How often should YOU be having sex? Tracey Cox reveals how much bedroom action is right for couples in every stage of life – from the post-wedding slump to twice a month for new parents
- Sex expert Tracey Cox discusses how frequent your couple romps should be
- Study claims weekly hits sweet spot and more sex doesn’t make people happier
- Adds frequency is linked to other factors and there is not one general answer
A sex therapist once told me that if a couple who’ve been married for 20 years claim sex is as good as it was at the start, there are only three possibilities.
They’re telling the truth because they didn’t have good sex to begin with, they’re lying, or sex is all they’ve ever had because they haven’t connected emotionally.
Most of us are aware that our sex lives generally follow a predictable path: the longer you’re in a relationship, the less sex you tend to have.
The frequency of sex is also strongly affected by our ‘resting’ libido, age, the stage of the relationship, general health, how happy we are with our partner, drinking habits, menstrual cycles and umpteen other factors.
This why telling everyone to have sex once a week – the widely agreed on ‘best’ amount – isn’t terribly helpful.
It might well be the ‘sweet spot’ but if you’ve got three kids under five, it’s simply unachievable.
What is sensible to aim for, at different stages of your life?
Here’s what I think are sensible goals.
British sex expert Tracey Cox reveals ‘sensible’ sex goals for couples in every stage in life and explains how to boost the frequency if you’re feeling unsatisfied. Stock image
YOU’VE JUST MET
Ideal number: Every time you see each other, once you become sexually active.
What’s happening: It’s called the ‘honeymoon period’ for a reason: the first few months after you start having sex, are without doubt the most lust-fuelled, adventurous and frequent sex you’ll have in your relationship.
Why? Because it’s dictated by powerful hormones that produce a spike in desire. High doses of dopamine and serotonin create a feeling of euphoria that makes sex almost intolerably exciting.
There’s lots of it and it lasts for ages.
This is called ‘spontaneous lust’, which is entirely effortless. Simply thinking about or seeing your partner is enough to get the juices flowing.
Trouble is the sex isn’t real. Quite frankly, you could be having sex with a goat and not realise because most of the erotic excitement is being produced by the brain hormones rather than what’s really in front of you.
Low sex drives, appalling technique, a slant towards selfishness – the intense boost you get at the start cunningly disguises it all.
Regardless, if we could all stay at this point, we would. Nearly everyone gives up and surrenders to the gloriousness.
Aim for: New couples don’t need to aim for anything, great sex just happens.
If you’re not desperate to do it every time you see each, sexual chemistry is in short supply. Chemistry can build over time but it’s preferable if it’s there at the start.
Make it happen more often: Prolong the chemical kick. Few couples need incentive to have sex more often at the very start, but if you introduce new sexual adventures (sex alfresco, playing with sex toys, experimenting with different types of orgasms) before the hormones wear off, you can artificially extend their lifespan.
YOU’VE JUST MOVED IN OR GOT MARRIED
Sex expert Tracey Cox, pictured, explains why their are highs and lows in your sex drive – and what you can do about it
Ideal number: It’s a rare couple who won’t experience a dip once they first move in, so almost as much as before you ‘merged’ is pretty good going.
What’s happening: Only having one home impacts significantly on your sex life. All the not-so-perfect stuff you shielded from each other – cutting your toenails, waxing your top lip, going for a week without washing your hair, feeling stressed or irritated – is suddenly on display.
There’s no privacy and no time out from the relationship once you move in or marry. You might think you’re ‘one’ but you’re two individuals with different ideas on how to run a house and your lives. There’s inevitably a power struggle and a massive adjustment on both sides.
Sex can either improve dramatically or fall in a heap.
After years of hiding from parents or flatmates, being able to have sex somewhere other than on a bed is a dream come true.
Some thrive in monogamous relationships and enjoy predictable lovemaking because they feel safe and can relax when they know what’s (literally) coming.
Others find being able to have sex 24/7 a turn-off rather than turn on – especially when it’s with the same person.
Familiarity famously dampens desire and it’s when you make that first big commitment – move in or tie the knot – that you most acutely feel it.
The terms ‘husband’ and ‘wife’ might warm your heart but they’re likely to leave your groin cold. Being ‘lovers’ is a lot sexier than having to officially be ‘grown-ups’.
Aim for: Nearly all newlyweds report a drop in sex: 62 per cent in one survey said they wish they were having more.
What starts interfering? Lack of time, stress and dealing with the drudgery of day to day living.
A good rule of thumb is to allow a few months to readjust, then aim for the same amount of sex you had before you married or moved in. You probably won’t make it, but if you settle a notch or two below, you’re doing just fine.
Make it happen more often: Schedule time for sex: It might not sound sexy but it’s efficient: 36 per cent of newlyweds schedule sex into their lives.
Confess your darkest fantasies: It’s an effective way to combat your new enemy: domesticity. Sharing fantasies actively challenges the tendency to slip into being each other’s best friends rather than lovers.
Start a ‘sex jar’: Each write down 10 things you’d like to try on a piece of paper. Rip into separate points, fold, and put all of them into a jar. Pick out one a week to try. (You can insist on pre-approval or take a leap of faith!)
YOU’RE NEW PARENTS
Having sex once or twice a month, about four months after the birth, would be something most new parents aspire to, Tracey said. Stock image
Ideal number: It depends on the birth and how easy you’re finding parenthood but once or twice a month, about four months after the birth, would be something most new parents aspire to.
What’s happening: It’s not just sleep deprivation that turns a sexually charged couple into can’t-be-bothereds in a month.
Children put more strain on your relationship and sex life than you ever dreamed possible: there’s no spontaneity, no privacy, no freedom and no uninterrupted couple time.
Parents with kids spend an average of 20 minutes per week being intimate. A study of 11,000 women and men aged 16-44 revealed married women with kids under the age of five have the lowest libido of all the groups.
There’s a biological reason for women’s short-term disinterest: you’re supposed to be focused on caring for the child rather than making a new one.
‘Will we ever get our sex life back?’ is the question I get asked most by new parents. ‘Will I ever want it back?’, is often added, usually by the mother, in a tiny miserable voice.
The answer to both is yes – but not for a while.
Aim for: Quite frankly, I’m in awe of any new parents who manage any sex in the first year! But here’s some reputable statistics to help you decide what might work for you.
Most couples don’t have any sex at all for seven weeks after the birth. Lots don’t start until three months in, some wait for up to a year.
About four months after the birth, however, most couples usually return to however often they were having sex mid-pregnancy. Six months after the birth, most younger parents are clocking up three to five times a month.
One year in, couples say sex is starting to feel good again, though few say it’s as good as it was pre-kids. (Nearly all parents say on a personal level they are happier, however.)
Post one year, 95 per cent of couples say they’re still having less sex than before the pregnancy – but that’s the payoff of being parents, I’m afraid!
Make it happen more often: Grab any sex you can: Don’t be fussy. OK sex is better for your relationship than no sex. Don’t worry if you don’t ‘finish’ sex. When was the last time you made a hot meal and managed to eat it while it was even slightly warm? It’s just how things will be for a while.
Bargain! It’s fine to do this in the early days: you’ll have sex if your partner gets up to do the early feed. It’s totally acceptable to say, ‘We’ve got five minutes’ if they want sex, but you’d cut your right arm off for sleep.
Most people are happy to go without sex for a while. It’s when they can’t ever see an ending to the drought that they feel resentful. Talk about how great it will be when things calm down and you’ll get through it.
YOU’VE BEEN TOGETHER A LONG TIME
Ideal number: Once a week is ideal but once a fortnight also keeps a lot of long-term couples happy.
What’s happening: The longer you are with your partner, the less sex you have because of what’s called ‘habituation’: removal of the novelty factor.
This happens to couples of any age. Couples in their mid-20s to mid-30s have sex an average of eight to nine times a month. Two years into a relationship, this drops to six times a month.
And how about this for a statistic: how often you have sex in the first year you’re together, dictates how often you will have sex from then on. Research shows it sets a pattern – if you’re having an above average amount of sex, it continues even after two years when there’s a natural drop-off point.
There’s lots of research into married sex with wildly conflicting figures. This is because factors like age, children and the length of the relationship dramatically skew frequency.
Once a week is ideal for people in serious relationships but only about half of people in them have sex this frequently.
WHY ONCE A WEEK IS THE ‘SWEET SPOT’
Once a week appears to be the magic number for long-term sexual happiness – with new evidence suggesting too much sex can make you miserable, leading to a decrease in desire and enjoyment.
Important 2015 research reported in the Society for Personality and Social Psychology found more sex didn’t make couples happier.
The study, based on surveys of more than 30,000 Americans collected over four decades, found while having regular sex had many benefits, the benefits didn’t increase once the couple had sex more than once a week.
Couples who had sex more than that were no happier than couples who did it weekly.
Weekly sex boosts our immune systems, reduces stress and improves memory. And that’s just the physical benefits.
Regular sex brings pleasure into our lives and increases production of oxytocin, the cuddle hormone, promoting trust, intimacy and bonding. It makes us feel less depressed and more positive generally, enhancing self-esteem and confidence.
Couples who have regular sex feel more closer to their partner and rate their relationship happiness much higher than couples who don’t. Having sex also boosts your libido – and reminds you of how good sex feels, if you haven’t had it for a while.
Most couples have sex for around 10-15 minutes each time. Can you really not find time to reap all those benefits?
Sex therapists define a ‘low sex’ marriage as having sex less than every other week (so less than 25 times a year). Around 15 per cent of long-term couples fall into this category.
Twenty per cent of couples fall into the ‘no sex’ marriage category of less than 10 times per year. This definition has since been challenged – as it should be. I know lots of long-term couples who enjoy sex once every month or six weeks and consider themselves highly satisfied sexually.
Aim for: The right amount of sex for every couple is highly subjective.
The right amount of sex, in this instance, has less to do with how often you’re having it and everything to do with what makes you both happy.
Weekly sex is great for you physically and emotionally. But if that’s doesn’t float your boat, don’t worry about it.
There is no ‘normal’, only what works for the two of you.
Make it happen more often: Have sex that pushes you out of your comfort zone: Be adventurous and playful. Daring, bold! At first, you’ll feel self-conscious stepping outside that slippers-by-the-fire sexual comfort zone. But you’ll get braver and more courageous as you go along.
Play to your partner’s ‘thing’: All of us have a core erotic theme – something we need to express to be able to fuel or feel desire.
It’s our ‘thing’, something that never fails to get us aroused. That might be having sex in semi-public, wearing heels to bed, watching porn while having sex, enjoying anal, being spanked.
Lots of people guard their ‘thing’ and don’t tell their partner for fear of being judged. The couple who find out and indulge each other’s core erotic theme rate very high on sex satisfaction.
YOU’RE OVER A CERTAIN AGE
Ideal number: Anywhere from once a week to once every two months.
What’s happening: If you’re a woman, you’re going to hit the menopause at some stage with all its unique challenges. Painful sex, vaginal dryness, less sensitivity and libido-busting symptoms like hot flushes all wreak havoc on the healthiest sex drive.
General health problems associated with ageing – less energy, dodgy backs, hips and knees, less reliable erections and a general loss of desire – all mean the frequency of sex declines.
The good news is, there’s never been a better time to be older in terms of your sex life because HRT, better education and longer life spans mean people are enjoying sex far longer than ever before.
UK research turned up these statistics: 5.3 per cent of straight couples aged 45 to 55 who had been married for 10 to 15 years had sex every day; 42.1 per cent had sex weekly; 31.6 per cent had sex monthly; 15.8 per cent had sex annually and the remaining 5.2 per cent never had sex.
Another US survey of people between 50 and 80 found most have sex twice a month, on average. Motivation is higher than you’d expect: 51 per cent of the people surveyed said they’re going to keep having sex until they are unable to. Forty-four per cent said their sex life was much more or as adventurous as when they were younger.
Aim for: Age really is just a number in this instance, because your desire and ability to have sex very much depends on your general health, natural libido level and when you got together. (We all experience a dramatic boost in desire at the start of relationships, regardless of age).
For older couples, it’s usually a compromise between what’s best (regular sex), what’s physically possible, relationship satisfaction and how much you enjoy having sex.
Make it happen more often: Use it or lose the ability to. This applies to pretty much everything once you get past a half century but it’s crucial when it comes to sex.
The more regularly you have sex, the better shape your genitals are in. Like the other muscles in our body, they need exercise.
Having regular penetrative sex will keep your muscles toned, the vaginal walls flexible and chambers of the penis healthy. If that’s not appealing or possible, aim for regular orgasms. The muscular contractions on orgasm and hormones released work their own magic. If you don’t have a partner, masturbate a few times a week – to orgasm – to reap the same health benefits.
Use lube. Start using it for every sexual activity – intercourse, hand-jobs, solo sex sessions with your vibe. If you haven’t already discovered it, this will also make a big change to your sex life.
Use sex toys. They are the solution to lots of problems. They help you to stay sexual if you’re single, help sort any erection issues and the need for more stimulation if sensitivity has decreased.
Need some more sex advice? Tracey’s podcast, SexTok, is out every Tuesday, offering quick, practical sex advice delivered with a healthy dose of humour. You’ll find Tracey’s books and products at traceycox.com.
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