We all have some kind of existential crisis at some point. You may be going through one right now. Do you find yourself so preoccupied with wedding planning that you’re going through the motions with everything else that matters in your life? Does work no longer fulfill you? Did an epic night of Beyonce and Jay-Z’s On The Run II tour leave you questioning why you never pursued your big dream of performing on stage?
If you do find yourself questioning whether your life has meaning and purpose, you may want to consider a romp in the sack. According to a new study published earlier this summer in the journal Emotion, a good sexual encounter today could lead to a better mood and a greater sense of purpose tomorrow.
Researchers from George Mason University were interested in getting a better understanding of the intersection between well-being and sexuality. After all, as the study’s authors write, “[p]eople think about sex, fantasize about sex, and are hard-wired to have sex.”
The study’s authors recruited 152 mostly heterosexual college students and asked them to complete a daily online diary for three consecutive weeks. In it, they tracked any negative or positive moods, what sexual activity they engaged in (though the researchers did not explicitly define what was considered sex), and how intimate and pleasurable those experiences were. Participants were also asked to rate “how meaningful” they felt their life was that day.
The study confirmed that when a person gets laid, they generally reported feeling pretty good the following day. This was found to be true for both men and women. (That’s not surprising, considering sexual activity triggers the release of oxytocin and dopamine, which are chemicals directly linked with positive mood.) But, unfortunately, the researchers did not find the opposite to be true: A good mood did not predict more sex the next day.
Another interesting point in the study’s results is that it didn’t appear to make much difference how committed partners were to each other. In other words, sometimes just getting that important itch scratched can brighten your overall mood. But quality does matter. People who had greater pleasure during a particular sexcapade also reported greater positive emotions and fewer negative emotions the next day.
Sex was also associated with a greater sense of meaning in life, the study continues. “Meaning in life often arises when an individual feels their basic need for belonging is met with someone,” the authors write. “Sex requires a level of vulnerability and trust that readily facilitates opportunities for deep, meaningful social connection.” These findings, they add, support other research that show “meaning in life is not limited to profound events and in fact, often derives from living in a world that appears to be reliable and comprehensible.”
Todd Kashdan is a psychologist and lead author on the study. In an article he penned for Psychology Today, Kashdan delved deeper into this notion idea of finding meaning through the mundane. “You can derive a sense of meaning in life on the drive to a job interview, noticing that traffic lights turn green — interpreted as the world being on your side,” he explains. “And when there is an opportunity to present one’s true vulnerable self (complete with quirks, shortcomings, and magnificent obsessions), without the worries of showcasing a smarter, stronger, emotionally stable version of ourselves in social encounters, we feel as if life is a bit more meaningful.”
“If such a wide array of events can bring us meaning,” he continues, “perhaps ordinary sexual experiences can do the same.”
Considering the fact that 75 percent of people between the ages of 25 and 33 will experience a quarter-life crisis, I’m sure there are plenty willing to continue testing this theory.