There is absolutely nothing like a new relationship. You are totally psyched about dating this cool person, they’re exciting and attractive, which probably means you’re having a lot of sex. Like, all of the time.
Once you’ve been dating them for a while, though, things can have a tendency to cool off. While you can still have a hot and fulfilling sex life when you’re deep into a relationship, sometimes your job, kids, cat, or the new episode of “Game of Thrones” can get in the way.
And that inevitable ebb and flow of how often you’re getting busy can lead many to wonder, is this normal?
Seriously, Google “how often is it normal to have sex” and you will find a trove of message boards, articles, and frantic pleas for answers. And the answer can depend on a lot of things, from your age to your sex drive to your partner’s sex drive to the weather — ever notice how there’s always so many babies being born nine months after a blizzard?
It’s true new couples tend to have more sex, and we have science to thank for that.
New couples can go through a phase called limerence, which can last from 18 months to up to 2 years, according to Sari Cooper, certified sex therapist and director of Center for Love and Sex. Limerence, a term coined by Dorothy Tennov in her book “Love and Limerence: The Experience of Being in Love,” is a time when your brain releases chemicals bonding you to another person and create euphoria around the relationship.
And during that time, you may be getting busy a lot, but that doesn’t necessarily set the tone for the rest of the relationship.
“I think the frequency of sexual activity at the beginning of a couple’s relationship is not a good predictor of how frequent their sex life will be later on or over a long term period,” Cooper said to INSIDER.
But it doesn’t mean that frequent sex is good for nothing (obviously!). Cooper said that actually limerence can be a great time to experiment and discover what will make your partner tick for the rest of the relationship.
“I think a couple has their own rhythm and each individual have their own unique level of libido,” Cooper told us. “Part of the enjoyment of being a new couple is discovering parts of your erotic experience that you may not have known before solely because of the unique connection you have with your partner and the type of experiences, desire, and curiosity they have.”
Once you’re settled into a relationship, it can be hard to keep up with a “normal” level of getting it on.
Many people are self-conscious about the amount of sex that they have with their partner and how that plays into their relationship, which Cooper attributes to humans’ natural tendency toward competition.
“Most people want to feel ‘normal’ or, if they’re competitive, ‘above average’ and are influenced by culture to regard sex almost like a sport, replete with statistics, averages, and such,” she said.
If you do look into concrete numbers of how often happy couples should have sex, you’ll see a few figures come up. A study published in Social Psychology and Personality Science in 2015 found that on average, happy couples had sex about once a week, and that is a common figure you’ll see cited.
Quality does not always mean quantity as the same study also found that couples who had sex more than once a week did not report being any happier. But couples who did the deed less than once a week reported feeling less happy.
“Although more frequent sex is associated with greater happiness, this link was no longer significant at a frequency of more than once a week,” lead researcher Amy Muise said. “Our findings suggest that it’s important to maintain an intimate connection with your partner, but you don’t need to have sex everyday as long as you’re maintaining that connection.”
And that study is consistent with another one performed at Carnegie Mellon University, which prompted couples to have sex more often that they normally do. They actually reported feeling more unhappy as compared to a control group who proceeded to have sex as often as they usually did.
For long-term couples, it’s all about making the time to connect.
Cooper said that long-term couples who aren’t having sex as frequently may be relying on that spark from the beginning of their relationship to get things going, when actually, it takes a little more work and careful planning.
“When a couple passes the two year mark, the challenge is not to depend on spontaneous desire to drive a sexual connection,” she said. “Frequently, couples wonder why they’re not having sex as frequently when in fact they’ve over scheduled their lives, left fewer times to ‘date,’ and expected the same level of desire and initiation to occur. For these couples I invite them to be more intentional about leaving some chill time that’s unstructured, screen-free, and relaxing to invite ‘spontaneous’ desire to emerge.”
And that can be even trickier when you get married and have kids.
Between house work, careers, and possibly raising little ones, sex can require a little bit of compromise and even some negotiation skills, Cooper told INSIDER.
“Many married couples have increased responsibilities that may include child-rearing, jobs, more financial debt that can cause them to feel more stress and perhaps to work longer hours,” she said. “Depending on each partner’s intrinsic desire, I coach these partners to negotiate a number that is in the middle of their desire for sexual connection, whether it’s a desire for emotional closeness or an erotic experience. Research shows that having skills to negotiate an agreed upon compromise leads to more sexual satisfaction.”
Surveys have varied pretty broadly on how often married people are actually having sex, but most — including a University of Chicago study and a Newsweek survey — put the number somewhere between once a week and a few times a month. A Parenting.com and HLN survey found that just 45% of parents were hitting the once-a-week mark, while 30% said they had sex a few times a month.
But you shouldn’t compare your relationship — or sex drive — to other people.
There are definitely no one-size-fits-all statistics, said Michael Aaron, a licensed sexologist and therapist in NYC.
“On average, I’ve seen about twice a week, although roughly 16% of relationships are totally sexless,” he said to INSIDER. “I think focusing on frequency is detrimental since it adds unnecessary pressure. Most important is that both people get the kind of sex they want.”
The experts seem to agree that whatever amount of sex you’re comfortable with having is the right amount. If you or your partner want to switch up the number or spice up your sex life, all it takes is some open and honest communication.
“Be curious, ask questions, and stay vulnerable,” Aaron said. “Lead by speaking in ‘I’ statements, rather than making accusations.”
“If you’re in a rut, switch things up,” he continued. “Add some variety. Get out of the house and stay in a hotel, if you have to. Even changing location helps energize a feeling of staleness.”
Here’s how frequently healthy couples have sex in each stage of their relationship