When it comes to sex, people tend to have the same "keeping up with the Joneses" mentality -- they're happier when they're getting more than what they perceive to be normal, according to new University of Colorado research.
Tim Wadsworth, an associate professor of sociology at CU, studied how sexual frequency correlates with happiness.
Like income, the happiness linked with having more sex can rise or fall depending on how individuals believe they compare to their peers, Wadsworth found.
His paper "Sex and the Pursuit of Happiness: How Other People's Sex Lives are Related to Our Sense of Well-Being" was published in last month's edition of Social Indicators Research.
Wadsworth used national survey data and statistical analyses and found that people reported steadily higher levels of happiness as they reported steadily higher sexual frequency. But people who believed they were having less sex than their peers were unhappier than those who believed they were having as much or more than their peers.
"Having more sex makes us happy, but thinking that we are having more sex than other people makes us even happier," Wadsworth said in a statement.
For his research, Wadsworth analyzed data from the General Social Survey, which has been around since 1972.
The survey included questions about sexual frequency since 1989. Wadsworth's sample included 15,386 people who were surveyed between 1993 and 2006.
After controlling for many other factors, including income, education, marital status, health, age, race and other characteristics, respondents who reported having sex at least two to three times a month were 33 percent more likely to report a higher level of happiness than those who reported having no sex during the previous 12 months.
The happiness effect appears to rise with frequency. Compared to those who had no sex in the previous year, those reporting a once-weekly frequency were 44 percent more likely to report a higher level of happiness. Those reporting having sex two to three times a week were 55 percent more likely to report a higher level of happiness.
When it comes to income, Wadsworth noted, people can infer how much a neighbor is making perhaps by an expensive home renovation, flashy new car or frequent vacations. Sex is much more of a private matter -- but the mass media and other sources provide clues.
For example, Wadsworth said, Cosmopolitan, Glamour, Men's Health, Men's Journal and the AARP Magazine -- with a combined circulation of 30 million -- often report the results of their own or others' sex surveys.
Also, television and movie depictions might play a role, and, Wadsworth writes, "There is plenty of evidence that information concerning normative sexual behavior is learned through discussions within peer groups and friendship networks."
Wadsworth is also a research associate at CU-Boulder's Institute of Behavioral Science, and his research interests include the general study of happiness.
Contact Camera Staff Writer Brittany Anas at 303-473-1132 or firstname.lastname@example.org.