doesn’t come easily to lots of people: A 2007 survey of 70,000 Americans found that one in five had cheated on their current partner.
Jenkins says that as a tenured philosophy professor at the University of British Columbia, she’s in a unique, privileged position to openly talk about being in a nonmonogamous marriage. She’d been interested in being in more than one relationship ever since she can remember, but it used to seem like some sort of impossible dream situation — she didn’t realize it could be an option in her real life until she was about 30. (She’s now 37.)
Jenkins met her husband, Jonathan, who’s also a philosopher, back in 2009, at a philosophy workshop that he organized at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland; they later got married in the same hall the conference took place. They took one another’s last names as middle names.
Now married for almost eight years, they talked about polyamory early on, though defining the relationship that way came later. As philosophers are wont to do, they soon wrote a bit of a manifesto about their arrangement. They observed that even if their wedding guests were woke in any number of ways — not batting an eyelid if a colleague was gay or bi, eschewing heteronormative assumptions, and the like — there’s still the shared assumption that a nonmonogamous relationship is less sexually safe and less committed than a regular ol’ monogamous one. “Even our very liberal pocket of our relatively liberal society is massively — and, to us, surprisingly— mononormative,” they write. “Acquaintances, friends, and colleagues are constantly assuming that our relationship, and indeed every relationship that they think of as ‘serious’, is a sexually monogamous one.”
To Jenkins, the biggest struggle with polyamory isn’t from managing multiple relationships — though Google Calendar is a crucial tool — but rather the strong, sometimes violently negative reactions that she gets, especially online. When I spoke with her by phone, she was struck by a comment to a YouTube interview of hers, where a pseudonymous user invited “everyone” to read her column in the Chronicle of Higher Education about having multiple loves.
“THIS WOMAN IS A DISGUSTING ANIMAL,” the troll wrote. “Every bit as twisted and queer as the Mormons with their multiple lives [sic]. This femme-pig is the spectral opposite of Trump; a far far left-wing freak that desires to completely overthrow Western Christian Civilization.” Jenkins walked me through a deep reading of the bile: Bundling in politics — the “left-wing freak” bit — with the monogamy norms signals to her that there’s a judgment of what it means to be a good person in here, since politics is about living correctly, collectively. Plus “if you’re an animal, you’re out of the range of humanity,” she says. She’s also gets a lot of “get herpes and die, slut” suggestions, she says, which speaks to the hypersexualization of CNM. Nonmonogamy leads to lots of sex, the presumption goes, and with that STIs, and it proceeds from there. The way news articles covering CNM tend to be illustrated with images of three or four people in a bath or bed doesn’t help, either.
“The way we normally think about romantic love, we don’t imagine that it’s entirely about sex,” she says. “For a lot of people sex is a part of it; if we’re just having a hookup or a friend with benefits, we don’t call that romantic love. When it comes to polyamorous relationships, if you’re in love with more than one person, the same applies — to fall in love with someone is not the same as to sleep with them. We’re clear with that distinction in monogamous relationships, but in CNM that distinction between love and sex gets collapsed.”
Researchers who have studied stigma around CNM have found lots. In a 2012 paper, Conley and her colleagues found that monogamous relationships were better rated on every metric by different sets of the population, including nonmonogamous people. When 132 participants recruited online read relationship vignettes that were identical except for one being monogamous and the other not, the CNM was seen as riskier sexually, more lonely, less acceptable, and having a lower relationship quality. People in CNM were also seen as worse with non-relational things, like making sure to walk their dog or paying their taxes on time. Amy Moors, a co-author on the paper, says it had some of the biggest effect sizes she’s seen in her research. Elisabeth Sheff, a leading polyamory researcher who left academia for lack of grant funding, now frequently serves as an expert witness in custody battles; she says that often a grandmother or a former spouse will find out that a co-parent has multiple relationships, be scandalized, and demand to take the kids — even though her longitudinal research, reported in The Polyamorists Next Door: Inside Multiple-Partner Relationships and Families, indicates that kids who grow up in polyamorous families aren’t any more screwed up than average American children.
That same paper finds that there were no differences in relationship functioning between monogamous and nonmonogamous couples. People in CNM had lower jealousy and higher trust — yet also lower sexual satisfaction with their partner. Polyamorists were more satisfied than people in open relationships, perhaps because it’s hard to block of feelings for people you sleep with frequently. Polyamorous people were a special case, with higher satisfaction, commitment, trust, and passionate love than monogamous individuals, though they had lower sexual satisfaction. CNM people also had higher sexual satisfaction with their secondary partners than their primary partners, though that difference fell away when controlling for relationship time, with primary relationships averaging three times the length of secondary relationships.
“Overall, the standard for human responses for relationships is habituation,” Conley says. “That involves a loss of sexual attraction, and we can tell that from stats from therapy. And to the extent that a couple is frustrated sexually, it spills over to other parts of life.”
There are other explanations for high satisfaction scores for polyamorous people, she adds. It could be that they’re just acting out a social desirability bias, given that they’re participating in a study about CNM and want the lifestyle to look good; it could also be that people who enter into polyamory have self-selected themselves into a hypercommunicative population — all the poly self-helpbooks emphasize the importance the need to explicitly talk things out. “People interested in polyamory are more relationship-y than the average person,” she says. “They like thinking about relationships, talking about relationships. That’s great in monogamy, but needed in polyamory.”
All this suggests the kind of people that are the right fit for CNM. Beyond being relationship-y, a Portuguese study out this year found that people with a high sociosexuality, or disposal to casual sex, had less relationship satisfaction when in a monogamous relationship, but those effects disappeared if they were in CNM. Still, they were just as committed to their relationships — signaling that exclusivity and commitment may not be one and the same. Harvard sexologist Justin Lehmiller has found that people who are more erotophilic — i.e., that love sex — will be a better fit for CNM; same with if they’re sensation-seeking.
Amy Moors, the Purdue psychologist, has found that people with higher avoidant attachment — where you’re just not that into intimacy — have positive feelings about and a willingness to engage in polyamory, but they were less likely to actually partake of it. While a correlational study, Moors explained that from a subjective perspective, it makes sense: “When you have avoidant attachment, you like a lot of emotional distance, physical distance, time by yourself,” Moors says, which is not a fit for the relationship-y remands of a poly lifestyle. Also, there’s reason to believe that folks who have relational anxiety, and are thus sensitive to separation, might be prone to the jealousy that’s known to flare up in CNM, though it’s not like that doesn’t happen in monogamy, too.
What motivated Jenkins to write What Love Is, she says, was a gap — or silence — in the philosophical literature, that polyamory was rarely discussed or even acknowledged as a possibility. “Noticing these philosophical silences and denials, while simultaneously being made aware of how society at large viewed me for being a polyamorous woman, made me realize there was something important here that I needed to do,” she says. “To do it meant bringing my personal life and my philosophical work into a conversation with one another. The familiar slogan says that the personal is political, but the personal is philosophical, too.”
Two key themes emerge from reading the book: that love is dual-layered, with social scripts overlaying evolutionary, physiological impulses. And that the “romantic mystique,” like the feminine one before it, assumes that love is mysterious and elusive and corrupted from examination — a sentiment that protects the status quo. But with investigation, and conversation, the mechanics of love reveal themselves, and norms can change socially, and be tailored locally. Like Jenkins, you can custom-fit your relationships to your life — if you dare to talk about them.
After Alice Radosh’s husband of 40 years died in 2013, she received, in addition to the usual condolences, countless offers of help with matters like finances, her car and household repairs. But no one, not even close friends or grief counselors, dared to discuss a nagging need that plagues many older women and men who outlive their sexual partners.
Dr. Radosh, 75 and a neuropsychologist by training, calls it “sexual bereavement,” which she defines as grief associated with losing sexual intimacy with a long-term partner. The result, she and her co-author Linda Simkin wrote in a recently published report, is “disenfranchised grief, a grief that is not openly acknowledged, socially sanctioned and publicly shared.”
“It’s a grief that no one talks about,” Dr. Radosh, a resident of Lake Hill, N.Y., said in an interview. “But if you can’t get past it, it can have negative effects on your physical and emotional health, and you won’t be prepared for the next relationship,” should an opportunity for one come along.
Yes, dear readers of all ages and the children of aging parents, many people in their golden years still have sexual urges and desires for intimacy that go unfulfilled when a partner becomes seriously ill or dies.
“Studies have shown that people are still having and enjoying sex in their 60s, 70s and 80s,” Dr. Radosh said. “They consider their sexual relationship to be an extremely important part of their lives. But when one partner dies, it’s over.”
In a study of a representative national sample of 3,005 older American adults, Dr. Stacy Tessler Lindau and co-authors found that 73 percent of those ages 57 to 64, 53 percent of those 65 to 74 and 26 percent of those 75 to 85 were still sexually active.
Yet a report published by the United Kingdom’s Department of Health in 2013, the National Service Framework for Older People, “makes no mention of the problems related to sexual issues older people may face,” Dr. Radosh and Ms. Simkin wrote in the journal Reproductive Health Matters. “Researchers have even suggested that some health care professionals might share the prejudice that sex in older people is ‘disgusting’ or ‘simply funny’ and therefore avoid discussing sexuality with their older patients.”
Dr. Radosh and Ms. Simkin undertook “an exploratory survey of currently married women” that they hope will stimulate further study of sexual bereavement and, more important, reduce the reluctance of both lay people and health professionals to speak openly about this emotionally and physically challenging source of grief.
As one therapist who read their journal article wrote, “Two of my clients have been recently widowed and felt that they were very unusual in ‘missing sex at my age.’ I will use your article as a reference for these women.”
Another wrote: “It got me thinking of ALL the sexual bereavement there is, through being single, through divorce, through disinterest and through what I am experiencing, through prostatectomy. It is not talked about.”
Prior research has “documented that physicians/counselors are generally uncomfortable discussing sex with older women and men,” the researchers noted. “As a result, such discussions either never happen or happen awkwardly.” Even best-selling memoirs about the death of a spouse, like Joan Didion’s “The Year of Magical Thinking,” fail to discuss the loss of sexual intimacy, Dr. Radosh said.
Rather than studying widows, she and Ms. Simkin chose to question a sampling of 104 currently partnered women age 55 and older, lest their research add to the distress of bereaved women by raising a “double taboo of death and sex.”
They cited a sarcastic posting from a woman who said she was not a good widow because “a good widow does not crave sex. She certainly doesn’t talk about it…. Apparently, I stink at being a good widow.”
The majority of survey participants said they were currently sexually active, with 86 percent stating that they “enjoyed sex,” the researchers reported. Nearly three in four of the women thought they would miss sex if their partner died, and many said they would want to talk about sex with friends after the death. However, “76 percent said they would want friends to initiate that discussion with them,” rather than bringing it up themselves.
Yet, the researchers found, “even women who said they were comfortable talking about sex reported that it would not occur to them to initiate a discussion about sex if a friend’s partner died.” The older the widowed person, the less likely a friend would be willing to raise the subject of sex. While half of respondents thought they would bring it up with a widowed friend age 40 to 49, only 26 percent would think to discuss it with someone 70 to 79 and only 14 percent if the friend was 80 or older.
But even among young widows, the topic is usually not addressed, said Carole Brody Fleet of Lake Forest, Calif., the author of “Happily Even After” who was widowed at age 40. In an interview she said, “No one brought up my sexuality.” Ms. Fleet, who conducts workshops for widowed people, is forthright in bringing up sex with attendees, some of whom may think they are “terrible people” for even considering it.
She cited “one prevailing emotion: Guilt. Widows don’t discuss the loss of sexual intimacy with friends or mental health professionals because they feel like they’re cheating. They think, ‘How can I feel that?’ But you’re not cheating or casting aspersions on your love for the partner who died.
“You can honor your past, treasure it, but you do not have to live in your past. It’s not an either-or situation. You can incorporate your previous life into the life you’re moving into. People have an endless capacity to love.”
However, Ms. Fleet, who remarried nine years after her husband died, cautioned against acting precipitously when grieving the loss of sexual intimacy. “When you’re missing physical connection with another person, you can make decisions that are not always in your best interest,” she said. “Sex can cloud one’s judgment. Maybe you’re just missing that. It helps to take sex out of the equation and reassess the relationship before becoming sexually intimate.”
Dr. Radosh urges the widowed to bring up grief over the loss of sexual intimacy with a therapist or in a bereavement group. She said, “Even if done awkwardly, make it part of the conversation. Let close friends know this is something you want to talk about. There is a need to normalize this topic.”
Yet the sex-happiness association means nothing if we don’t know why it exists. New research published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin sheds some light on the matter: Sex itself isn’t what makes us happier, it’s about the snuggles we share before, during, and after.
“We demonstrated that an important reason why sex is associated with well-being is that it promotes the experience of affection with the partner,” says University of Toronto postdoctoral fellow Anik Debrot, the study’s co-author. “Thus, the quality of the bond with the partner is essential to understand the benefits of sex.”
The new research actually comprises four separate studies. In the first two, researchers evaluated the correlation between sex and well-being through cross-sectional surveys of people in romantic relationships. In the first, 335 people (138 men, 197 women) in the US (predominantly married and straight) reported how frequently they have sex and engage in “affectionate touching” (e.g. cuddling, kissing, caressing). They also rated their “life satisfaction” on a one to five scale. The second was similar, but asked 74 couples in San Francisco’s Bay Area to rate their tendency to feel positive emotions such as joy, contentment, pride, amusement, and awe.
Both confirmed that more sexual activity correlates with increased positivity and life satisfaction. However, the association between sex and general happiness was dependent on affectionate touching, meaning that when the researchers accounted for for affectionate touching in their predictive model, the association between sex frequency and life satisfaction was insignificant. These results held steady regardless of participants’ age, relationship duration, and relationship status.
The third and fourth studies took a “Dear diary” approach—participants recorded their emotional state and sexual and affectionate activity on digital devices throughout the day, for several days. The third assessed 106 Swiss couples over ten days, 88% of which were married, and all of which had a child under age eight. It checked in on them six months later. The fourth included 58 Swiss couples, the majority of which were university students.
These daily diary studies showed that on days when people have sex, they experienced more affection and positive emotions immediately after sex, and hours later. “We could also show that sex promotes positive emotions, but that positive emotions do not increase the odds of having sex,” Debrot explains, “This indicates that people seem to feel good because they have sex, but not that they have sex because they feel good.” This finding supports the conclusion that affection—which has been proven to promote psychological and physiological wellbeing outside the sexual realm—is key to coital pleasure.
More, as Debrot explains, previous studies have found that positive talks often occur after sex, that exchanging signs of affection after sex means sexual and relationship satisfaction increases, and that frequent assurance of commitment and love after sex is the best predictor of a good relationship.
Importantly, participants who felt more positive emotions (like joy and optimism) after having sex with their partner in the ten-day study also showed higher relationship satisfaction six months later. This long-term correlation, however, only held true when participants experienced positive emotions after sex, regardless of how frequently they were sexually active.
This type of research always required some external imposition, and it’s impossible to determine exactly what about sex makes us happier. But it makes one reality clear: Sex promotes affection, and affection makes us feel good in the immediate, short, and long-term. And while more frequent sex is proven to make us feel better, prescribing participants to have more frequent sex on its own doesn’t help.
So if you’re looking to increase personal or relationship happiness (and a $50k bonus isn’t quite on the table) your best bet may be simple: Be attentive to your partners’ sexual and emotional needs, allow enough space and time for intimacy, and express your attraction and love before, during, after sex.