No one can deny that physical intimacy is an important component to any long-standing relationship. In addition to trust, communication, and compatibility, sex can prove effective in making or breaking a connection. That said, every couple is different in their needs and wants. Therefore, deciphering how often a couple should have sex to stay connected can get tricky, especially once the relationship matures and evolves. Just ask the experts.
“As we age, we are more comfortable with our bodies and can be more vocal about what we want,” says Dr. Shannon Chavez, Licensed Psychologist and Certified Sexual Therapist. “It is less about ideals and more about designing a sex life that works for you. [...] Sex in your 20s can be more about experimentation, dating different people, and trying new things. Sex can be more casual and explorative as you are figuring out your life and what you want. Sex changes as our values and lifestyles change from 20s to 30s.”
So is there a magic number or perfect cadence for how often you should be intimate with your partner or spouse? The answer is yes … but that cadence is up to you and your partner to agree upon. “The couples that come to see me often ask what’s normal, so one person can feel validated in their position, which often leaves the other one feeling resentful,” says Dr. Holly Richmond, Certified Sex Therapist who partnered with K-Y to launch ‘The Pleasure is Mine’ docuseries to help women spark these conversations with their partners. “I will say this, many of the couples I see mirror what studies tell us — long-term couples, irrespective of age, tend to have more sex than single people, and on average these couples have sex three to four times a month, less than once a week. I see couples that have sex once a year and are wildly happy, and I see couples that have sex six times a week who are miserable. Frequency alone does not equate to sexual satisfaction.”
That said, now one must understand and monitor when their physical intimacy frequency is headed to unhealthy territory. Dr. Chavez explains that focusing too much on the technicalities of sex as opposed to the emotional aspects of it can cause you to lose focus and leave someone feeling unfulfilled sexually. “Sex should never feel like something we are doing or have to do,” she explains. “Couples should never feel that frequency is getting in the way of quality connection. Overthinking or focusing on frequency can lead to resentment, shame, feeling inadequate, or dissatisfaction.”
An unbalanced intimate relationship is also another sign of an unhealthy sex life, and this one is often the most common issue among long-term couples in their 30s, 40s, and beyond. “The frequency can become unhealthy if one partner is unhappy and does not feel heard,” says Dr. Allen Wagner, Marriage and Family Therapist. “This can occur on either end of the spectrum and, as a therapist, I have seen both. When a person requires sex too often, it leaves the other person feeling more obligated than participating actively. If things have completely become asexual, then couples often lose attraction to one another and feel more like roommates than a couple. This can lead to infidelity, but more often depression in one or both partners.”
Raffi Bilek, Marriage and Family Counselor for The Baltimore Therapy Center, says throwing out the notion of numbers in relation to sex is key here. “Trying to find a number is to nobody’s benefit,” he explains. “Problems in life never get solved perfectly. For some couples, once a month is healthy while some think once a week is cool. Being able to have that skill to talk about it is more important.” Because your sex life as a couple will constantly evolve and change, allowing intimacy to be a work in progress and a consistent conversation is important, Bilek adds.
So what’s the moral of the story here? That’s right: Communication is key. Yes, sex and physical intimacy can be a touchy subject, but it’s also one of the most important conversations you should have as a couple regularly. “If one partner feels neglected or unsatisfied, then the relationship needs to address this," says Dr. Wagner. "There does need to be some compromise, of course, as there are those partners who have a very high sex drive, where their partner may not feel that same need or in some cases experience discomfort or physical limitations. Couples can definitely navigate this together into a compromise that would work well for both. The important thing is to talk about it, so that people do not misinterpret this as rejection and feel invalidated.”
Another important intimacy aspect to remember is that it should be exciting and enjoyable. make an effort to spice things up and try new things as a couple. "Sex can get boring if we are only focusing on frequency and not the quality of sexual interactions with a partner," says Dr. Chavez. "I would advise a couple to commit to trying new things and dedicating time and creative energy to making your sex life something that you are proud of. You are in control of your sex life. Make it the best it can be and have fun with it while you are doing it."