Health

Can withholding sex make you happier?

There are many things I am happy to be in denial about. That my weekly indulgences in pork belly, terrines, and ripe cheeses can't possibly hurt as long as I periodically eat a seaweed salad and unroll my yoga mat.

There are many things I am happy to be in denial about. That my weekly indulgences in pork belly, terrines, and ripe cheeses can’t possibly hurt as long as I periodically eat a seaweed salad and unroll my yoga mat. That I’ll sleep just fine if I have that third glass of red wine. That my now ex-boyfriend really did have to clean out his email inbox that time he canceled our dinner plans. And one of my favourite delusional beliefs is that when I have sex with someone will have no bearing on the potential future of that relationship. First date, second date, third date – if it’s meant to work out, it’ll work out.

But now there’s further evidence that just when you have sex with someone does matter. According to a recent story in The Washington Post, a new study has found that delaying sex can lead to a more satisfying relationship in the long run. University of Iowa sociologist Anthony Paik asked hundreds of study participants (who were in relationships) questions about their sex lives, and found that a whopping 56 percent of them had waited until they were seriously dating, engaged or married before having sex with their partner. When asked to rate their emotional and physical satisfaction with their relationship, those who waited longer to have sex gave their relationship a higher score.

Paik surmised that the dissatisfaction wasn’t necessarily related to premature sex, per se, but that people who ended up together after a casual fling seemed “predisposed to lower relationship quality.” (i.e., that they weren’t looking for a commitment when commitment found them.) “It kind of makes sense, because a lot of people entering non-romantic relationships are not looking for relationships,” he says. “But it’s much easier, I think, to have a repeat hookup than to have a one-time thing and keep having different partners. And maybe they kind of get sucked into a relationship that way.”

There’s something about strategically delaying sex that smacks of game playing, but I will concede that the most functional relationships I’ve had were the ones where at least some sliver of an emotional relationship developed before we hopped in the sack. And it makes sense that waiting to have sex with someone – though how long you’re supposed to wait is unclear from the article (however long it is, I’m sure it FEELS like forever) – weeds out prospective suitors who are mostly just interested in sex. But it’s worth noting that the study only looks at happiness in long-term relationships, and not the excitement or happiness that casual dating (and casual sex) can induce. Forming long-term attachments to people you genuinely care about is indeed a big part of being happy. But sometimes, gossiping with your friends over brunch about a late night with a much younger guy you’re never going to see again can be pretty fun, too.