Married and doing the deed once a week? You’re likely among the happiest of married couples, regardless if you’re young or old, male or female, newlyweds or past your golden anniversary. At least, that’s what science says.

One of the largest studies to investigate the relationship between sex and happiness is also the first to find that having sex once a week is the sweet spot in the happiest relationships. Past studies had found that more frequent sex correlated to more happiness, as this one did, but this one additionally found that adding another night or two of getting busy didn’t increase the happiness quotient.

In the study, published today in Social Psychological and Personality Science, researchers analyzed data from more than 11,000 men and 14,000 women who responded to the 0General Social Survey between 1989 and 2012. This extensive survey asks questions about demographics, behavior and attitudes of thousands of Americans every other year. (The data is available for anyone to search too.) Interestingly, they also found that, on average, most established couples tend to have sex approximately… once a week. There was no link to gender, so the old stereotype of men wanting it more and women holding back doesn’t appear to hold up in the data.

Of course, there are all sorts of caveats to keep in mind. The most important is that this is a correlation. The research doesn’t show that setting a goal of once-a-week sex will make a couple happier. In fact, it’s quite possibly the opposite — it’s just as likely that couples who report better relationships and more happiness are the ones who have also settled into a pattern where having sex once a week works for them. How much sex couples have will depend not only on the strength of their relationship but also the personal values and needs of each partner and external factors such as work and family.

Young couple naked Man and woman in love kissing

Past surveys have found that about 8 in 10 married couples have sex at least a few times a month or more, which works out to about once a week. Only a third of couples have sex two or three times a week, and nearly a half say it’s just a few times a month. What’s perhaps more interesting is that most couples actually schedule time to have sex, which means spontaneity isn’t essential for romance. In fact, planning ahead has several pluses: the opportunity for anticipation, less pressure in feeling like you might be disappointing your partner on a different day and greater overall communication between couples. It’s also possible that communication and planning related to sex is actually the real key to happiness here.

And that gets to the most important consideration. Regardless of what a study finds or doesn’t find, being out of the “normal” range isn’t relevant if it’s working for both of you. These are averages. What works for one couple may not for another, and the frequency of coupling in a marriage will ebb and flow based on changes in life, not least of which is having young children.

The real question is whether each partner’s needs are being met and whether both partners are communicating. This study also looked at data from a long-term (14-year) study of married couples that didn’t show a strong link between sexual frequency and life satisfaction. It did show, however, that more frequent sex — up to once a week, again — was linked to more satisfaction with their relationship, again implying that it’s the strength of the relationship that might be leading to sex rather than the other way around.

Culled from the  book, The Informed Parent.

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