The holidays are all about spending quality time with family, eating good food, taking some much-needed time off … and having sex?
As it turns out, research shows that online interest in sex “peaks sharply” during major, family-oriented cultural and religious celebrations all over the world. In the study, researchers used Google Trends to see how often people search for the word “sex” and noted it went up around the holidays, reaching its highest peak during the week of Christmas in the U.S., as well as peaking during Eid-al-Fitr celebrations in Muslim countries.
The researchers also pointed out that these peaks in online sex-related searches corresponded with birth rate increases in the U.S. nine months later.
Experts say there are several reasons why interest in sex picks up over the holidays. Here, they break it down.
1. You’re on vacation
Not surprisingly, having time off around the holidays tops the list. “During most of the year, most people are working and their partner is working,” Laurie Mintz, psychologist, sex therapist and sexpert for the sex toy company Lelo, tells Yahoo Life. “You get home at the end of the day and you’re tired.” But over the holidays, people typically get a break from work, feel more relaxed and have some “extra time” on their hands, says Mintz.
She also points out that some people take trips over the holidays, and “we do know that vacations increase sex.” That’s because travel and “getting out of your element increases sexual activity in couples,” Leah Millheiser, director of the female sexual medicine program at Stanford University Medical Center, tells Yahoo Life.
While some people find the holiday season “totally joyful and relaxing,” says Mintz, it’s downright stressful for others. Although that can dampen desire for some, “there are people who cope with stress by having sex,” Mintz points out. And while some may find it a bit awkward to have sex under the same roof as their parents if they’re going home for the holidays, there are people who "find it exciting,” says Millheiser.
2. It’s “cuffing season”
Cuffing season is the time of year when individuals feel compelled to couple up — even if it’s just temporary — to get through the cold winter months. While there isn’t much research on the social phenomenon, experts explain that cuffing season makes sense since cuddling not only physically warms you up when it’s chilly out, but it also feels good, boosting your mood.
“When the temperature drops and it gets cold earlier, there is often a change of mood connected with the two chemicals of melatonin and serotonin in your body,” psychologist Susan Albers-Bowling told the Cleveland Clinic. “Dark, cold nights can trigger an intense feeling of loneliness and a drop in serotonin, and there may even be a significant link between cuffing season and seasonal affective disorder.”
But being coupled up “makes us feel cozy and creates a natural boost in serotonin, that feel-good chemical in your brain," she said, "and having someone to bring with you to a holiday event or family gathering can alleviate a lot of dread and anxiety.”
3. Winter may boost sexual attraction
One study that looked at how men's assessments of women's attractiveness changed seasonally indicated that men found women’s bodies more attractive in the winter than in the summer, despite — or maybe because of — being bundled up.
Social psychologist and author Dr. Justin Lehmiller explained why in his sex and psychology blog: “Because women wear sexier and more revealing clothes in the summer months and bundle up in the winter, the standard of bodily comparison is much higher when it is warmer outside (i.e., because everyone is showing a lot of skin during summer, the bar for what qualifies as ‘hot’ is set higher; in the winter, skin is rarely seen, so it becomes more novel and arousing to look at).”
He adds: “Another possibility is that men’s hormone levels fluctuate seasonally, thereby altering patterns of attraction.”
4. You’re swept up in nostalgia
“There’s an emotional component to the holidays," says Millheiser, noting that there's something "nostalgic about the time of year,” regardless of religous affilation. Those sentimental feelings can increase the desire to feel more connected to and be more romantic with partners, including being more intimate.
As Millheiser puts it, it’s that “whole Hallmark phenomenon,” explaining that there is a reason why people are "obsessed with these movies — the holidays inspire in people this feeling of love and kindness and nostalgia.”
She adds: “For some, the holiday is a reminder of the importance of family and togetherness and bonding for many.”
5. You’re starting to think about New Year’s resolutions
Another factor may be pre-New Year’s resolutions in which long-term couples reflect on the previous year and aim to give added attention to their relationship, which can include having sex more often, says Mintz. “I think people start to think about how they want the year to be better,” she says. “‘I’m going to have more sex… I’m going to make it a priority.’”
For couples whose sex lives have been put on the back burner, prioritizing intimacy — whether it’s affection or sex — can help them feel closer and more connected. In fact, cuddling, kissing or having sex (with orgasms in particular) triggers the body to release the hormone oxytocin (aka “the love hormone”), which causes people to feel more bonded with their partner.
Mintz explains that feelings of nostalgia and “at the same time taking stock of how you want to do better — those two in combination would be a pretty potent cocktail for, ‘Let’s have more sex.’”
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