Many people wonder how much sex they should be having. They wonder how much sex is enough for a married couple, or if they are “normal” compared to others. Just how important is sex, anyway? These are common questions asked in the offices of couples therapists and sex therapists (and maybe just as commonly, worried about but not asked).
It’s risky to cite statistics on sexual satisfaction for a few reasons. This is because much of the data is from self-reported information. We really aren’t 100% confident about the accuracy of the results. While it is important to have an initial reference point for different groups of people, it is typically not what someone is really asking.
People actually wish to know if their relationship is healthy. They are wondering if they are enough for their partner or if their partner is indeed enough for them. They are wondering if “too much” or, typically, “too little” sex is at issue in their relationship. Sometimes they are not just wondering. In fact, they are terrified that their relationship is in jeopardy of this concern.
The question about sexual frequency typically comes when one partner is less satisfied with the amount of sex they are having. This “discrepant desire” level, where one partner wants more or less than the other, is common in committed relationships. It can also be that both partners are displeased with the frequency in which they engage in sexual interaction.
The good news, however, is that marital satisfaction is not simply a function of sexual frequency. In fact, married couples are looking at the quality of their sexual interaction and not just the quantity.
What the Research Tells Us
First and foremost, the research on marital satisfaction is fraught with difficulties. This is often due to the design of the experiment or the way in which data is collected. Nonetheless, people still need something as a gauge, and research shows that:
- Generally, there is a decrease in both frequency and satisfaction as couples are together longer.
- Sexual frequency diminishes when we consider other factors such as work, chores, children, physical or physiological factors, other relational issues, and so on.
- Sexual frequency and sexual satisfaction are both inversely correlated to divorce rates. In other words, as one rate rises, the other goes down.
- Research published in 2015 looked at over 2400 married couples and found that the more sex a couple had, the happier they were. Interestingly, though, happiness maxed out at one sexual encounter per week.
Why Is Once a Week Ideal?
This cap can be viewed as the relationship equivalent of the “law of diminishing returns,” which states that when you add more employees to get a job done, there is an increase in productivity, but only to a point. After that point, efficiency drops. So sex once or twice a month might not be sufficient, but more than once per week doesn’t increase happiness any further.
In fact, in another recent study, couples who were instructed to double the amount of sex they were having were no happier than they were before (with their usual rate of sex). Furthermore, they reported less enjoyment of sex. With the law of diminishing returns, there seems to be a downside to too much sex.
We know sexual satisfaction is better at certain stages of relationships. We also know that life gets in the way. It is up to each couple to set their own personal standard and be okay with it. This is what is most critical when considering sexual satisfaction.
It’s not about the number, but your experience of that number.
Couples who ruminate as to whether or not their frequency is “normal” are those who are likely dissatisfied and may indeed be below the curve. Yet there are couples—typically, but not always, older and longer married couples—for whom infrequent sex is just fine.
Improving Your Sex Life
Discrepant desire can become a real problem—more often quantitatively but sometimes even qualitatively. For those whose sex lives are challenged, there are steps you can take.
For one, assess your relationship outside of the bedroom. Are you achieving intimacy there? Both physical and emotional intimacy are imperative to your connection. Whatever your love language, whether it be one-on-one time, gifts, kind acts, or kind words, nurture it. If your only love language is sex, you need to work on this.
Couples therapists traditionally suggest things like scheduling sex, changing the venue, going on a trip away from the family space, spicing things up or even reenacting your dating sex. These work for some and not others.
With testosterone levels highest in the morning, that may be an option for some. If that is ineffective in boosting you in the bedroom, then seek the help of a sex therapist, but not without first ruling out any physical or physiological issues. Sexual desire can be impacted by:
- Family obligations/children
- Medical disease
- Physical attraction
- Physiological problems or body image issues
- Psychological issues (depression/anxiety)
- Relational issues
- Sexual beliefs and attitudes
- Situational concerns (for example, how you feel about your partner at that moment)
If you have had a dry spell, merely engaging in sex can get you back in the game. It will get your rhythm going again and help the flow of bonding hormones like oxytocin and vasopressin. You can revive and repair the disengagement you are feeling.
Because intimacy and sex are intertwined, sometimes this is all a couple needs to get back on track.
Remember, it’s not the number that is important, but the meaning of the question. Staying married is hard enough in the context of today’s challenges and life’s distractions. Those challenges tend to migrate into the bedroom.
So as we remain committed, or married, we can be just as happy with less sex. The overall quality of the relationship takes precedence over the bedroom. If you can muddle or dance through the years of less sex, you can make it.
Communication about desires and feelings about your sex life in an open, honest and respectful way is imperative. Both partners need to feel heard and satisfied in marriage and sexual intimacy is part of a successful marital relationship. One person’s desires cannot trump another’s.
Instead, it must be a constant discussion so both parties feel safe discussing their feelings and desires. If one person feels insecure or concerned by a possible reduction in their partner’s sexual interest and conversely, if something is causing one’s sex drive to be lower than usual, they must be able to tell their partner why and explore ways to improve things.