New York: Believe it or not, more frequent action in the bedroom can indeed power a healthy relationship, new research suggests.
The more often couples have sex, the more strongly they associate their partners with positive attributes, the study found.
"We found that the frequency with which couples have sex has no influence on whether or not they report being happy with their relationship, but their sexual frequency does influence their more spontaneous, automatic, gut-level feelings about their partners," said study lead author Lindsey Hicks of Florida State University in the US.
"These automatic attitudes ultimately predict whether couples end up becoming dissatisfied with their relationship," Hicks noted.
The study was published in the journal Psychological Science.
From an evolutionary standpoint, frequent sex confers several benefits, improving chances of conception and helping bond partners together in relationships that facilitate child-rearing.
But when researchers explicitly ask couples about their relationship satisfaction, they typically don't find any association between satisfaction and frequency of sex.
"We thought these inconsistencies may stem from the influence of deliberate reasoning and biased beliefs regarding the sometimes taboo topic of sex," Hicks explained.
In the study, 216 newlyweds completed survey-style measures of relationship satisfaction.
Then, they completed a computer classification task. A word appeared on-screen and they had to press a specific key to indicate whether the word was positive or negative. Before the word appeared, a photo of their partners popped up for 300 minutes.
The researchers also asked each partner in the couple to estimate how many times they had had sex in the last four months.
The researchers found no association between frequency of sex and self-reported relationship satisfaction.
But when they looked at participants' automatic behavioural responses, they saw a different pattern.
Estimates of sexual frequency were correlated with participants' automatic attitudes about their partners. That is, the more often couples had sex, the more strongly they associated their partners with positive attributes.
Importantly, this finding held for both men and women.