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Do People Have More Sex on Vacation?

Ideas to consider while planning your summer vacation.

One thing that researchers know about sex is that context matters. Think “what happens in vegas stays in vegas.” A vacation provides a break from work or school, a chance to relax and let loose, and the opportunity to explore a new part of the world...but does a vacation also bring more opportunities for sex? Possibly.

Certain types of vacations, such as spring break, are thought to be more permissive environments for casual sex. Vacations that are free from at-home restrictions, promote lower inhibitions, and involve high alcohol consumption are the most conducive for casual sex behavior.1 In one study of Canadian undergrads surveyed before and after spring break, 21% of men and 17% of women reported having casual sex while away (that’s right, almost equal numbers of men and women – although more men intended to have sex before the trip, 55% vs. 11%). Those with friends who had casual sex (or had friends who were supportive of spring break casual sex) and who had greater intentions to have sex were more likely to have sex on spring break.2 In another study, nearly 50% of female tourists in Costa Rica reported a “vacation relationship” with a local or another tourist. Sex was more likely when women had greater intentions and when they were traveling solo or with only one other female companion.3

It seems that for young singles, intentions to have causal sex on vacation are high (especially for men who seem to be overly optimistic in this regard), and sometimes these intentions become reality. But...what about established couples who are traveling together? Do they have sex more often when on vacation? Researchers have not specifically studied couples’ sexual frequency during vacations, but according to self-expansion theory “exciting” vacations might increase couple member’s passion for each other.

Self-expansion theory suggests that we are more fulfilled in our relationships to the extent that our partners provide us with opportunities for growth. New relationships are often intensely passionate because there is so much to learn about a new partner (opportunities for self-expansion are high). Over time, however, self-expansion slows as we get to know our partners. This is partly why for many couples passion fades as the relationship becomes more established. According to self-expansion theory, one way to maintain a more satisfying relationship is to engage in novel, exciting activities with your long-term partner.4 Couples who engage in activities that both partners consider exciting (and therefore self-expanding), experience increases in relationship satisfaction.5 Changes in intimacy in a relationship (like those provided by self-expansion) can subsequently increase passion.6 In fact, in a recent study, researchers found that on days when couples experienced an increase in intimacy from the previous day, they report higher levels of passion and were more likely to have sex.7 In terms of a vacation, if a couple takes a trip that they both consider to be exciting (perhaps to a novel place), this may increase feelings of intimacy, and as a result, heighten passion. Or, the mere arousal associated with a novel experience may also increase attraction and passion for a partner.

So, the next time you and your partner plan a trip, you might each list of all the places that you find exciting (within budget and time constraints of course). To maximize passion potential, choose a place that is on both of your lists.

This article is an adaptation of a previous article I wrote for the web site Science Of Relationships.

1Herold, E . S., & van Kerkwijk, C. (1992). AIDS and sex tourism. AIDS and Society, 4, 1-8.

2Maticka-Tyndale, E., Herold, E. S, Mewhinney, D. (1998). Casual sex on Spring Break: Intentions and behaviors of Canadian students, The Journal of Sex Research, 35, 254-264

3Ragsdale, K., Difranceisco, W., Pinkerton, S. D. (2006). Where the boys are: Sexual expectations and behaviour among young women on holiday. Culture, Health & Sexuality, 8, 85-98.

4Aron, E. N., & Aron, A. (1996). Love and expansion of the self: The state of the model. Personal Relationships, 3, 45-58.

5Reissman, C., Aron, A., & Bergen, M. R. (1993). Shared activities and marital satisfaction: Causal direction and self-expansion versus boredom. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 10, 243-254.

6Baumeister, R. F., & Bratslavsky, E. (1999). Passion, intimacy, and time: Passionate love as a function of change in intimacy. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 3, 49-67.

7Rubin, H. & Campbell, L. (2012). Day-to-day changes in intimacy predict heightened relationship passion, sexual occurrence, and sexual satisfaction: A dyadic diary analysis. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 3, 224-231

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