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What Is Good Sex Really Worth?

Sure, money can make you happy, but only up to a point. What is the dollar value of intimacy?

A FUNNY THING has been happening, While Americans' income has skyrocketed in the past 50 years, levels of self-reported happiness have remained sadly steady. And consider this: On a life satisfaction scale from 1 to 7, Calcutta slum dwellers put themselves at 4.6, while Forbes magazine's "richest Americans" rate themselves only a 5.8. Such existential calculus has encouraged economists and psychologists to join forces in the white-hot field of behavioral economics. It's also leading them to assess the precise contribution of quality-of-life elements to our sense of prosperity. Along with such traditional variables as employment rates and income, there's a growing recognition that mental health, satisfaction with work and political freedom figure powerfully into measures of societal well-being.

But of all the elements that generate happiness, none does more for us than a committed relationship. And the surest way to maximize its value is by enjoying lots of sex. Researchers put so much stock in the effect of single-partner intimacy on happiness that a British team has assigned dollar figures to marriage and sex. In that spirit, we price the priceless: the physical and emotional dividends of love.

MARRIAGE = $115,000

MARRIAGE'S WINDFALL goes far beyond tax breaks and joint health coverage. Economists at the University of Warwick in England compared people's levels of happiness in response to life changes, such as a salary raise or getting hitched, and estimate that marriage is tantamount to a six-figure salary.

SEMEN = ($1,500 for Women, Priceless for Men)

WOMEN WHO engage in sex without condoms report lower levels of depression than those who have the same amount of sex with a condom, report researchers at the State University of New York in Albany. What's more, seminal fluid contains dopamine, the neurotransmitter that fuels ardor. It's unlikely that these chemicals can make their way to our brains, though. A simpler explanation for semen's positive profile: Regular sex without condoms likely occurs in an exclusive, trusting relationship.


 


FREQUENT SEX = $50,000 per year

SEX IS an emotional jackpot: In a survey of 16,000 Americans, people who had the most sex were also the happiest, according to self-reports. Married people have more sex than those who are single, divorced, widowed or separated, and research shows that those with one sex partner are more content than those with none or several. (Interestingly, sex appears to have stronger effects on the happiness of highly educated people than on those with less education.) In fact, increasing sexual activity from once a month to once a week is equivalent to an additional $50,000 in annual income, says the University of Warwick team.

TOUCH = $26,000

HUMANS CRAVE each other's touch--babies who aren't held simply fail to thrive. Adults seek out the security and warmth of a human body as much as the sexual activity itself. Caresses from a spouse or long-term partner lessen stress by reducing the hormone cortisol as well as norepinephrine. And when cortisol dips, two chemical messengers--serotonin and dopamine--rise and leave us feeling emotionally flush. Touch also improves well-being by calming us, dissipating anxiety, lowering heart rate and allowing us to focus awareness.

SWEAT = $15,500

MAKING TIME for sex is a good long-term investment strategy. It increases blood flow and circulation throughout the body, which reduces the risk of heart attack. Research suggests that frequent intercourse may ward off colds and infections by boosting the immune system. Sexually active people are also less susceptible to depression and suicide.

ORGASM = $7,000

ORGASMS FEEL great because brain cells release precious chemicals that send euphoria-inducing endorphins soaring. The bonding hormone oxytocin rises as well, bringing powerful feelings of contentment, Orgasms could even be life-extending: Frequent orgasm has been linked to a longer life, most likely because of salubrious effects on the heart and immune system.

next: Does Sex Make Us Happy?

Last Updated: April 8, 2016

Reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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