If Christmas leaves you feeling less in love, you are not alone. Whether it’s the stress of last-minute gift shopping or excessive food and alcohol consumption, interest in sex wanes in the lead up to Christmas, research suggests. However, this is offset by a large increase in sexual activity during the new year.
Researchers have long noted differences in birth rates at various times of the year, but it was unclear whether this was the result of seasonal fluctuations in fertility or sexual activity. To investigate, Laura Symul of Stanford University in California and her colleagues drew on data from the women’s health app Clue, which included anonymous records of sexual activity from more than 500,000 women in the United Kingdom, France, Brazil and the United States. “It’s self-reported, but it’s still the largest dataset of real-time reporting on women’s sexual activities,” Symul said.
Research showed that holidays, including holidays and Valentine’s Day, were always associated with a spike in sexual activity. “There was also a very strong difference between weekends and weekdays: people have more sex on weekends,” said Micaela Martinez of Columbia University in New York, who was also involved in the research. “Suggest that having free time with your intimate partner makes sex easier.”
However, records indicated that the three days leading up to Christmas represented a no-go zone for many women. In the case of younger or childless women, this could be because they spend Christmas with their parents, rather than romantic partners, Symul said.
For mothers, and particularly those who work, there may be other factors at play, said Dr Kate Boyer, a senior lecturer in human geography at Cardiff University, who was not involved in the study. “Christmas brings a lot of work and expectations: from organizing and wrapping gifts, making the house look different and special, preparing special meals and maybe making Christmas cards,” he said. “In most families there is no one at home who can make this ‘holiday work’ their priority, so you end up squeezed around jobs and childcare. It’s just not a recipe for feeling sexy. “
Things got better once Christmas rolled around, and Clue users reported a sustained increase in sexual activity that lasted from Boxing Day into the new year. New Years Day saw the highest peak, although due to the way the app works, any sexual activity after midnight on December 31st will also count as sex on New Years Day.
Symul and her colleagues compared data on women’s sexual activity with official birth records from each of the relevant countries and found a slight increase in birth rates between June and November in Northern Hemisphere countries, reaching their peak in September in the UK. This pattern cannot be explained only by seasonal changes in sexual activity. But it could, in combination with seasonal variations in human fertility, with this peak during the fall and early winter, the statistical analysis revealed.
“We believe that these two things work together to shape the seasonality of births experienced in the real world,” Martinez said. The research was published as prepress and it has not yet been peer reviewed.
If the seasonal fertility pattern they have identified does indeed exist, it appears to be relatively weak compared to true seasonal breeders like sheep or hamsters, said David Ray, a professor of endocrinology at the University of Oxford. “It’s probably something more interesting, rather than medically important.”
However, the findings also dovetail with recent research suggesting that there are seasonal fluctuations in the human immune response. “Although humans may have evolved in equatorial lands, where seasonal reproduction may not have been as important as for mammals in temperate zones, there may be vestigial seasonal circuits in us, which can be detected by observing large enough numbers of people.” . Ray said.
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