We know that sex is good for us – physically, mentally and spiritually. But research is starting to show that a healthy sex life can positively influence our careers, too.
The small Swedish town of Övertorneå isn’t used to global headlines. That is, it wasn’t until February 2017 – when town councillor Per-Erik Muskos made a proposal that shocked the ageing, rural population, and the international media with it.
Muskos believes that Swedes should be given an hour-long, paid break from work each week, to dedicate to going home and having sex with their partners. For the politician, couples don’t have enough time together, and ‘there are studies that show sex is healthy’. He saw no reason why the other town officials wouldn’t go for it.
Muskos was wrong about that: the Övertorneå town council voted against his proposal. But he was right to mention the magnitude of studies that show the health benefits of an active sex life. It’s proven that sexual activity and orgasms improve fitness, strengthen immunity and release the ‘love hormone’ oxytocin, which lowers anxiety and raises energy levels.
But studies also suggest that there’s another added bonus to an active sex life: workplace success. Research conducted at the University of Oregon, the University of Washington and Oregon State University found that couples having more sex at home experienced increased motivation and job satisfaction at work. Perhaps Muskos was onto something after all.
For the 2017 study, four researchers tracked the behaviour of 159 married employees for two weeks, asking them to fill in a daily diary charting sexual activity and rating workplace enjoyment. “We found that when employees engaged in sex at home, they reported increased positive affect at work the following day,” they report. “And daily work-to-family strain-based conflict significantly reduced the likelihood of engaging in sex at home that evening.”
According to the findings, then, a satisfying sex life works in full circle with a fulfilling work life. Getting it on one night means an improved performance at work the next day – yet having a crappy day at the office means you’ll likely be feeling less than horny by the time you’re back home with your partner.
Sexuality as part of the bigger picture
For American sexologist Logan Levkoff, PhD, this makes total sense.
“There is no question that happiness and fulfilment in your romantic and sexuality identity play a role in your physical and emotional productivity,” she says. “We tend to think of sexual health and fulfilment as not a necessity, but it’s an important, critical part of who we are holistically. It relates to our physical and spiritual wellbeing – our self-confidence or stress. And we bring all those things into the workplace with us.”
There are flaws in the study. You don’t have to be in a committed, monogamous marriage to have a healthy sex life – “people can be sexually and emotionally fulfilled and not interested in having a particular partner”, clarifies Levkoff – but it turns out the researchers purposefully limited their study to married couples because they, statistically speaking, have more sex than singletons.
Shocked? Don’t be. Despite the assumed prevalence of ‘hook-up culture’ brought upon us by dating apps like Grindr, BARE Dating or Tinder – which has an estimated 57 million users worldwide – millennials in the USA and Europe are having less sex than the previous GenX generation. “Americans born in the 80s and 90s [are] more likely to report having no sexual partners as adults compared to GenX’ers born in the 60s and 70s,” claims psychologist Jean Twenge in a 2016 study by San Diego State University.
Could this decline in sexual activity negatively impact millennials’ success at work? One study, published earlier this month, seems to suggest so.
“Men with lower income and with part-time or no employment [are] more likely to be sexually inactive,” claim researchers from Indiana University, who looked at the sex lives of 18-44-year-olds in the USA from 2000-2018. “Approximately one in three men aged 18 to 24 years reported no sexual activity in the past year.”
Which came first – sexual inactivity or unemployment? It’s a question that’s impossible to answer, and perhaps irrelevant to ask. But if the Indiana University study proves anything, it’s that Levkoff’s reading of the situation is accurate: sexual confidence goes hand-in-hand with career confidence. “Our voice, our self-confidence or stress… all those things are impacted by our sexual lives and lack thereof,” she says.
The fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has made social contact harder and left so many in unstable financial circumstances, is likely to mean even less sex for Western millennials – as well as fewer economic opportunities.
The impact of tech
The worldwide lockdown has also increased use of dating apps among single people, with Tinder recording its highest-ever number of swipes on 29 March (3 billion). While some daters are enjoying more meaningful exchanges on apps and a lower stigma associated with using them, the pandemic has made online dating more central to 21st-century dating than ever – and it’s here to stay. Research by American platform Dating.com has found that while its users are keen to get back to dating, 60 per cent of those questioned will be cautiously easing back into in-person dating in the wake of the experience.
Levkoff believes that dating apps have a lot to answer for when it comes to the declining sex lives of millennials – which in turn can have a knock-on effect in the workplace.
“We have created a culture around sex and technology and intimacy, where being vulnerable is a really scary thing,” she explains. “And when we have outlets for sexual pleasure that aren’t fraught with vulnerability, we don’t necessarily seek it out with another person. But that inability to speak candidly, being awkward and owning it? Those are really important skills. And when we’re unsure of our voice, think about how that affects us in business.”
Exploring your kinks
Dating apps have their downsides, but the prevalence of the internet in our daily lives has dramatically opened the door to an industry that was once the preserve of phone boxes and public bathroom walls: the sex industry. And within that world, there’s a service that’s traditionally been seen to cater to high-flying businessmen, looking for an antidote to their pressured workdays. If there’s a correlation between sexual fulfilment and workplace success, then can visiting a dominatrix be seen as a career investment?
“There’s a stereotype that men who see dominatrixes are of a certain age group, businessmen and lawyers, but that’s a misconception,” says Mistress Adreena Angela, a dominatrix and sex workers’ activist in London. “That was probably true in the past, but now there’s such a huge variety. But there is definitely a correlation between people who have power in the outside world, and submission.”
Mistress Adreena confirms that clients can experience greater workplace success following their sessions with her – “I have a guy who comes on his lunchbreak, then returns to work with more of a spring in his step”, she laughs – but credits it to the personal satisfaction that can be gained from exploring your sexuality head on.
“I have one client in regular chastity,” she reveals. “He does a month at a time where he can’t have sex or masturbate, and it retrains his mind. He’s so much more focused on work when he’s in chastity – he says there’s a noticeable improvement.”
Wait. Can taking sex completely out of the equation help performance at work, too?
“It’s not exactly that,” decides Mistress Adreena. “He’s still dealing with his sexuality, just not through orgasms. If you’re addressing your sexuality, you’re in a much healthier headspace – rather than being sexually frustrated or feeling shame. Psychologically, you’ll be in a better place to work.”
There’s no doubt that the relationship between sex and the rest of your life is complex and intertwined. A sudden uptick in career success can leave you too tired to dedicate sufficient time to your partner and to sex; while pregnancy, childbirth, parenthood and menopause can all greatly impact your sex and work life. “Before I had a child I was shagging like mad and working on my career,” one mum tells us. “Now I’ve not had sex for six years and I’m unemployed, rather than being in a full-time, permanent job.”
From the bedroom to the boardroom
Owning your sexuality seems to be beneficial, both in your personal and work life. And if sex is fundamental to our overall wellbeing – as argued by Levkoff, plus countless doctors and psychologists producing research on the subject – it only follows that hang-ups in the bedroom could trickle into the boardroom.
“No matter where we live, and regardless of religious or ethnic culture, we all get messages about what is ‘acceptable’ sexually. About how we’re supposed to act and feel fulfilled. When we don’t have that, it trickles down,” says Levkoff. “If you don’t feel worthy of love, respect, attention and having your voice heard, it’s impossible not to carry that into your work. That will definitely impact your business.”
Love, respect and attention? They’re three things that everybody deserves. We don’t need any more convincing.