What is Your Sexual Frequency?
Avoid Making Comparisons
One of the most commonly-asked questions sex educators or therapists hear is about how often “most couples” have sex together. The answer depends on many variables: age, length and type of relationship, number and age of children, health, libido, stressors, lifestyle of each person and of course the quality of the relationship as a whole. Comparisons however can lead us down a dangerous path of unrealistic expectations given our circumstances or desires.
Statistically, the average frequency of sexual intercourse (which is not the only way couples can express themselves sexually) in the United States for married couples is reported to be anywhere from 1-3 times per week. Yet an average is just that, and in general the frequency is reduced most predictably with the length of relationship. Regardless of age, in the first two years of a relationship, many couples (67% of gay couples, 45% of heterosexual couples, and 33% of lesbian couples) get it on three times a week or more. After 10 or more years of relationship, this frequency drops significantly to a minority of the population (11% of the gay couples, 18% of the heterosexual couples, and 1% of the lesbian couples). It is no surprise that in the first two years, most couples experience “New Relationship Energy” and generally have sex more often than those who have been together for longer.
Why Do We Want to Know?
Often we want to know what the average is because we wonder whether our experience is “normal”. Whether we feel deprived or pressured by the sexual connection with our partner, we are curious to know how our sex life matches up to that of others. Or sometimes we are looking for validation of our feelings. If “most” people are having sex more often we might feel justified in our discontent at the lack of frequency in our relationship. If however the “norm” is less frequent than we feel pressured to perform, the statistics back up our request for less frequent demands on our desire. Regardless of what everyone else is doing, or what the research says, we are the only ones who can define what is right for ourselves.
Comparing ourselves to averages of anything is a dangerous idea. Comparison to others rarely results in helpful outcome. Those who regularly compare themselves to their neighbours, friends, colleagues or national statistics on any scale of wealth, health, happiness or frequency of sex generally end up feeling less satisfied with their current situation. Averages will always outperform us on at least one thing we value. And who is to say that if both partners are happy with a less than “average” frequency that there is something wrong with their relationship? Only the two involved have a say in whether the relationship is working or not. Others’ behaviours have no bearing on the inherent happiness of any couple.
Sometimes we want to know because we want a barometer on the health of our relationship. Lack of sex can indicate- but not always- a sign of trouble. Yet the measure of how often a couple has sex actually says very little about the merits of a relationship, even when just looking at the sexual realm. It measures nothing of the quality of the sex and satisfaction of all parties, the desire for each other, the deep love that is shown in many ways, and the challenge of those who endure sex when they do not want it.
What Is It that You Really Want to Know?
What seems to be a more relevant question is “how often are we having sex compared to how often we want to have it?” The classic moment in Woody Allen’s “Annie” arises when a therapist asks how often the couple has sex. The man replies “Hardly ever. Maybe three times a week.”, whereas his female partner complains “Constantly. I'd say three times a week.” What they need to negotiate is what works for each in terms of quality and quantity and try to reach a compromise between both partners’ desires.
Yet this question cannot be isolated from the larger discussion of how each feels about the sexual relationship as a whole. Frequency needs to be also negotiated alongside quality (occasional quickies balanced with long luxurious sessions), intensity, libido, preferences for time of day, types of activities that each partner enjoys, everyday intimacy, explorations of new fantasies or techniques and more. Addressing these as a whole is more likely to lead to sexual satisfaction and deeper connection with a frequency that works for everyone.
We need to eliminate “normal” out of our sexual vocabulary and focus more on listening first of all to our own desires, experiences and curiosities. We then need to communicate those with confidence and listen without judgment to what our partner shares. While we generally communicate about who takes out the garbage, cooks and does repairs, it is also good to discuss frequency and the particulars of sex. While it can take a lot of courage and feel awkward to initiate and be present through these discussions, they are rarely as scary as we build them up to being. Relationships don’t usually maintain themselves, and most find that these discussions around sex pay off in dividends of pleasure and create intimacy and connection that boost many aspects of our relationship. Create your own norm…It is worth a try!