Are happiness and sex antagonistic? A new study reports that couples who waited to have sex were happier in the long run. (Usual caveats about the accuracy of Daily Mail reporting apply.)
A study of hundreds of couples found those who waited to have sex were happier in the long-run.
Women particularly benefited from not leaping into bed at the first opportunity. Marriage also seemed to make them happier than co-habiting.
The researchers said delaying sex gave couples time to get to know each other and work out just how compatible they were.
Without this period of courtship, judgment can be clouded, leading to couples falling into unfulfilling long-term relationships. […]
Analysis of the data clearly showed the women who had waited to have sex to be happier. And those who waited at least six months scored more highly in every category measured than those who got intimate within the first month. Even their sex lives were better.
The link was weaker for men. However, those who waited to get physically involved had fewer rows.
Abstinence makes the heart grow fonder? Would seem like it. But not so fast.
First, I’m not surprised women who waited — or, more precisely, made their beta boyfriends wait — were more satisfied with their relationships. Women are psychologically, and ultimately biologically, predisposed to prefer holding out for sex, because it allows them more time to judge men’s mate quality and investment potential without risking a pregnancy by a man who might flee the next morning. There are very good evolutionary reasons why a woman would make a suitor wait as a test of his commitment to her. A man who is willing to suffer 182 days of this:
…is a man who is likely to stick around after she pops out a newt.
Second, selection bias. Does waiting to have sex really make couples happier, or are couples who are more likely to wait for sex also more likely to be content and fight less within long-term monogamous relationships? I suspect the latter. The kind of people who empathize easily and go along to get along are also the kind of people who have the patience of a saint. I bet people like this also have lower sex drives. It’s doubtful that sex itself, or refraining from having sex, is the causative factor in their happiness.
Third, some recent studies have shown that men derive their happiness within relationships from their lovers’ happiness. That is, when their women are happy, men are happy. The reverse is not necessarily true. So a woman who has held out for sex to make an “unclouded” judgment — and isn’t it funny that women think more clearly when abstaining from sex, while men think more clearly when sexually fulfilled? — is more likely to be happy with her choice of man, and consequently her happiness will infuse her man’s happiness level. But a man would be just as happy with a sexpot who put out early and often as long as she was happy with him (and faithful).
The biggest problem with this study is definitional. Happiness is not love, and it’s not sexual attraction. Love is passion. Happiness is contentment. Love is volatility. Happiness is calm acceptance, even noble resignation. Love is dizzying crescendos. Happiness is rhythmic tempo. Love is hope. Happiness is the relinquishment of hope. Similar contrasts can be made between happiness and lust. Conflating all these as if they were of equal merit, or equally valued, is misleading.
Most couples do not wait 182 days to have sex with the goal of maximizing their mutual happiness, and so we can conclude that most couples are willing to forego long-term happiness for short-term ecstasy. Our revealed preferences indicate that happiness is not high on our mental checklist of values or emotional states.
It’s an intriguing hypothesis, though, that the happiness women gain from lengthy periods of enforced abstinence they sacrifice in sexual and romantic satisfaction. The committed beta provider that female-compelled (and it’s rarely male-compelled) abstinence selects for comes at the cost of losing the sexy alpha cad that female-compelled abstinence selects against.
Maybe some massively underacknowledged subculture of preternaturally abnegating abstinent Evangelicals exists of which I’m only dimly aware that skews the average time couples spend in sexless purgatory well into the double and triple digit days, but in the world I live in — the one that’s pretty much a given in any community that isn’t orthodox religious — a 60 day wait for sex is nearly unheard of, let alone a 182 day wait. In fact, a wait beyond three weeks is pretty much folly for any man dating your typical SWPL chick; by that time, she will have moved on to fucking some dude who actually turns her on. Even the women who say they want to wait longer than convention would react with disbelief if a man told them he would be willing to wait six months before having sex. It’s that weird.
What good is long-term happiness if you can’t even score the short-term thrill? There’s the rub. As a man, you are really rolling low odds by pursuing, or, more precisely, by abiding the woman’s pursuing, the “wait to elate” strategy. The far-future happiness and relationship stability that a long sexless courtship might offer is greatly outweighed by the high risk that you de facto castrate yourself to the woman you are chastely wooing. You’d be a fool to avoid the bedroom for very long, when there is a good chance some other man will distract your girl’s attention during her prolonged bout of purity. And an even better chance you’ll accidentally say or do something during the dry months of your courtship that extinguishes the spark of her attraction for you.
This severing of happiness from sexual triumph, for both sexes, is one of the great unrecognized repercussions of the past 60 years of our Wild West mating market. And it seems like this is exactly the way most of us want it.