When it comes to sex, how much is enough in a marraige? How often should you make love?
We’re in the middle of our libido series on the blog this month. Last week I was asking higher drive spouses if they could be content if they had sex at the very least once a week, and there was some interesting discussion on that. My point was that when you’re having sex a healthy or average number of times a week, then if you constantly express disappointment and criticism with your spouse, you’re very likely to change the sex dynamic in your marriage so that your spouse doesn’t like sex. And then you’ll have it even less.
But all of that is predicated on the question: What is a healthy level of sex in a marriage?
Is there an amount that’s healthy?
Well, let’s start with my survey from The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex, where we asked about frequency of sex by age. And I’m just going to take a picture from the book because it’s easier than recreating the chart!
So about 87% of under 25s are having sex once a week or more; 64% of 25-34s are; and roughly 55-60% of under 35-54s are.
When we look at how many couples make love at least three times a week, 38% of young ones do; 24% of 25-34s; and between 8 and 20% of older couples.
So most of us are at around the 1-2 time a week level.
Other studies have found similar things. A study quoted in Time Magazine in 2018 found that the average married couple had sex a little more than once a week.
Now we know how often people are having sex. But what is actually healthy? And how do we measure that?
That’s really the big question, right? Does it really matter what most people are doing? After all, most of us eat terribly badly. Doesn’t mean we should all eat a ton of sugar, just because most North Americans do. What matters is what is actually healthy.
In our recent survey of 20,000 women for our upcoming book The Great Sex Rescue, we found that frequency and marital satisfaction aren’t perfectly correlated. The women in the happiest marriages were not the ones who had sex the most often. Nor does frequency line up with sexual satisfaction exactly. The women who orgasmed the most were not the ones most likely to have sex the most often, either, similar to what a study from York University found.
Muise and her study team found that couples who have a lot of sex tend to experience better wellbeing. “Sex is associated with feeling more satisfied in a relationship,” Muise says. But beyond once a week, the wellbeing benefits of sex seem to level off. That’s not to say that having sex a few times a week (or more) is a bad thing. It just doesn’t seem to make couples any happier, she says.
So making love at least once a week is great; beyond that, it’s wonderful if you’re enjoying it, but it doesn’t necessarily result in increased happiness.
In a 2017 study published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior, they found that frequency of sex was not as strong a predictor of marital satisfaction as other things.
When spouses’ interpersonal behaviors, frequency of sexual intercourse, and sexual satisfaction were considered in tandem, all but the frequency of sexual intercourse were associated with marital satisfaction. When it comes to feelings of marital satisfaction, therefore, a satisfying sex life and a warm interpersonal climate appear to matter more than does a greater frequency of sexual intercourse.
Take all these things together, and what we find, I think, is that couples who are happy and healthy make love at least once a week. But beyond that, the key to the happiness is less dependent on the frequency of sex, and more on the quality of their relationship and whether they’re both enjoying sex.
So what do I think the healthy level of sex is in a marriage?
If I had to say, I would say 2-3 times a week, on average. But I’d also offer huge caveats. I think it depends on work schedules, on the age of your children, on health issues.
And I also really, really think that watching the calendar and thinking, “Oh, we need to tonight!” is not the healthiest way to be. Our survey found that when women feel obligated to have sex, sexual satisfaction plummets.
I think a marriage that has no sex for a week, and then sex every day for 4 days, and then skips a day and has sex the next day, is much healthier than one where you have sex every 72 hours, on the dot. When sex flows out of the ebb and flow of your relationship and your real life, and takes into account what people are experiencing, feeling, and thinking, then sex is going to be a lot more fulfilling and life-giving.
I also think it really depends on what level of sex you both want. In our focus groups for our upcoming book The Great Sex Rescue, we heard from a woman who initiated sex every 72 hours because that’s what she’d heard in the church that men needed if they weren’t going to lust or stray. So every three days on the dot she’d initiate it.
A few years into marriage she was feeling rather despondent, because her husband never initiated sex. He never made any overtures towards her. So she talked with him about it, and his response? “I never had time to! I’m just trying so hard to keep up with you!”
They had a long talk about why she’d been initiating that often, and he was appalled to learn that she was afraid he’d lust (which is what books like Love & Respect and Every Man’s Battle tell women). He assured her that this was not a problem at all. And as they talked about it, they both realized that neither wanted sex every 72 hours. They decided to just wait and only initiate when someone actually wanted it, and they’ve settled in to roughly once a week, and they’re both much happier.
Sometimes people have lower sex drives, and a lower frequency is okay.
I’d just say that if neither of you ever wants sex, that’s not healthy either.
Sex is a vital part of marriage, and if you’re living as roommates and don’t want to connect sexually, it’s important to find out why. Often it’s because unhealthy eating habits or inactivity have caused health problems, and it’s worth addressing those for all kinds of reasons. If there are other things keeping you both from wanting sex? Figure out what those are, and address them. You were meant to live passionate, abundant lives!
Are you TIRED of always being too tired for sex?
Now, what if the problem isn’t that neither of you want sex, but that you want sex at very different frequencies and have big libido differences? We’re going to tackle that over the next few days.
So how often should you be having sex? Let’s sum up.
Today, before we turn to tackling libido differences through the rest of the week, I wanted us to figure out what healthy sex frequency is.
- At least once a week is likely healthiest
- More than once a week can be even better
- BUT the key to marital satisfaction is far less about frequency and more about the quality of your relationship and the quality of sex.
While a certain frequency is great, it’s not like more is always better. (for all of you Generation X’ers who might get the reference, all I can think of right now is the Christopher Walken Saturday NIght Live skit about more cowbell).
Often we think the happiest marriages are the ones with the greatest frequency, but that’s not necessarily true, and the answer to marriage problems isn’t necessarily “have more sex.”
But then, sex can be wonderful and great and can leave us relaxed and feeling close and feeling awesome. So I say, why not make our default, “let’s try to have sex tonight!” And if things don’t work, that’s okay. But if our default were “yes” instead of “no”, maybe we’d get to that sweet spot of frequency!
What do you think? Do you think there’s a healthy level of sex in marriage? Let’s talk in the comments!
The Libido Differences Series:
- Can Higher Drive Spouses Be Content with their Sex Lives?
- How Many Times a Week Should Couples Have Sex?
- A Word to Low Libido Spouses
- 10 Questions for High Libido Husbands to Ask if Their Wives Don’t Want Sex (September 16)
- The Frequency Podcast (what our survey told us about sex frequency) (September 17)
- 7 Questions for Wives to Ask if Their Husbands Don’t Want Sex (September 18)
- How to Handle Rejection When Your Spouse Doesn’t Want Sex (September 21)
- 10 Things that Tank Women’s Libidos (September 28)
Sheila Wray Gregoire
Founder of Bare Marriage
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