How Often Do Couples in Long-Term Relationships Have Sex?
What is the average amount of sex that couples in long-term relationships have?
Sooner or later, people come to discussing this question, seeking the ultimate criteria and checking whether they “hit the mark.” And that’s pretty natural.
For example, Jerry and Mary had a regular, 3-days-a-week sex life in the initial stages of their relationships. Lately, their statistics decreased to once a month while their sexual life is still satisfactory for both.
Their relationships are still full of love and affection, but the decline in intimacy itself does worry them. They heard about the standard “once a week” and now are concerned about not being right on par with it.
“It may be that it’s not enough, and we’re not like “normal” couples. Are we moving towards a breakup?”
So, Jerry and Marry and many other couples in long-term relationships want to get answers to these 6 common questions:
- How often do couples have sex in general?
- Should there be any “gold standard”?
- Is sex important at all?
- What can affect the amount of physical intimacy?
- Is it okay, or will it ruin relationships?
- How to improve couples sex life?
If you want to get the answers, keep reading. Below, we’ll explain it all more directly, providing statistics, experts’ opinions, and helpful recommendations.
How often do couples have sex? Frequency in the numbers
It may be intriguing to look at the statistics to find out what’s going on in people’s intimate lives and how it can be measured. Here are the insights that scientific studies can provide us with:
Once a week is the average amount of sex in long-term couples
Numerous researches derived the average amount of sex in engaged, married, or cohabiting couples. In particular, according to a 2017 study published in Archives of Sexual Behavior, on average, adults have sex 54 times/year or about once a week. The researchers studied the sexual behavior of over 26,000 people from 1989 to 2014.
But it’s also important to note that sexual frequency is the highest during the early stages of relationships. And there are phases when couples have sex more frequently (for example, when partners are planning to have a baby)
The more isn’t always the better
The surveys with over 70.000 responders for the “The Normal Bar” book found that 7.5% of the people have sex daily.
Indeed, sex is associated with happiness, pleasure, and relationship satisfaction, but it doesn’t play a crucial role in this.
According to the research, sex once a week brings the same feeling of happiness as if couples had it more. In the most fulfilling relationships, partners have as much amount of sex as they both want.
The frequency of sex in Americans declines
Interestingly, there’s a tendency for the sex decline in Americans:
- People of the Silent generation (the 1930s) had sex approximately 63 times/year
- For late Millennials, the frequency is 57 times/year
- And the Gen Z is now talking about “sex recession” as they’re having less sex than previous generations.
Also, married people had sex 16 times less per year in 2010-2014 compared to 2000-2004. And it’s nine times less per year compared to 1995-1999.
This decline is connected with twin trends: a lower number of people with a steady partner and less sexual activity among them. However, the frequency is still higher for married couples than for people with no long-term partner. For them, it usually ranges from “weekly” to “once-a-month” statistics.
As to the present generations, there’s the “quality over quantity” tendency. It’s connected with pleasure and healthy sex life advocacy, active sex-positivity movement, fighting with the stigma and discrimination, and spreading awareness about what fulfilling relationships look like.
Sexless marriages are not uncommon
Roughly speaking, a sexless relationship is defined as a relationship with sexual activity less than 10 times/year or 1 time/month. However, the definition is not really accurate since sexual activity can involve not only sexual intercourse per se.
According to the Relationships in America survey, 12% of all married people 18-60 y.o. didn’t have sex for at least 3 months.
Advanced age doesn’t mark the end of sexual life
Age has a strong effect on sexual frequency:
- Americans in their 20s have sex about 80 times/year
- Average adult people have it about 54 times/year
- For Americans in their 60s, the amount is about 20 times/year.
However, as they say, age ain’t nothing but a number — intimacy doesn’t completely stop with aging. Many people over 80 are still sexually active.
How often do couples have sex? Frequency outside the numbers
Married, cohabiting, and engaged couples notice that the frequency of sex declines with time. Many are concerned and even ashamed of this fact. They tend to compare personal love lives with those of others and believe that frequency is the measure of “success.”
Besides, couples may consider this decline as one of the main reasons for the worsening of relationship quality.
The truth is, for couples in long-term relationships, there is no “normal” amount of sex they should be having. And even if there was, it would not apply to everyone. Why?
Because the answer varies and is based on several factors:
- Social environment
- The current state of physical and mental health
- Each person’s desire level and sex drive
- Personal preferences and emotional needs
- Beliefs, ethics, and customs
- Impact of past experience that could cause anxiety-, stress-, or trauma-related disorders
- The overall relationships satisfaction
So, it’s impossible to follow any one-size-fits-all approach for everyone. There’s no right answer or an ideal number of times per week, month, or year.
Some couples make the mistake of focusing too much on numbers, thus checking whether their sex life is okay. Statistics are misleading.
When people try to check the box, pushing sexual frequency to match some “ideal number” to be good enough, they make their sex life performative. Sex becomes a daily chore rather than a special experience.
To evaluate the level of satisfaction with sex lives and relationships, couples should stop focusing on the numbers but start paying more attention to what they experience far beyond the bed.
If not the frequency, what does really matter then?
Here’s what Sandra L. Burke, Licensed Clinical Psychologist, says on this point:
Emotional safety is necessary for creating emotional and physical intimacy within a relationship. It’s the stable sense of emotional closeness to your loved one and mutual care for the well-being of each other. You trust them with all your:
- Hurt, etc.
You both can freely express all your thoughts and ideas without the fear of being humiliated, shut down, or criticized. You’re familiar with one another’s inner worlds and live in harmony.
Emotional safety, love, respect, and intimate communication can help you reach the desired quantity and quality of the sexual activity.
According to the research published in 2017, a warm interpersonal climate between spouses and satisfying sex life matter more for marital satisfaction than the frequency of sexual intercourse.
So, if the overall feeling between partners is not positive, sex won’t necessarily translate into high satisfaction with the relationship. Thus the frequency should not be the main goal.
Having sex once a week just to shoot the number is not an effective strategy to keep the fire alive. Instead, prioritizing the happiness, comfort, emotional intimacy, feelings, and the best mental and physical well-being of both partners — it’s what matters to improve the quality of sex life and make the relationship strong.
After all, it’s not all about sex. There are many other ways to fulfill your intimacy needs physically and emotionally.
And it would be safe to say that if you have sex once a month or 2 times a day with your partner, it doesn’t make your relationship better or worse. If it 100% works for you both, you’ve found your ideal frequency, whatever the average is. If not, there are ways to work on the problem.
Is sex important?
Yes. Understanding that sex is a natural and important part of our life and well-being is one of the aspects of sexual health. Sexual health goes far beyond just sexual behavior and satisfaction.
- High awareness and free access to sexual health education
- The ability to discuss it with your partner and healthcare professionals
- Getting needed medical treatment and care
- Feeling safe, confident, and respected, while being vulnerable
- The ability to enjoy sexuality and experience contentment on physical and psychological levels, etc.
For people in healthy sexual relationships, sex is not just a way to satisfy their physical needs, but also a powerful emotional connector. They can freely discuss all sides of intimate life, including their desires, fantasies, concerns, the frequency of intercourse, etc.
Such couples have the key to healthy relationships and emotional, mental, and physical benefits of sex. Here are just a few of them:
12 factors that affect the sex drive & frequency
Yes, sometimes the sex drive doesn’t match. Not always both people are ready for sexual activity at the same time. Not always the desire for the frequency of one partner is synched with the desire, mood, or well-being state of the second. And that’s okay.
Although sex is beneficial for couples, it shouldn’t and couldn’t be a daily compulsory chore of life. Actually, a lot of factors can affect sex drive and frequency.
For example, the everyday pressure one gets at work while trying to follow deadlines, or the stress because they can’t take time to relax for several days. In some cases, the sexual drive can decline naturally due to physiological factors, in others — psychological and interpersonal factors play their role.
Nevertheless, it’s absolutely okay to say “no” to physical intimacy if you don’t feel like it. Discuss how you feel with your significant other, express your needs, find the ways to cope together, or get support to improve the situation. After all, that’s how healthy relationships work.
What are some common factors that affect a sex drive?
- Hormonal imbalances
- Mental health issues (stress, anxiety, depression, OCD, PTSD, etc.)
- Medical conditions
- Sexual performance anxiety
- Body image issues
- Lack of emotional satisfaction with the relationship
- Relationship crisis
- Caregiving for a loved one
- Substance use problems
- History of abuse and trauma
- Situational disappointment (because of a disagreement, conflict, misunderstanding, etc.)
All of these factors play a role in how often a couple has sex. In these cases, it’s necessary to remember about emotional safety. An open, transparent dialog with a loved one can help deal with challenges and build fulfilling relationships.
However, these factors can intertwine in a combination of issues. And if a significant decrease in sex drive or the abundance of sexual activity causes distress and greatly affects people’s well-being, it’s crucial to seek comprehensive help from healthcare professionals.
Can a decrease in sex frequency lead to breakup?
In short, if partners have sex less than the “statistical average” and are content with that, there’s nothing to worry about. You shouldn’t rely on the exciting Insta-stories and others’ experiences in general. And try not to use them as a measure of your relationship success.
Everyone is unique. No one can dictate what the “normal” amount of sex for your couple is. Just make sure you and your partner are on the same page.
The lack of sex doesn’t mean you’re close to a breakup. Still, if the decreased intimacy brings detachment and is a real challenge for the partners, the couple has something to be fixed.
Usually, the root of the problem is deeper and not about the frequency of intercourse per se. It may be that some emotional or physical issues are behind this.
How can couples improve their sex life? – Expert tips from the Calmerry therapist
It’s normal to have ups and downs in your relationship. And in a long-term relationship, it’s impossible for sexual attraction to always stay honeymoon-fresh. And that’s okay, too.
There are some strategies couples can follow to improve their sex life, rekindle passion, sync sex drives, and make the relationship stronger.
We asked our counselor at Calmerry – Diamond Thaxton (LMHC), and she kindly shared her expert insights with us.
It all starts with self-exploration
“Sexuality changes over time, and people most often do not allow themselves to see what those changes are. So before trying to approach your partner, ask yourself whether you know what turns you on.
Have you explored your body recently? What is your sex drive like? Are you comparing yourself to other couples?”
Talk about sex with your partner objectively
You might be worried that the level of intimacy you once shared with your partner has decreased. Or, the abundance of sexual activity may cause you discomfort. Or, you’re not satisfied with your intimate life altogether.
If you have any concerns, try to stop letting your mind wander into negative thoughts. Start discussing your and your partner’s feelings, needs, and any issues. Most likely, you don’t know what your partner feels and thinks unless you ask them and vice versa.
Yet, we know that initiating such a discussion can be quite a challenge! And here’s what our expert recommends:
“It can be a big ego bruise when you tell your partner they don’t satisfy you. So going into the conversation with an open mind and not taking it personally is the key. It’s important to remember that the problem is ineffective intimacy, not each other as a couple.”
Please note there’s no room for blaming, shaming, humiliation, belittling, or other negative tones in this discussion. Inquire but not accuse by trying using the “I” statements and talk about “us” while delivering your message: I feel + emotion + because… (we need to work on the quality of our sex life).
If you find it difficult to bring up your concerns, write them down before saying them aloud. Or, give your partner to read. Thus it will be easier to start an open dialogue.
Diamond Thaxton adds: “Engaging in effective communication, compromising, and boundary setting is also essential when discussing how to improve your sex life. You must have the ability to respect your partner’s boundaries and not push against them.
At no point do you want your partner to get to a point where they are afraid to have the conversation because they don’t feel that their boundaries are being respected?”
So be open, respectful, supportive, caring, and don’t be afraid of being vulnerable in front of each other.
Redefine what intimacy looks like for you as a couple
Here’s what the counselor shares on this point: “There are other ways to have sex or feel intimate with each other. Just going on this exploration with your partner can lead to rekindling the passion in a relationship.
Rekindling passion in a relationship takes work, so both people need to be dedicated and prioritize it. I strongly encourage couples to get a workbook and go through it together. A good one to start with is Love More, Fight Less: Communication Skills Every Couple Needs: A Relationship Workbook for Couples by Gina Senarighi Ph.D. CPC.
These workbooks help you get to the root of the problems in your relationship, which is always important to address before trying to improve it.”
Practice these 13 sex-positive activities
Couples can also try to keep the sparks of romance alive with some of these activities:
- Start setting mood early: if you often can’t make the time for sex, try to start setting a sexual mood from the beginning of the day and keep it through
- Try emotional “scheduling” of sex
- Touch each other: kiss, hug, cuddle, make massage, and hold hands every day to nurture a stronger connection and a greater sensuality
- Share your fantasies and needs
- Explore your bodies
- Plan intimacy dates weekly
- Learn more about your identity
- Discuss experiments you’d like to try
- Turn off the distractions — smartphones, laptops, TVs, etc.
- Get sexually educated together
- Carve out quality time for each other: Be present and available for intimacy to happen
- Try relaxation techniques with your partner to reduce anxiety and stress
- Focus on getting positive emotional impressions and enjoying moments with your loved one, not sexual satisfaction alone
Seek help from an online therapist
If you really want to improve your sex life but it seems that nothing you do brings you any closer to success as a couple, then therapy can be the right choice for you.
There are so many reasons why a couple can be not satisfied with their sex life that may go unnoticed, ignored, or misinterpreted. An experienced online therapist can help you:
- Validate your and your partner’s feelings
- Improve communication
- Explore potential problems and sensitive issues that might be preventing you from having a fulfilling sex life and help you cope with them
Also, a therapist can guide you on how to keep the lines of communication open, land on the same page, and bring positive sexual energy back into your couple. This will help ensure your needs are being heard and your long-term relationships aren’t stuck in a pattern of negativity and miscommunication.
You deserve a healthy and fulfilling sex life
When it comes to the perfect sex frequency for couples in long-term relationships, you shouldn’t rely on any average-based “gold standard.” It just can’t apply to everyone. Instead, it’s important to learn what best works for you personally and find ways to enjoy a healthy and fulfilling relationship with your partner.
If any problems interfere with healthy and happy sex life, there are some ways partners can deal with them. And professional support and guidance from licensed therapists can help you achieve these goals.
The key is finding the right online therapist that you feel comfortable with while touching sensitive matters. You can meet them on Calmerry.
Kate has an MD in Health and Medical Psychology. She has worked in the healthcare industry since 2017, helping people with depression, anxiety, trauma, and grief as well as identity, relationship, and adjustment issues. Kate tries to make the world a better place by fighting stigma and discrimination and advocating for equality and equity for all people. And what she loves most about her work at Calmerry is the possibility to make quality mental health care even more accessible to everyone – one step at a time.Read more