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Who Has the Busier Bedroom: Single People or Married Couples?

I pose this question to the students in my Human Sexuality course every semester and invariably get the same response: “Isn’t that kind of obvious? Single people, of course!” My students are not alone in thinking this either—it is a pretty widely held belief that singles are always getting it on, and that sex after marriage is, well, improbable (to say the least). It does not surprise me that so many people believe this, given how popular media portrayals back up these stereotypes. For instance, TV shows like Sex and the City and Entourage depict singles as having a never-ending supply of partners and sexual exploits. Likewise, the whole premise of the recent movie The Change-Up is basically that married Dave (played by Jason Bateman) dreams of trading places with his single friend, Mitch (played by Ryan Reynolds), so that he can finally get some action.

So are my students and the Hollywood producers right? Are singles really the luckiest people on the planet? It may surprise you to hear this, but there really is no truth to this stereotype at all! Research shows that married couples actually have sex with much greater frequency than single people.1 For instance, just consider single guys between ages 18-24. What percentage of them report having sex more than 2 times per week? Just over ten percent. How about married guys in the same age range? A full two-thirds (just over 66%)! In fact, over 20% of married guys in this age group report doing it four or more times per week! As you can see, single and married guys aren’t even in the same ballpark. The numbers for women tell a very similar story. Across all ages and genders, married people typically have more sexual contact than their single counterparts.

This is yet another example of how watching too much TV or going to the movies too frequently can give you distorted views of relationships. Although the scientific research in this area might sound counterintuitive to you, the take-home message is clear: if you don’t think you’re having enough sex, try getting married.

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1National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior (NSSHB). Findings from the National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior, Centre for Sexual Health Promotion, Indiana University. Journal of Sexual Medicine, Vol. 7, Supplement 5.

Dr. Justin Lehmiller - Science of Relationships articles | Website/CV
Dr. Lehmiller's research program focuses on how secrecy and stigmatization impact relationship quality and physical and psychological health. He also conducts research on commitment, sexuality, and safer-sex practices.

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Reader Comments (3)

this post is an interesting one that speaks of a comparison between the singles and the married people and the actions in their bedrooms. The writer has given in couple of catchy examples that makes the content informative. Good work.

September 26, 2011 | Unregistered Commenteranonymous

Interesting point - but no mention of quality vs quantity. Plus, there is no mention of 'sexless' marriages, or marriages where the sex is the same thing over and over again.

Basically that is the type of marriage I am in. My wife and I have sex once a month, maybe twice. We do the same thing nearly every time. Suggestions otherwise by me are met with either complete refusal, revulsion, or are ignored. I am a caring, gentle, and patient guy, but this sucks, and I'm done with it. I feel sorry for my wife. She is attractive, fit, and could enjoy a much more varied and rewarding sex life, and I hope she does, but I'm not waiting around any longer.

Our marriage is ending, for several reasons, and this is one of them.

There is more on this at my blog http://clearslate2007.blogspot.com/

October 5, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAlex

In terms of quality, research suggests that married people tend to have greater sexual satisfaction than singles (Laumann et al., 1994). This is especially true for women, who are much more likely to experience orgasm during marital sex than they are during a casual encounter. However, there is some research to suggest that the quality of sex within marriage may decrease the longer the relationship goes on (Liu, 2003). Thus, overall, both the quantity and quality of sex tend to be greater during marriage, but if you focus only on marriages that have lasted for a really long time, the picture may be a little different.

Also, I should clarify that in this article, I was focusing only on general trends. So, in general, married people have more sex than single people. However, there is certainly individual variability, meaning that there are indeed some married people who are trapped in "sexless marriages" and some single people who seem to get it on all of the time.

October 5, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJustin J. Lehmiller
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