More Than Just Sex: Affection Mediates the Association Between Sexual Activity and Well-Being

Pers Soc Psychol Bull. 2017 Mar;43(3):287-299. doi: 10.1177/0146167216684124. Epub 2017 Jan 9.


Positive interpersonal interactions such as affection are central to well-being. Sex is associated with greater individual well-being, but little is known about why this occurs. We predicted that experienced affection would account for the association between sex and well-being. Cross-sectional results indicated that affection mediated the association between sex and both life satisfaction (Study 1) and positive emotions (however, among men only in Study 2). In Study 3, an experience sampling study with 106 dual-earner couples with children, affection mediated the association between sex and increased positive affect in daily life. Cross-lagged analyses in Study 3 to 4 supported the predicted direction of the associations. Moreover, the strength of the daily association between sex and positive affect predicted both partners' relationship satisfaction 6 months later. Our findings underscore the importance of affection and positive affect for understanding how sex promotes well-being and has long-term relational benefits.

Keywords: affection; experience sampling; positive affect; romantic relationships; sexual activity; well-being.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Emotions
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interpersonal Relations*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Personal Satisfaction*
  • Quality of Life*
  • Sexual Behavior*
  • Sexual Partners / psychology*
  • Young Adult