Throw on your favorite sitcom, head to the movie theater or pick up a classic piece of literature, and you’ll find recurring motif: all these couples dance away “happily ever after.” Even scrolling through your social media feeds can have you wondering, “Is my relationship normal?” especially when it comes to sex and intimacy.
“We have lots of expectations about how relationships are ‘supposed’ to look,” says Dr. Logan Levkoff, who received her PhD in human sexuality, marriage and family life education from New York University. “Many times, this fairy-tale model doesn’t mimic our lives or our realities.”
How Often Should You Have Sex?
Regarding sex — and how much we “should” be having — Levkoff says there’s no ‘normal,’ and that all relationships are different. “Normal” is whatever feels fulfilling for you and your partner, and communication plays a key role in making sure both parties feel fulfilled.
That said, a 2017 study that appeared in the Archives of Sexual Behavior found that the average adult currently enjoys sex 54 times a year, which equates to about once a week. This is less sex, by about nine per year, compared to a similar study done in the 1990s. Interestingly, though, another study published in Social Psychological and Personality Science — which surveyed over 30,000 Americans over 40 years for three different projects — discovered that a once weekly frequency was the Goldilocks standard for happiness. Couples who had sex more than once a week didn’t report being any happier, and those who had sex less than once a week reported feeling less fulfilled.
“Normal” is whatever feels fulfilling for you and your partner, and communication plays a key role in making sure both parties feel fulfilled.
The Importance of Sexual Intimacy
Sexual intimacy is vital in any relationship, and not just for the sensual pleasure of it all.
“Closeness and connection is a human need,” explains Dr. Sanam Hafeez, a NYC-based licensed clinical psychologist. “When in a long-term relationship it's important to reconnect through sex. The brain chemicals released during sex further enhances bonding.”
Levkoff concurs, adding that sex doesn’t always have to be limited to intercourse, either. Physical intimacy — including cuddling, oral and manual stimulation and sharing of sexual fantasies — contribute to this bonding. At the end of the day, the focus shouldn’t be on hitting a “magic number,” but rather on meeting the needs of both partners and bonding through intimacy as a couple.
Couples who had sex more than once a week didn’t report being any happier, and those who had sex less than once a week reported feeling less fulfilled.
5 Reasons We're Not Having Enough Sex
While it’s perfectly normal to not be up for sex from time to time, things become problematic when sex becomes a chore, and when physical intimacy is no longer a priority in your relationship. To fix it, you must understand the causes and then make appropriate changes.
Stress manifests a multitude of ways and impacts both mental and physical health. Mentally, it can make you feel overwhelmed, checked out, irritable and even depressed. Physically, you can experience upset stomachs and headaches, induced by excess cortisol in the blood. All of the above can put a major damper on your libido, says Levkoff.
To reduce stress, be on the lookout for symptoms and anticipate stressors. Reprioritize what’s important to you, don’t be afraid to say no, meditate, do breathing exercises, and carve out time for yourself and your partner. Also, take care of your body by eating well, getting adequate sleep and exercising often.
2. Body Insecurity
“Body insecurity is a common cause, especially when it's not only about appearance, but the feeling of being bloated and just not at your best,” explains Hafeez. Those with low self-esteem in regard to body image often experience feelings of shame or embarrassment about being naked in front of their partner and lack the sexual confidence to initiate or engage in sexual intimacy.
Though difficult, address your insecurities head on. Mentally lift yourself up instead of berating or nitpicking your appearance, and employ a professional who can help along the way. Do things that make you happy and build confidence, and exercise often, which releases endorphins and can give you a greater appreciation of your body.
3. Chronic Medical Issues
“Chronic conditions, like rheumatoid arthritis, pain, fatigue, stiffness, swelling, vaginal dryness and limited function, can also impact libido,” says Levkoff, who has covered this topic extensively. Certain conditions, and medications, can impact your sexual desire or your ability to become physically aroused. Consult your physician — someone who will support you throughout this conversation — about treatment plans and ways you can work toward greater sexual fulfillment.
4. Smart Devices
“The irony of technology is that while it makes us feel intellectually more connected to people, it can isolate us even further from one another when it comes to intimacy,” says Levkoff. It’s good habit to keep electronics — including phones and TVs — out of the bedroom. Take it one step further by leaving your smart phone in the car during dinner, in another room when you’re at home, and installing a “tech curfew,” says Hafeez.
5. Waning Connection
Sexual desire can be compromised if you’re not feeling emotionally connected to your partner. Rebooting that connection can be as simple as taking a kids-free weekend getaway, carving out regular time to hang out or sending sweet texts.
“Check in throughout the day. A kissy face emoji or a quick message sending love keeps the connection going,” says Hafeez. “Also, something as simple as walking together after dinner without phones, or dancing, can get good brain chemicals flowing.”