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The Ins and Outs of Sexual Frequency

People have a lot of questions when they learn that I study sex and relationships. One of the most common questions people ask is how often couples typically have sex. This question generally comes from the person’s desire to learn if they are on par with other couples’ sexual frequency.

A few large-scale studies in the U.S. provide some sense of how much sex couples are having in their relationships. Married couples report having sex, on average, seven times a month (slightly less than twice a week).1 But, not surprisingly, sexual frequency differs with age and relationship duration.2 In one study of 16,000 American adults, the typical participant reported having sex two to three times per month, but those under the age of 40 reported having sex slightly more often (once a week).3 Regardless of age, couples also tend to have sex more frequently in the early stages of their relationships. Among couples in the first two years of their relationships, 67% of gay couples, 45% of heterosexual couples, and 33% of lesbian couples had sex three times a week or more. The numbers drop off somewhat with time: for couples who had been together 10 years or longer, 11% of the gay couples, 18% of the heterosexual couples, and 1% of the lesbian couples were having sex that often.4

People may have good reason to worry about the amount of sex they are having in their relationships – having more sex is linked to positive outcomes. In a previous post we discussed how more frequent sex buffers against the negative consequences of neuroticism. In addition, both men and women report greater sexual satisfaction and higher levels of overall relationship happiness when they have more sex.1 But, this goes both ways: satisfied couples have sex more often and frequent sex leads to increases in sexual satisfaction.

One problem with estimates of sexual frequency is that they often only consider the frequency of sexual intercourse. As we discussed previously, many different activities are considered sex (e.g., oral sex, genital touching) and expanding definitions of sex can be beneficial. In a recent study of long-term couples, the frequency of affectionate behaviors such as kissing, cuddling and caressing were also associated with increased sexual satisfaction for both men and women.5

Also, if a person’s desire to compare themselves to others motivates inquiries about the average sexual frequency, this could lead to negative consequences. People who frequently compare their relationship to others’ feel less secure and less satisfied in their relationships.6

So, the answer to the question of how often couples typically engage in sex is that it varies and comparing your own sexual frequency to that of others may not be beneficial. Put another way, if you’re happy with how often you’re getting some, then it doesn’t really matter what others do.

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1Laumann, E. O., Gagnon, H. J., Michael, R. T., & Michaels, S. (1994). The social organization of sexuality: Sexual practices in the United States. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

2Call, V., Sprecher, S., Schwartz, P. (1995). The incidence and frequency of marital sex in a national sample. Journal of Marriage and Family, 57, 639-652.

3Blanchflower, D. G., & Oswald, A. J. (2004) Money, sex and happiness: An empirical study. Scandinavian Journal of Economics, 106, 393-415. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-9442.2004.00369.x

4Blumstein, P., & Schwartz, P. (1983). American couples. New York: Pocket Books.

5Heiman, J. R., Long, S. J., Smith, S. N., Fisher, W. A., & Sand, M. S. (2011). Sexual satisfaction and relationship happiness in midlife and older couples in five countries. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 40, 741-753. doi: 10.1007/s10508-010-9703-3

 6Smith LeBeau, L., & Buckingham, J. T. (2008). Relationship social comparison tendencies, insecurity, and perceived relationship quality. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 25, 71 – 86.  

Dr. Amy Muise - Sex Musings | Science of Relationships articles | Website/CV
Dr. Muise’s research focuses on sexuality, including the role of sexual motives in maintaining sexual desire in long-term relationships, and sexual well-being. She also studies the relational effects of new media, such as how technology influences dating scripts and the experience of jealousy.

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Reader Comments (2)

While this article was written recently, their sources show the research is very outdated. I would love to see some newer statistics!

August 29, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterShwhit

Additional questions relating to frequency and to satisfaction which may be significant:are,

1) How does the reported actual frequency of a couple compare to what the "ideal" or "optimal" frequency of each partner in that couple would express as preferable? How does libido/desire/interest disparity between partners relate to frequency and to couple and to individual partner satisfaction?

2) Does gender affect frequency and/or satisfaction?

3) Does DURATION of sex relate to frequency and/or satisfaction? Does gender affect duration?

July 27, 2015 | Unregistered Commenterjoseph santus
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