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2014 Editors' Choice Awards: #11 - To Spoon or Not to Spoon?

Dr. Amy Muise - Sex Musings | Science of Relationships articles | Website/CV
Dr. Muise’s research focuses on sexuality, including the role of sexual motives in maintaining sexual desire in long-term relationships, and sexual well-being. She also studies the relational effects of new media, such as how technology influences dating scripts and the experience of jealousy.


What do you do after sex? If you don’t already, our new research suggests that you may want to spend a little extra time cuddling up with your partner. Across two studies, spending more time being affectionate with your partner after sex  -- above and beyond the time spent engaging in sex itself -- was linked to feeling more satisfied with your sex life and overall relationship.1

In the first study, involving 335 participants (138 men and 197 women, all of whom were in romantic relationships and 90% of whom were heterosexual), people who reported a longer duration of after-sex affection were more satisfied with their sex lives and in turn, happier with their overall relationships. Although people varied in how long they reported cuddling after sex, the average amount of time spent being affection after sex was 15 minutes. Interestingly, duration of after-sex affection was even more important for sexual and relationship satisfaction than duration of sex and foreplay! In this study, after-sex affection was also most important for couples with kids compared to childfree couples (but it mattered for both). Although parents spent less time cuddling after sex than couples without kids (it might be harder for busy parents to find the time), spending more time cuddling after sex was more strongly linked to satisfaction for couples with kids than those without. Also, cuddling after sex wasn’t only important to women (as gender stereotypes might suggest). Although women’s relationship happiness was more strongly impacted by how long they cuddled after sex, after-sex affection indirectly impacted men’s relationship satisfaction – specifically, it increased their sexual satisfaction, and, in turn, they felt happier with their overall relationships.1

In the second study, 101 couples (94% heterosexual) reported their daily sexual experiences, duration of after-sex affection (i.e., cuddling, caressing and intimate conversation), quality of their after-sex activities (perhaps you were the big spoon but would have prefered to be the little spoon) and relationship satisfaction every day for 21 days. On days when couples spent more time cuddling after sex than they typically do, they felt more satisfied with their sex life and their overall relationship. The perceived quality of the after-sex affection was also important: individuals and their partners were more satisfied with their relationship on days when they reported higher quality after-sex activities. The benefits of after-sex affection were not limited to the day the cuddling occured; couples who spent more time engaging in after-sex affection and reported higher quality after-sex activities over the course of the 21-day study felt more satisfied with their sex lives and relationships four months later.1

You might be wondering if these effects could go the other way – is it possible that happier couples are more inclined to cuddle after sex or that when a couple has good sex they are more likely cuddle afterwards?  As a matter of fact, yes, the effects do go both ways, but we found stronger evidence for after-sex affection predicting feelings of satisfaction compared to feelings of satisfaction predicting after-sex affection. In our research, we didn’t manipulate couples’ after-sex affection duration (i.e., we didn't ask some couples to increase their cuddle-time after sex and others to go about their after-sex activities as they typically do), so we cannot say for sure whether increasing your after-sex cuddling will lead to more satisfaction. But, in a previous study, one group of couples was told to increase their frequency of kissing (not after sex, but in general), whereas another group of couples was given no such instructions. The couples that increased their frequency of kissing reported higher relationship satisfaction and lower stress 6 weeks later.2

So, go ahead and spoon for a few extra minutes after your next sexual experience; it might just help your relationship. Don’t have a partner, but still want a little (or big) spooning in your life? Apparently, there is a new service where you can pay someone (about $49 per hour) for a spooning session (however, there is currently no research to my knowledge on the benefits of paid cuddling).

1Muise, A., Giang, E., & Impett, E. A. (2014). Post sex affectionate exchanges promote sexual and relationship satisfaction. Archives of Sexual Behavior. Advanced online publication.

2Floyd, K., Boren, J. P., Hannawa, A. F., Hesse, C., McEwan, B., & Veksler, A. E. (2009). Kissing in marital and cohabiting relation- ships: Effects on blood lipids, stress, and relationship satisfaction. Western Journal of Communication, 73, 113–133.

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