11 Things We Learned About Sex In 2016

Ashley Batz for Bustle
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Whether we're trying to improve our technique or just curious about the birds and the bees, it seems we're all trying to learn about sex more. We study, we survey, we question— and I think it's all great. It's still a relatively taboo subject, which is a shame. So any sign that that's changing, like all the research that was done in 2016, is a great sign. Because sex is a really sensitive topic. It's natural that we want to know what other people do, how it compares to what we do, and, perhaps more than anything, if we have a healthy sex life.

But as much as we wonder what everyone else is doing — so much of what constitutes a healthy sex life has to do with our individual relationship and chemistry:  "If two people struggle with playfulness outside of the bedroom, they will very likely have a mechanical (aka boring) sexual experience in the bedroom," relationship coach and founder of Maze of Love, Chris Armstrong, tells Bustle. "Couples cannot simply turn on the fun and expect fireworks if their chemistry prior to walking into the bedroom is flat."

And Armstrong is definitely right— chemistry is key. But there are a whole lot of other factors that affect the quality of our sex lives too. From how sex fits into our relationships to our own dynamic with our partner to our sex drives and desires, there are a lot of puzzle pieces to fit together. So it can be really helpful to look all of the amazing research that's been done this year to try and understand more about our sex lives, and sex more generally.

1Once A Week Is Usually The Sweet Spot

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Everyone is different, so there's not a 'perfect' amount of sex everyone should be having. But since we're all curious about what everyone else is doing, according to research from the University of Toronto Mississauga found that sex and happiness both increased up to a sexual frequency of once a week — then it sort of leveled out.

"In relationships, I find that whatever the level of desire between two people, it's important that they stay connected," Amy Levine, sex coach and founder of Ignite Your Pleasure, tells Bustle. "For some that may mean kissing and cuddling and others that may be hot adventurous sex. It's when couples have mismatched libidos and aren't able to compromise on some level of physical intimacy that it can lead to disconnection and other issues." So the most important thing is that you and your parter are happy.

2That Our Phones May Be More Important To Us Than Sex

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I can't believe this is the case, but this year we learned that almost a third of Americans would give up sex before their phones. That's right. A survey by mobile intelligence developer Delvv asked participants which they would rather have and— wait for it— they would rather give up all forms of sex for three months than give up their phones for a week. Yup, three months of no sex rather than a week without a phone. Priorities, people.

3That Travel Can Spice Up Your Sex Life

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This was a pleasant surprise. Expedia surveyed over 30 million (!) travelers  and found that travel made them feel better generally and lead to more sex. Which makes sense, because hotel sex is definitely some of the best sex. Even better, it made travelers feel younger— so it's time to start booking those 2017 vacations.

4That Politics Can Mess With Our Libidos

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Damn this election year. A survey from the Kindara fertility app of over 900 users found that one in five Democrats and one in nine Republicans found the stress and negativity around the election so difficult that it was affecting their sex drives. Which makes sense, because it was such a fraught time.

“We thought this survey would be a fun and timely way to engage with our Kindara App users, while providing a snapshot as to how this year’s Presidential campaign is impacting American women’s lives behind the closed doors of the bedroom,” Dr. Raychel Muenke, EVP of Kindara tells Bustle. Thank god it's over, but we'll see what happens when the inauguration rolls around.

5That We All Feel Different About Waiting To Have Sex

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When it comes to how long you should wait (or not wait) to have sex, my friends and I all feel very differently. But this year a survey from Adam and Eve of over 1,000 respondents found that we all feel very differently. Ten percent said they like to get down on the first date, 34 percent said less than a month, 17 percent said exactly a month, and 39 percent of people would wait at least a month.

So no matter what makes you feel comfortable, you're not alone. It's a very personal decision and people feel so differently — just make sure you're doing what's good for you.

6That Bright Lights Can Help A Man's Performance

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The University of Siena did an experiment with men who had been diagnosed with low sex drives and found that those who were exposed to a bright light had an increase in testosterone. And, along with an increase in testosterone, came more sexual satisfaction. So if your partner's sex drive suffers— especially in the winter months — shining some light on the problem may actually help them.

7That Everybody Loves Car Sex

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Turns out, it's not just everyone who went to my high school— people all around America love car sex. A University of South Dakota study in Journal of Sex Research found that almost 60 percent of us have had sex in a car before and 14 percent of us actually lost our virginity in the car. Not the most comfortable place, but needs must.

Why is it so popular? "My first instinct is that people are having sex in their cars because it’s the only place they have! I think it’s always been bit awkward and uncomfortable and always will be," relationship therapist Aimee Hartstein, LCSW tells Bustle. But we still love it. Why? "It’s all about convenience, privacy, and access." And when sometimes, that's all you need.

8That Women's Sex Drives Decrease In Long-Term Relationships

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A study published in Psychological Medicine looked at 2,173 Finnish women for seven years to see how various sexual functions changed over time. They discovered that women who were in the same monogamous relationship showed the greatest decrease in sex drive over the seven  years. Even those who were in one relationship at the start of the study and a different relationship by the end of the seven years had a bigger sex drive drop than single women.

But don't panic — remember every person and every relationship is different. "A healthy sex drive is different for each person," Amy Levine, sex coach and founder of Ignite Your Pleasure, tells Bustle. "Overall, it's when we feel balanced in our desire (it feels good to us, as opposed to something being off whether too high or low) and sexually fulfilled whether it's alone or with a partner."

9Having Frequent Sex May Improve Your Memory

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Another reason to have more sex? A study from McGill University published in Archives of Sexual Behavior found that women who had sex more often had better memories.

"We observed this association between sexual behaviour and memory but there is no way we can tell that it is the sexual behaviour that *caused* the better memory," Dr. Jens Pruessner, Director of the McGill Centre for Studies in Aging, who worked on the study, tells Bustle. "For example, better health might be both associated with being more sexually intimate and having better memory. Or more physical activity. Or a better diet. You see, there is a myriad of possibilities that could explain this association. In the absence of a true experiment (where one manipulates one variable and observes the effect on the other variable) it is impossible to tell."

10That Responsiveness Is The Secret To Rekindling Desire In A Long-Term Relationship

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Listen up! An article in Journal of Personality and Social Psychology comprised of three different studies looked at if how we respond to our partner affects our levels of sexual desire. They found that responsiveness was associated with increased desire, especially for women.

One way to do this? Pay attention. "I’ve absolutely seen couples save a relationship using active listening," Janet Zinn, a New York City–based couples therapist, tells Bustle. "[Active listening] adds compassion for one another in the relationship, which is key to healing a relationship."

11That Maybe We're Not The Hookup Generation After All

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Hookup generation? Maybe not so much. Researchers at Florida Atlantic University, San Diego State University, and Widener University found that Americans ages 20 to 24 are more sexually inactive than previous generations. In fact, Millennials are having the same amount of sex as their grandparents’ generation. WTF?

But it makes sense when you think about how many unmarried Millennials there are and how traditional relationship models are changing. “Millennials and iGen are growing up more slowly,” the study’s co-author and author of Generation Me, Dr. Jean Twenge, tells Bustle. “With more going to college and a still-challenging job market, it's taking longer for young people to become economically stable enough to support a family.”

Your sex life is going to be as unique as you are, but that doesn't mean you can't learn from all of the research that's done around sex. There's always more to learn, so it will be great to see what we discover in 2017.