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How often does a ‘normal’ couple have sex?

By Maya Khamala

I know in my heart of hearts that this is a question fraught with anxiety, longing, and next-level FOMO for so many. I myself have spent years in relationships with men who had a lower sex drive than me, and I always felt as if we must be having sex ‘less than average,’ or that I must be in an imbalanced relationship because clearly only having sex a few times a month is below what’s normal. Right?

Here’s the thing: none of those past relationships were right for me, and sex was at least a small part of the equation in most of those instances. Today, I find myself in a far superior relationship with a man whose drive may be a tad lower, but not extremely so. We have sex once a week on average—sometimes more, sometimes less. If life really gets in the way (hello 2020) and 2 whole weeks go by, we know we need to tend to that shit asap, but I’m not panicking, counting the days and the hours of our couple’s ineptitude (as I used to do). If I’m horny and he’s not, I relish in the feeling of being unfulfilled and chalk it up to extended teasing and foreplay.

I share all of this with you as a way of pointing out that when we wonder how often a normal or happy couple is supposed to do the dirty, there is no one-size-fits-all answer, no magic formula. And any answer worth its salt will also factor in relationship dynamics, relationship newness, sex drive discrepancies, age, values, lifestyle, stress, and health—to name just a few.

Let’s deepen our perspective, shall we?

The numbers

According to a 2017 study published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior, the average adult gets it on 54 times per year—or about once a week. Another 2015 study shows that couples who have sex at least weekly are happier with their relationship than those who have sex less, but that, interestingly, as the frequency increases to more than once a week, the correlation with happiness isn’t as clear. Then you have the newness factor: typically, there is a decrease in frequency and satisfaction in couples that have been together longer. Yet another study by the Kinsey Institute breaks things down by age: people under 30 have sex 112 times a year on average (2+ times a week). This declines to 86 times a year for people in their thirties, 69 for those in their forties, and 52 times for those 50+.

Q: But the first study said once a week was normal for all adults overall? I have sex once a week and am not over 50!

A: Stats in general are very limited in their accuracy. It's also important to note that, “sex” is a very broad term that can include many sexual acts—in other words, definitions can vary wildly from person to person. 

Ultimately, the most important factor to maintaining a relationship is keeping that spark alive through intimacy, and many find that once a week or so accomplishes that. That said, if that seems like way too much or way too little to both you and your partner, that doesn’t make you any less normal, happy, or healthy—for what these labels are worth.

The pressures

The pressures to have sex more often than we might feel naturally inclined to are everywhere—so much so that it’s become normal. Our hyper-sexualized pop culture communicates ideas about normal sexual frequency via sitcoms, movies, music, and magazines to name a few, but IMO, we deserve more solid sexual role models.

Couples counselor Raffi Bilek points out, “Couples often make the mistake of shooting for some number in order to feel okay about their sex life. The truth is that whatever is comfortable for you and your partner is your normal. You don’t need to be having sex any more or less than you’d like.”

Not sure about you, but this hits home for me. I still need to remind myself that there isn’t something wrong with me if I’m not horny all the time. For years, being horny was part of my identity. Before I entered a healthy relationship, I hadn’t once turned down sex with a partner, because I always felt I should take advantage of the opportunity before it slipped away. Now, we do it when we’re on the same page and we both really feel it.

‘Boredom’

In most longterm relationships, a certain level of routine sets in after 2 or 3 years. Many couples have explored a lot by this point, and finding things that are new or exciting don’t come quite as naturally. For some, routine signals comfort, security, and familiarity. For others, it spells boredom, disappointment, or even incompatibility. It’s totally normal to feel a bit bored or under-stimulated every now and then, but if your relationship’s a keeper, a little creativity and effort (with a dash of kink, for those so inclined) can still go a long way toward keeping things vital. It’s the way you approach ‘keeping things interesting’ that’s crucial to that long-lasting happiness and satisfaction—you know, the real juicy stuff.

Quality vs quantity

Perspective, perspective. What’s better? Having an unsatisfying quickie daily, or having a 4-hour-long multi-orgasmic tantric sex session once every 2 weeks? These may be extreme cases, but I cite them to illustrate a point: quality trumps quantity (most of the time). Only you know if sexual frequency is an indicator of deeper problems in your relationship, or if sex drive discrepancies are irreconcilable or not.

Bottom line: Communicate. Open up about your needs and fantasies, and, if sexual frequency is a source of anxiety in your relationship, open up about that too. Some problems tend to vanish when you bring them out in the open. Besides, verbal and psychological intimacy tend to improve sexual intimacy by a long shot. If it turns out you’re not compatible, you’ll know, and there will be other signs in addition to the sex.

Whatever you do, don’t compare yourself to the statistics! <3

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