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Social Science: More Sex Will Make You Happier at Work

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There are lots of good arguments for maintaining a healthy work/life balance (including the pretty obvious one, that you’ll enjoy your life more if it’s not all about work, all the time). There are also lots of definitions of what that means. More vacation time, paid parental leave, having hobbies and maintaining a social life count. Some really proactive companies even pay for gym memberships or paid “sabbaticals” to encourage their employees to get out and enjoy the world beyond their desks.

But while you’re making room in your busy, career-minded life for friends, fitness, and family, don’t forget another important part of maintaining a happy, well-balanced life: your sex life.

New research from Oregon State University shows that maintaining an active, healthy sex life can lead to increased job satisfaction and productivity at work for married employees. (It’s unclear why researchers only looked at the sex lives of married people, but I’m going to give them the benefit of the doubt and believe that it’s because they wanted to start with as few variables as possible, and not because they’ve time-traveled from the 1950s when marital sex was the only socially-acceptable sex.)

Researchers followed 159 subjects over the course of two weeks, and asked them to fill out a survey each day, including questions about their mood, productivity, general sense of well-being—and whether or not they’d gotten it on with their spouse the night before. They found that subjects who had engaged in sexual activity the previous evening reported that they were more likely to immerse themselves in their tasks and enjoy their work lives. The effect, which seemed to last about 24 hours, was equal for both men and women, and stayed consistent after researchers factored in marriage satisfaction and sleep quality.

It’s no surprise that sex, which releases dopamine in the brain, makes us happier. Societally, we seem to know this already. But it’s still striking to see the impact measured, and to see how that elevated mood impacts every aspect of our lives—even our work lives, which might be the polar opposite of our sex lives (except for sex workers, of course).

“We make jokes about people having a ‘spring in their step,’ but it turns out this is actually a real thing and we should pay attention to it,” said Keith Leavitt, an associate professor in OSU’s College of Business, and an expert in organizational behavior and management. “Maintaining a healthy relationship that includes a healthy sex life will help employees stay happy and engaged in their work, which benefits the employees and the organizations they work for.”

“This is a reminder that sex has social, emotional and physiological benefits, and it’s important to make it a priority,” Leavitt said. “Just make time for it.”

Perhaps the most important takeaway from this study is that bringing work stress home from the office, by staying plugged into work email, or checking Slack messages while you’re trying unwind at home, had a negative impact on subjects’ sex lives and on their general well-being. Discussions of the “right to unplug” have been central to the societal discussions of work-life balance, and this study is further evidence of just how important it is to leave work at work.

“Technology offers a temptation to stay plugged in, but it’s probably better to unplug if you can,” Leavitt said. “And employers should encourage their employees to completely disengage from work after hours.”

This is, of course, even more difficult for those of us who work in the “gig economy” or otherwise don’t have a job that ends at 6pm or an office we can leave it at. But it’s important for everyone—even freelancers, creative types, and workaholics—to find ways to step away from work once in a while and enjoy some one-on-one time with the people we love.

Top photo by Erin Kelly CC BY 2.0

Lilly Dancyger is Deputy Editor of Narratively, and a freelance journalist based in New York City.

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