There’s something relaxing about the comfort that comes with being with a romantic partner for a long time. After the initial honeymoon phase, a couple starts discovering similar interests, sharing new jokes, and learning what makes each other happy.
Developing a long-term relationship – and the emotional bond that comes with it – can make the couple’s sex life feel more fulfilling, too. Yet as the nature of a couple’s bedroom behavior changes, often the frequency does as well. Some couples who have been monogamous for a while may feel insecure if they’re less sexually active than they were at the beginning of the relationship.
Even if they expect their bedroom activity to slow down, they worry they may not be intimate as often as other happy couples. While there is data that shows the average frequency adults are having sex, experts suggest there’s more to a successful sex life than comparing it with what our peers are doing.
The “magic number”
While this doesn’t answer the question of how much people should be physically intimate, a study published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior is the most recent and comprehensive evidence we have of how much people are physically intimate these days.
This study, entitled “Declines in Sexual Frequency among American Adults, 1989–2014,” collected data for over 26,000 adults from about 20 years old to older than 60 years old. The study looked at sexual activity in people in the US with different ages, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, educational background, and more, as well as noting whether the adults were single or having sex with one partner regularly.
Researchers found American adults had sex 54 times a year, averaging about once a week. Adults in their 20s had sex about 80 times a year on average, yet adults born in the 1990s are having less sex than people from older generations did when they were in their 20s.
More is not always better
Just because a couple is more sexually active doesn’t necessarily mean they are happier. A review published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science conducted three separate studies of participants with varying relationship statuses and found a similar result. For people in relationships, the researchers found having sex more than once a week didn’t increase the couples’ “well-being.”
But if a couple is comfortable with a sexual routine that’s less frequent than once a week, experts recommend staying with what feels right. Another study in the Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization studied sexually active couples and randomly assigned half to double their frequency of intercourse. They found that increased frequency did not lead to increased happiness. They speculated this was because forcing it to happen more often led to a decline in anticipation and enjoyment of sex.
Even though the researchers noted there may be evidence suggesting a positive correlation between sexual frequency and happiness, increasing it for the sake of hitting a “magic number” could actually be detrimental.
Sexual activity isn’t only determined by a couple’s attraction to each other. Sexual expert Sarah Hunter Murray, PhD points out the reason why a couple isn’t having sex is more telling than the number of times they have it. She says that if a couple is fighting or falling out of love with each other, not having sex could be a symptom of a much larger problem. However, fatigue, poor health, stress, different work schedules, or parenthood can all affect how much someone is “in the mood.”
The International Society for Sexual Medicine says that every couple is different. According to their website, focusing on what works best for each couple and developing a strong emotional bond is more important than numbers, targets, or whatever other couples are doing.