You probably know instinctively that sex feels great and makes you feel closer to your partner, but science backs it up. Studies have already shown sex releases the feel-good hormone dopamine and the “cuddle hormone” oxytocin, which boosts bonding. Still, most couples aren’t getting busy every day, so scientists wanted to know how long that spark lasts between romp sessions. Turns out, that the “sexual afterglow” sticks around way after you’ve put your clothes back on.
Researchers looked at two studies of newlyweds—one with 96 couples, and another with 118 couples. For two weeks, the couples kept a diary tracking whether they’d had sex that day. (And it didn't have to be at night—learn why 3 p.m. is the best time to have sex.) Even if the answer was “no,” they also filled out a questionnaire rating how satisfied they felt with their sex life, partner, relationship, and marriage. They also took a marriage quality test at the beginning of the study, plus another four to six months later.
Unsurprisingly, rolling in the sheets boosted sexual satisfaction scores that day, according to results in the journal Psychological Science. Here’s the exciting part, though: Just one sex session kept couples’ sexual satisfaction scores stayed high for another two days. “Our research shows that sexual satisfaction remains elevated 48 hours after sex,” lead study author Andrea Meltzer, a psychological scientist at Florida State University, says in a statement.
There was a huge range in how often couples had sex, though the average couple had sex four times during the two-week tracking. Still, the 48-hour afterglow was consistent no matter how frequently they did the deed, how long they’d been together, and what age and gender they were. (By the way, this is the surprising age you'll have the best sex of your life.)
That lingering sexual satisfaction can affect how happy a relationship is, too. Those who had the highest afterglows—meaning the strongest sexual satisfaction scores, even when they hadn’t had sex that day—were the most satisfied with their marriages at the start of the study. (Find out what happens to your body when you stop having sex.)
Of course, as the honeymoon period came to an end (and as participants got more used to answering such intimate questions), the average marital satisfaction went down across the board by the time the researchers followed up four to six months later. An afterglow helped keep some of that spark going strong, though. Those with the strongest sexual afterglows still had lower satisfaction ratings during the follow-up, but the declines were less sharp than those who didn’t glow as long. Maybe they used these 9 ways to improve your sex life in just one day.
So why exactly does sex leave a lasting warm, fuzzy feeling? Clinical psychologist Shannon Kolakowski, PsyD, has an idea. “What creates the afterglow is in part due to the positive circumstances that led to having sex, such as feelings of love and connection, having a good time together, having desire for your partner and feeling desired,” she tells Forbes. “And what sustains the afterglow is the sex act itself, the release of bonding chemicals in the body as well as having a shared experience to remember and enjoy, which fortifies these good feelings.” Plus, you'll get these 7 health benefits of sex.
So if it’s been more than a couple days since you’ve gotten it on, consider this study an excuse to put the moves on your partner. Sex tonight could leave you smiling for days. Need a little encouragement? Try these 48 simple ways to improve your sex life.