When animals have sex, there’s usually a bit of logic involved. Female lions may have sex dozens of times a day when they’re in heat, often with multiple male partners. Prey that mate in the daytime can give themselves over to throes of pleasure while nocturnal predators sleep. Manatees in a manatee mating ball corner female manatees in shallower water, where sex is easier.
Human mating is more of a matter of convenience. We have sex in beds because they’re the softest place in the house, located in a private room, and covered in washable sheets, precluding the hassle of having to spot-clean a post-coital sofa. And because sex usually happens in bed, sex usually happens at bedtime. A small 2005 study from University of South Carolina biologist Roberto Refinetti tracked the sex habits of a few dozen adults and found that the majority of trysts happened on the weekends and just before participants went to sleep, between 11 p.m. and 1 a.m. A larger 1982 study of married couples found that about two-thirds of participants’ sexual activity took place between 10 p.m. and 1 a.m. When asked to explain the logic of their sex schedules, 72 percent of Refinetti’s participants said they had sex when they did because it was when they and their partners were free, or because they happened to already be in bed. Just 28 percent said they had sex when they did because they were feeling sexual.
This is a sad, boring, aimless way to structure a sex life. If sex were dinner plans and capitalism were a dinner partner, this is humans saying, “I don’t know, you decide.” We have sex at night and on weekends because we’re not at work. We have sex before bed because we’ve already taken off our street clothes, brushed our teeth, and gotten in a horizontal position. Instead of putting thought and effort into it, we default to sex at night because it’s convenient and a force of habit. If humans want to get the most out of their sexual encounters, we need to break free from the strictures of just-before-bed sex and embrace the promising potential of sex at a far better time of day: morning.
To the extent that sex can be analyzed and planned—sex data doesn’t lend itself to spontaneity—mornings are a far more logical time for it. At night, people get into bed sleepy and only get sleepier. In the morning, people wake up sleepy and gradually get more alert. At night, people fight the urge to sleep triggered by getting under the covers at 11 p.m., then get revved up by sex only to pass out again. In the morning, the cover of drowsiness lends itself to lowered inhibitions, fades as heart rates rise, and is gone by the time both people have finished. Sex lowers stress levels, relaxing participants for the day ahead, and releases endorphins for a boost of invigorating energy. This means all the benefits of morning yoga and a morning run without leaving your comfy bed and the person who shares it.
Before streetlights, home lighting, and late-night diners made it possible for humans to work, eat, and hang out late into the night, people used to sleep in two discrete chunks. They’d go to bed about two hours after dusk, wake up in the wee hours of the morning for an hour or two, then sleep again. Some would use this time to chat with family members or read a bit. Many others had sex. According to the BBC, a French medical manual from the 1500s counseled couples to have sex “after the first sleep” instead of at night after a full day of work because “they have more enjoyment” and “do it better” after resting. A now-famous study in 1992 found that human participants who spent the majority of their days in darkness naturally fell into sleep cycles that comprised two four-hour periods, separated by a one to two–hour period, just like their forbearers. Post-sleep sex, or morning sex, may be a time-honored human tradition.
Of course, many people still do have morning sex. In a recent Superdrug survey of 2,000 Brits, Sunday at 9 a.m. turned out to be the most-desired time for intercourse. “I’m not at all surprised that Sunday mornings are such a popular slot for sexiness,” a Superdrug representative told the Daily Mail. “People are relaxed and have more time on their hands.” Night sex might be easier to finagle for single people, who are more likely to do it after a date, a party, or getting loosened up with alcohol, but one friend told me she finds clear-headed morning sex a better indicator of physical compatibility. Depending on the person and degree of intoxication, sobered-up morning sex usually means better sexual performance, too.
There hasn’t yet been any scientific research that proves morning sex is more pleasurable, but sex-hormone levels do fluctuate throughout the day. Most men experience their highest levels of testosterone, a hormone associated with sexual arousal, in the morning; some researchers have likened this to men having a period every day. A small 2003 study found that female participants reached their peak estrogen levels between 6 and 9 a.m., and research suggests that estrogen, which also peaks during a woman’s monthly fertile period, makes women want to have sex.
Then again, women in the 1982 sex-schedule study recorded significantly more orgasms between noon and midnight than between midnight and 11 a.m. With no hard evidence—but plenty of anecdotes from colleagues who balked at the thesis of this blog post due to the specters of morning breath and “morning face”—I propose that self-consciousness may be one of the biggest inhibitors of morning sex and morngasms. No excuses, people—everyone’s got time to pick off the eye boogers and swish a little water around before making out. (Zeynep Yenisey at Maxim recommends showering, putting on deodorant, and checking your hair before morning sex, but unless you’re planning to have sex at an a.m. black-tie gala, that seems a bit much.)
The other main obstacle to morning sex—a job—is tougher to get over. Yes, if you want to have weekday morning sex, you’ll have to get up earlier. But don’t sleep on the aesthetic benefits of doing sex things at dawn. At night, participants must find a warm, not-too-bright lighting solution or be left fumbling in the dark. In the morning, flush with the joy of waking up next to a person they like enough to sleep with, they can let gentle sunbeams do the work. I can hardly think of a better way to greet the day.