Researchers have long known that people who have more sex are generally happier than the those who get lucky less often, but the chicken and egg question remained: Does sex actually make you happier, or do happier people just have more sex? According to a new study, sex really does make you happier, but it was the time spent cuddling after sex, and not the joy of orgasm, that made people happy.

The study, now published online in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, revealed that it's general exchanges of words and signs of affection following sex that directly cause increased long-term happiness and more life satisfaction in couples who have sex at least once a week.

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“When engaging in sex, people not only seek an intimate connection, but indeed experience more affection, both when having sex and in the next several hours,”explained the researchers, The British Psychological Society reported. “Hence sex seems not only beneficial because of its physiological or hedonic effects, but because it promotes a stronger and more positive connection with the partner.”

For the research, the international team from Switzerland and Canada had couples document their lives over the course of several days, noting their sexual activity, moments of tenderness and affection, and their overall emotions. Results showed that, although sex was correlated with increased happiness, this correlation only existed when sex was associated with the experience of positive emotions.

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Why Does Sex Feel Good?

There are a number of reasons why sex feels so good and why the act brings about immediate happiness. For example, a 2005 study from Rutgers University in New Jersey found that when a woman is aroused the areas of her brain associated with emotion, joy, and satisfaction light up—something also seen when we eat or drink, The Daily Mail reported. Sexual arousal also numbs the nervous system so that we are less sensitive to pain, which is why some suggest that masturbation is a good relief for menstrual cramps.

Ultimately, during sex the body releases the hormone oxytocin or the “love” or “cuddle” hormone. This helps us to bond with others, increases empathy and decreases our defenses, making it easier for individuals to fall in love (again and again) after they have sex.

While sex may seem like the ultimate key to happiness, there is a catch. Research has noted that yes, individuals who have sex at least once a week are happier than those who have sex less frequently. One study found that couples equated the happiness associated with frequent sex as being on-par with having a significant salary increase. However, according to the same study, couples who have sex more than once a week aren’t any happier than those who get down to it only once.

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"People often think that more money and more sex equal more happiness, but this is only true up to a point," explained lead study author Amy Muise, in a press release.

The researchers explained that, while their findings help to strengthen the importance of sex and maintaining an intimate relationship with your partner, there is no need to put pressure on having sex in a relationship. Rather, it should come naturally and be a way for you to relax with your partner.

Source: Debrot A, Meuwly N, Muise A, Impett EA, Schoebi D. More Than Just Sex

Affection Mediates the Association Between Sexual Activity and Well-Being. Personality and Social Psychology . 2017

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Oxytocin, Love Hormone, Fuels Romance: How Your Brain Works When You're In Love