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How Long Is Too Long Without Sex in a Relationship?

Spoiler: There’s no definitive number.

Few married couples keep up the rabbit-like sex frequency they had when they first got together. It’s normal for sex to become more infrequent, or turn into the occasional dry spell as the initial excitement of a new relationship fades. Still, it’s common to wonder if you’re having as much sex as you could—or should—be.

Truth is, there’s no one-size-fits-all formula when it comes to sexual frequency.

“Couples vary in their libido and so some couples are satisfied with lower frequency while other couples need a higher level of frequency to be satisfied, but that’s only a problem if there is a libido discrepancy within a specific couple,” says Kimberly Resnick Anderson, LCSW, AASECT certified sex therapist, and Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at UCLA’s David Geffen School of Medicine.

“Some couples are perfectly happy having have sex four to five times a week, while other couples’ sex lives thrive on sex once a month if they have compatible libido,” she says.

Plus, frequency is just one part of sexual satisfaction, she adds. “A healthy sex life means different things to different people,” Anderson says. Some couples prioritize variety and emotional closeness over frequency—quality over quantity, as it were.

If you’re looking for hard numbers, research has yielded some suggestions. Data from one survey, published in 2017, found that the average adult had sex 54 times per year (that averages out to about once a week) (1)—the same frequency that a study published in 2015 found led to the greatest happiness in couples (2). Still, experts say that’s not necessarily a target to aim for.

How often you have sex is ultimately up to you and your partner. If you’re satisfied with how often you’re intimate then there’s no need to read on, even if your frequency doesn’t match up with the numbers above.

But if you’ve noticed a change in your sexual frequency and you’re not happy about it, it might be time to take action. Especially if you and your partner aren’t talking about it. Because while sex isn’t a numbers game, our experts acknowledged one universal truth: Without communication, going without sex for too long can put unwanted strain on a relationship.

So, how long is too long without sex in your relationship? And if you’re having less sex than you’d like, how can you give your sex life a boost?

How Often Should Married Couples Have Sex?

Married or not, “once a week maintains a healthy sex life habit,” says Ian Kerner Ph.D., LMFT, a psychotherapist and sex therapist. Without this weekly habit, it’s easy to prolong not having sex, he says.

More than that isn’t necessarily better. The same study that found couples who had sex once a week had higher levels of overall relationship satisfaction, noted that pairs that were intimate two or more times a week didn’t see higher satisfaction (2).

Both men and women report feeling closer, more connected, and more confident after having sex, Anderson says.

Sex can also quell annoyance and frustration you may aim towards your partner. The fact that she leaves her makeup and shoes all over, or he leaves the toilet seat up may not seem to be as bothersome.

But frequent sex doesn’t just improve your emotional connection.

“From a physiological and scientific perspective, research suggests that having three orgasms per week increases people’s lifespan by three to five years,” Anderson says.
People who have sex regularly live longer, but they remain happier as well, she says.

“That’s because orgasms boost immunity, improve sleep quality, decrease depression, reduce pain, help with circulation, reduce blood pressure, and induce a sense of overall well-being.”

One observational study published in 2017 in The Journal of Sexual Medicine found men who had sex less than once a month had higher levels of the amino acid homocysteine—high levels of this amino acid are linked to heart disease—than men who had sex more frequently (3).

What Happens When You Don’t Have Sex For a Long Time?

Nearly all men link their sexual performance with their masculinity, says Anderson. Men in a low-sex relationship—which she defines as one where the couple has sex fewer than 25 times per year—may become angry, resentful, anxious, and depressed about not having sex, or not having enough sex.

“Men become frustrated and resentful if they feel like sex is a ‘chore’ for their partner or if their partner is not responsive or enthusiastic. They may come to prefer masturbation over partner-sex if this is the case,” she says. “But avoiding intimacy with your partner puts a strain on your relationship and makes communication that much harder.”

The Bottom Line

There is no set number for how often you and your partner should have sex. Plenty of couples are content with sex once a month while other couples prefer once a week. Keep communication open and don’t be afraid to try something new, like scheduling time for sex, to give your sex life a little boost.