DEAR DR. JENN,
My boyfriend and I have sex about once a week—but, after hearing about my friends’ sex lives, that makes me feel like a nun. How much sex is “normal?” —Too Prude?
First of all, take in the truth: People lie about their sex lives, especially to their friends, often inflating the frequency and fireworks, whether out of fear of being judged or simple desire to entertain. I once had two clients who were both in individual therapy with me and were good friends with each other. Jane, let’s call her, had a boyfriend who was struggling with erectile dysfunction. Their sex life was troubled and infrequent, but they were working through it. In order to protect her boyfriend and save face, she dramatically exaggerated her sex life to her friend, whom we’ll call Susan. Susan, who was also in therapy with me, felt terrible thinking that Jane was swinging off chandeliers and bumping boots nightly while Susan wasn’t that hot and heavy with her boyfriend. The moral of the story is that we never truly know what happens behind closed doors, and at the end of the day we just can’t compare ourselves to others. We have to focus on what works in our relationship.
Overall, Americans are having less sex than they used to. According to a recent study, the average adult had sex nine fewer times per year in the early 2010s than they did the late '90s. That drop in frequency was even steeper for married couples living together; they had sex a whopping 16 fewer times a year. That’s quite a dip when you consider that the average adult now has sex 54 times a year—or a little more than once a week. (Married couples don’t get down and dirty quite as much—about 51 times each year.) Many people assume the dating app generation is hornier than ever, but millennials are actually having less sex than previous generations. Some attribute this decline to the time and great efforts it takes to get and keep good jobs today, and others say it has to do with the interference of screen time in our personal lives.
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Believe or not, new research suggests that having sex once a week may be ideal. This study, printed in Social Psychology and Personality Science, examined more than 30,000 Americans over a four-decade span and found that increased sexual frequency among couples was associated with greater well-being—up until the weekly mark. People who were having more sex more often were not necessarily happier.
But let’s focus on the more important question: Are the weekly sex sessions satisfying? In assessing a relationship as a couples therapist, I care more about how satisfied both people are with the sex and its frequency than with the actual numbers. Getting it on a couple times a week can seem like a lot to one half of a couple and nothing to the other. It comes down to finding a happy medium when two people feel differently about the frequency—which is not always easy.
Often, people who worry about the frequency of sex with a partner do so because they’re either dissatisfied with the sex themselves or fear their partner is. If you or your partner are not satisfied, the key to changing that is communication. Learning to ask for what you want, when it comes to both big picture and specific techniques, is crucial for having your sexual needs met. And when it comes to frequency, the key is to find common ground. If you are the one who wants more sex than your partner, keep in mind that masturbation is a healthy part of a sex life, even when you're in a committed partnership. If you're the one who's less desirous, it's important to be open and willing to let your partner get you in the mood and sometimes, yes, take one for the team. In addition, there are number things you can do to increase your libido:
1) Rule out any medical problems. Also consult your doctor about medications that might be impacting your desire level.
2) Revisit the honeymoon. Do the things that you did in your early courtship days to get ready for a date. We tend to feel sexiest and most like having sex when we are wearing cute panties, possibly waxed, dressed up, and feeling our best.
3) Take a walk down memory lane or let yourself fantasize. Use your imagination to fan the flames of desire. When we're dating a new partner, we often revisit fun sexual experiences we had with them recently. That fantasy gets us turned on and makes us excited for the next encounter. Let yourself do that now, whether it is an experience you once had or a fantasy.
3) Get yourself in the mood. Open a sexy book or turn on a hot movie to get yourself stimulated and ready for action.
4) Have sex, even if you don’t feel like it (unless you have trauma in your background). Let me be clear: You should never feel forced into sex. But sometimes jumping in even when you're not fully turned on will result in getting you turned on. Sex begets sex. The more you have it, the more you tend to want it. It raises hormone levels and gets our fires turned on.
5) Address any emotional issues that may be holding you back in therapy. Issues like eating disorders, anxiety, and depression can inhibit sexual desire.
And then there’s the reality that even couples who may have started off with super-sexy honey moon periods tend to have less sex the longer they’ve been together. Sex drive fluctuates. Life events—the birth of a child, a death in the family, a big project at work—can cause a decrease in sexual desire or the time and energy to initiate sex. So don’t forget about those factors: How long have you and your boyfriend been together? And what else is going on in your lives that may distract from the bedroom?
At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what other people are doing. So if it’s really just the comparison with your friends’ sex lives that you’re worried about, forget about them, and enjoy your weekly steamy sesh.
But it is important to create a life that includes sensual time together. So whether it’s weekly or you and your boyfriend decide to carve out more time for sex, treat it like the important calendar item it is: Set limits on the outside world—technology, children, in-laws, house guests, friends, work, household chores, and the like—to protect your erotic space together. Make sex a priority.