Written by: Rebecca Hirsch, AMFT
Symmetry Counseling Chicago
I often get the question how often couples should be having sex. As a therapist, I dislike the word “should”, especially when it comes to sex. This is an impossible question to answer for a number of reasons. Sex is not a one-size-fits-all, and every individual and couple has a different idea of how often they want to be having sex and what that looks like. It is especially confusing for couples because we are constantly bombarded with messages from our culture and the media telling us how often we should be having sex and what our sex should look like. Some studies tell us that happy couples report to be having sex twice a week. But what does that mean? Does having sex twice a week make couples happier? Or are couples who are happy and satisfied in their relationship more likely to have sex twice a week? Or, are there other variables, such as financial stress, having children, physical and mental health, and so forth also at play here? Couples who report to be happy in their relationship may also have fewer chronic and acute stressors, which may impact their desire and even ability to have sex on a weekly basis. Telling a couple how many times a week they “should” be having sex is not helpful, and can even be detrimental to the couple’s sex life.
When individuals or couples ask me how often they should be having sex, I will often say that it doesn’t matter how often you’re having sex, as long as you are both content and satisfied with the sex you’re having and the amount of sex you’re having. Telling a couple to have sex a certain number of times per week can increase anxiety as well as add unnecessary pressure on the relationship. If you are not satisfied with your sex life with your partner, and want to increase the frequency or change the status quo, the best place to start is by talking to your partner about it.
Bringing up sex with your partner can be a really intimidating and scary thing to do, but nonetheless, it’s very important. When bringing up sex to your partner, keep in mind that this can be a very sensitive and personal subject. Try to talk about what sex means to you in the relationship, such as, “I feel really connected to you when we have sex, and I am interested in deepening that connection with you.” If you both want to have sex more often, it will be up to both of you to make it a priority as well as making sure both of you are initiating it. Many couples find it useful to schedule sex in their day or week ahead of time, which takes pressure off of who will initiate and resolves the issues of when they will find time to do it. When you feel comfortable communicating about sex with your partner, it can build intimacy and connection in the relationship by just talking about it.
What couples therapists often see in couples and sex therapy is when one individual wants sex more often than the other, or is dissatisfied with the sexual and physical intimacy in the relationship and the other is not or is unsure how to work on it. In therapy, we call this difference a desire discrepancy. Desire discrepancies are very common in relationships, especially for couples who have been together for a long period of time. Many couples who seek sex therapy name differences in desire and libido the main reason for entering therapy. It is important to recognize that desire and libido change over time, and it is perfectly normal for couples to have ebbs and flows of their physical intimacy throughout the course of their relationship. Stress plays a giant role in whether or not we want to have sex, for both men and women. Other factors that can impact our desire include, but aren’t not limited to: negative body image, anxiety, depression, feeling disconnected to your partner, fear of unwanted pregnancy or STIs, loneliness, resentment, changes in our body (such as menopause), and many more. If desire discrepancies go unaddressed in a relationship for a long period of time, then resentment, frustration, and disconnect can build in the relationship.
It is important to focus on the quality of your sexual and physical intimacy, not necessarily the quantity, which is why it can be very unhelpful to aim toward an arbitrary number of how many times you “should” be having sex a week. It may also be useful not to make sex the goal, and to instead focus on physically connecting with your partner, which can include cuddling, hugging, and kissing (among many other options). If you would like to discuss your sex life, but are unsure where to begin or how to discuss it in a productive and healthy way, it would be beneficial to consult with a therapist who is well-versed in sexual health and sexual concerns. Contact Symmetry Counseling Chicago and inquire about couples and/ or sex therapy.