'Are we having enough sex?' 'How much sex should I be having?' 'Why don't we have sex anymore?'
If you've ever been, or currently are, in a long-term relationship, it's likely that you've wondered whether the amount of sex you have can be considered 'normal' - especially if it's been a while since you were last intimate. Although the sex life of every couple is different, it's understandable to feel insecure or even to question the future of the relationship if you're experiencing a reduction in sexual intimacy.
But there are a plethora of reasons why you might see a reduction in sexual interactions at some points with your partner, and by no means does this spell out a sexless relationship in your future.
Here, we'll look into how often couples have sex, the factors that can influence sexual relationships, and the steps you can take to improve your sexual satisfaction, including how to talk to your partner about any sexual dysfunction.
How often should couples have sex?
Before we go any further, it's important to address this central question upfront: there is no single right answer here. The amount of sex that can be considered 'normal' for you as a couple is dependent on a huge range of factors that are unique to you as both individuals and as a pair.
While some couples might consider having sex twice a week normal, or even active, this might be less sex than usual for others who have more sex and a sign of potential trouble in the relationship.
How much sex do couples have in the US?
According to the results of the 2018 General Social Survey - the most widely participated in survey in the US aside from the Census - 25% of married couples have sex once per week, with 46% of married couples overall having sex at least this often. Supporting this, a report from the Archives of Sexual Behavior stated that the average American adult has sex 54 times per year on average, equating to around once a week.
However, this is only one end of the spectrum, as the GSS also revealed that 17% of participants only had sex once or twice, or not at all, in the previous year. Additionally, another article published by the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science stated that once a week was the gold standard for sexual satisfaction, with couples exceeding this amount not experiencing a higher degree of gratification.
Of course, these statistics all need to be taken with a pinch of salt - sex isn't a numbers game, and quantity doesn't necessarily reflect quality.
After all, would you rather go through the motions of having unstimulating, unsatisfying sex twice a week, or experience one mind-blowing hour-long session every couple of weeks?
Your sex life isn't defined by numbers, and it's important to remember when looking at the habits of other people that your relationship is entirely unique and unquantifiable - if you have less sex than the average adult but both you and your partner feel satisfied, there's really no reason to feel concerned.
What happens when you don't have sex for a long time?
We've already identified the generally positive correlation between sexual frequency and sexual satisfaction, so let's explore the other side of this - the idea that a lack of sex leads to, understandably, a lack of satisfaction with the sex that you have. Again, as we emphasized earlier, quantity isn't automatically better than quality, but not having sex at all for an extended period can have a knock-on effect on other parts of your relationship.
For a start, for most couples, sex isn't just the act of vaginal, anal, or oral penetration; it's a shared experience where you feel high levels of intimacy and show your love for one another physically. Without this, you may struggle to experience equivalent intimacy in other areas, which may impact how close and in tune you feel with your partner emotionally.
This may be a reason for the higher frequency of divorce and relationship dissolution among couples who experience a low or declining amount of sex. Also, while one research study found that a warm and loving environment and romantic intimacy have greater significance than sexual frequency on satisfaction within a relationship, sex is often a primary method for couples to feel romantically intimate and loved - ultimately, sexual frequency can't be thought about in a vacuum.
Obviously, while there are benefits to having sex associated with health that we'll touch on later, this doesn't mean that not having sex is inherently harmful or dangerous.
Many people are abstinent for religious reasons or choose to rarely or never have sex because they fall somewhere on the asexuality spectrum. Within a romantic relationship, this needs to be navigated, particularly if one partner is asexual while another isn't.
Why is sex important in a relationship?
Socially, a sexless relationship is often stereotypically seen as a reflection of a lack of love between the couple, or even a sign that it's time for them to call it quits. Though sex isn't a 100% necessary part of a relationship for lots of couples, many studies have revealed that sexual satisfaction and overall relationship satisfaction are closely correlated for many people in long-term relationships.
Additionally, regularly having sex has a number of health benefits and is shown to improve your overall wellbeing - as stated by scholars, it can be much more than 'just sex'! As well as serving as a workout (depending on how hard you go at it!) and helping to improve your heart health, sexually active couples over fifty can also benefit from improved cognitive function.
But putting these measurable benefits aside for a moment, sexual intimacy (or a lack thereof) can be an indicator of how you're doing as a couple.
For instance, if you've been having sex a few times a week for several years of your relationship, but this has now dropped to just once or twice a month, it might suggest other problems that have led to a broader lack of intimacy that isn't only sexual.
What influences sex frequency?
Sex frequency, as we discussed earlier, is sometimes unfairly seen as a mirror of a couple's affection for one another, but the amount of sex had in a relationship can't be viewed in isolation.
In the same way that sex plays a role beyond the bedroom, there is a wide range of factors relating to your health and lifestyle that can have a significant impact on the amount of sex you have with your partner. Some of these factors include, but are not limited to:
Studies have shown that sexual frequency (but not sexual desire) tends to decrease with age, with people from older age groups reporting a decrease in sexual activity due to factors like widowhood and age-associated health problems.
But this doesn't mean that sex has to stop after a certain birthday, especially with developments in sexual health such as penis pumps and Viagra that can assist with issues like erectile dysfunction prevalent in older populations.
Of course, it's much harder to have sex with a partner who isn't physically with you! While there are options like phone sex and long-distance sex toys that can be part of a fulfilling long-distance sex life, you're limited when it comes to actual in-person sex acts.
Even when together, couples who live far apart may find that their sex life is under pressure upon finally seeing each other in person, which might affect sexual performance and gratification.
With a similar impact to being in a long-distance relationship, having conflicting work schedules can really take a toll on your sex life. After all, if one of you works a day shift and the other the night shift, how do you make time for any sexual activity on a purely practical level?
With a similar impact to being in a long-distance relationship, having conflicting work schedules can really take a toll on your sex life.
Additionally, a long and rigorous work or educational schedule can lead to exhaustion, and periods of energy may not always align with when your partner is both energized enough for sex and in the mood for it.
As much as we'd like to, we can't always leave the mundanity of our day outside of the bedroom Although sex is known throughout the world as a fantastic stress reliever, actually getting in the mood to have sex when you're stressed can prove difficult for many couples.
In fact, a study from 2007 revealed that higher levels of daily stress can serve as a predictor for lower sexual frequency and satisfaction in women in particular.
Hormones can have a noticeable impact on sexual desire, and therefore often on how much sex is had in a relationship. For example, over the course of a menstrual cycle, a person might find that they're at the peak of their desire when ovulating, or even while on a period (though many couples choose not to have sex during this period due to preference or religious reasons).
Hormones can have a noticeable impact on sexual desire, and therefore often on how much sex is had in a relationship
They may be a product of your earlier sexual frequency, but kids are famous for their ability to suck the sex out of a marriage, particularly when they're younger and require more round-the-clock care.
But having children doesn't have to equal a sexless marriage - though there's an undeniable impact, couples don't have to and shouldn't accept the inevitability of a dying sex life after kids, and this can be an opportunity for intimate alone time in a day filled with family activities.
Disabilities and Health Conditions
For disabled people or people with temporary health conditions, sex can be especially difficult, though this depends heavily on the well-being of each partner.
For instance, while a paraplegic person may have to get creative when trying out new sex positions with a partner, someone with a chronic illness that causes fatigue or pain may find that their sexual frequency is significantly diminished from the average.
What can you do if you're not happy?
If you've established that you aren't content with the amount of sex you're currently having in your relationship, there are a few different steps that you can take to start to address this issue.
1. Reflect on your own habits
Before you address your sexual concerns with your partner, it might be worth evaluating your own sexual habits and routine. Do you initiate sex with your partner? Do you prioritize your own pleasure or your partner's pleasure in bed? How often have you been masturbating lately?
Before you address your sexual concerns with your partner, it might be worth evaluating your own sexual habits and routine.
By acknowledging your own sexual activity, you may be able to identify early on if the problem lies with you - for instance, you may be fulfilling your own sexual needs through masturbation while disregarding your partner's pleasure, or taking rather than giving in bed to the extent that it has impacted your partner's desire to have sex.
However, this isn't always easy to come to terms with alone, which brings us to our next point...
2. Speak to your partner
Sexual problems can be especially difficult to talk about out loud, even with the person you're having sex with. But as the old saying goes, it takes two to tango, and you likely won't get far in improving your sex life if your partner isn't even necessarily aware that there's a problem to begin with.
Sexual problems can be especially difficult to talk about out loud, even with the person you're having sex with.
Though there's a good chance they're also aware that you're not having enough sex to feel satisfied, starting this conversation is vital in opening up a broader dialogue where you can start to understand and address each other's sexual needs.
3. Analyze the causes
If you're experiencing a sudden drop-off in the amount of sex you're having, there's a good chance that there's a specific cause behind it, and some may be more obvious than others. For instance, if you or your partner has just had a baby, there will be an understandable pause in your sexual activity while you adjust to your new shared life, as well as the physical changes that come with childbirth.
On the other hand, your partner may be experiencing a more internal struggle, such as a hormonal issue or a decline in their mental health, that is affecting their libido. Once you understand the cause, not only will you get an idea of whether the end of the dry spell is in sight, but you'll also be able to address it at the root and hopefully get back to a lively sex life.
4. See a sex therapist
If you find that talking to your partner alone isn't working, or that it's leading to friction in your relationship, consulting a therapist could be a great solution to improve your relationship satisfaction.
As a non-judgemental objective voice outside of the relationship with plenty of sexual expertise, they'll be able to help guide you through your problems and mediate discussions in a productive way to hopefully improve the quality - and potentially quantity - of the sex you have.
How to talk about sex with your partner
The topic of sex in a relationship can be difficult to talk about for many couples, and it's often easier to talk about sex when your sexual satisfaction is already at a high level. But discussing the problems you're having around a lack of sex is the only way to truly get to the heart of the issue and gain a deeper understanding of your sex life so you can move forward to a better future.
1. Choose your moment - but don't wait around
Like any difficult discussion, raising sexual issues with your partner can be tricky, particularly when it comes to finding the right moment. We recommend choosing your timing carefully; for instance, your partner may feel hurt if you raise the issue of sex during sex, or in the midst of another vulnerable moment. Instead, you should try to bring up these issues during a private moment when you're both most likely to be receptive, and not defensive, of what's brought up.
Like any difficult discussion, raising sexual issues with your partner can be tricky, particularly when it comes to finding the right moment
However, this doesn't mean holding off on these discussions for too long - not only can this draw out the problem for longer than necessary, but it can make your partner feel as though this problem has been hidden from them, or even held against them, for an extended period of time.
2. Avoid talking when emotions are high
This goes hand in hand with picking the right moment. You're unlikely to have a productive conversation about your sexual frequency, or any other element of your intimate moments if emotions are already running high.
While the clearest example here is not to bring up your sex life in the middle of a fight, you also shouldn't raise this to a partner if you're aware that you or they aren't in an emotional state to look at the situation clearly.
This goes hand in hand with picking the right moment.
If you're struggling with an episode of low mood or anxiety, this may cause you to have a skewed view of the problems in your sex life, or even to lash out at your partner about these issues.
3. Remain open and non-judgemental
Just like how we unfairly tie things like our appearance, professional performance, and social life to our self-worth, we can be prone as people to think that sexual problems equate to overall inadequacy.
This can make it difficult to hear your partner tell you about any perceived 'failings' in this area.
However, it's important to remain open to what your partner has to say and to remain non-judgemental when it comes to their own thoughts and feelings.
For instance, they may confess to you that your lack of sex is correlated with a kink or sexual preference of theirs that has remained hidden up to that point. Even if this doesn't align with your own sexuality, it isn't fair or appropriate to belittle your partner or to make them feel as though they can't speak their mind in these situations.
4. Make a plan going forward
Bringing up your problems in a healthy conversation is only half of the battle - you then need to take meaningful actions if you want to address issues that can't be solved by talking it out alone.
This doesn't have to be anything too specific right away, and it might be best to avoid setting goals that are too ambitious - for example, saying right off the bat that you'll have sex every day is a goal that will make you feel guilty as soon as you (understandably) miss a day.
Your plan could also involve bringing in extra help, such as researching relevant sources together or booking a session with a sex therapist who can help you understand your issues from a more objective standpoint.
5. Don't feel that you've waited too long
Though a lack of sex might be a new problem in your relationship, you may also have been dealing with a sexless relationship for years, or even decades. If this applies to you, then please don't feel as though it's too late to change this - your sex life can always be improved, no matter your age, and there's no time limit on raising this topic with your partner.
Though a lack of sex might be a new problem in your relationship, you may also have been dealing with a sexless relationship for years, or even decades.
After all, you never know if your partner has been feeling the exact same way as you, and might be hoping you'll bring it up too!
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Every sexual and romantic relationship is unique, and there's no magic number that determines how often you should be having sex as a couple. Having said that, you might feel dissatisfied with the amount of sex you're currently having in your relationship, particularly if it's being impacted by factors relating to your health or lifestyle.
Whether you're having sex every day or every other month, what matters is that you and your partner are satisfied and enjoying sex together.
As with all kinds of sexual issues, the best step to take is to talk it through - not only will this help you understand underlying causes, but you'll also open a dialogue that will help you empathize more with your partner and potentially bring you even closer together.
Whether you're having sex every day or every other month, what matters is that you and your partner are satisfied and enjoying sex together.
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