Health

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.

The 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?

BETTER SEX

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.”

KNOW YOUR T

Reasons You’re Not Having Sex

There are a number of factors that contribute to a sluggish sex life, says Kerner. Your desire for sex can be impacted by stress and anxiety, diet, medication, alcohol or drug use, and relationship issues. Here are some common reasons why your libido is waning.

Your stress is through the roof

Some research suggests that chronic stress—ongoing stress over a long period of time—may affect your testosterone production which can tank your sex drive, and may lead to erectile dysfunction. ED can add more stress and also spur low self-esteem.

Your meds are zapping your mojo

As Joshua Calvert, M.D., previously told The Edge, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), high blood pressure medications (like beta blockers), seizure medications, antipsychotics and more can all slow down your sex drive.

You’re testosterone deficient

A lagging libido is one of the more common reasons men have their T levels checked (4), though researchers still aren’t sure as to the exact reason why a lack of testosterone dampens your sex drive.

You’re just too damn tired

If you’re late-night scrolling and skimp on sleep, your testosterone levels can decrease —because they peak during the first REM stage—and may affect your sex drive. It can also heighten symptoms of anxiety and depression which may kill your desire for sex and lead to sexual dysfunction.

How to Have Sex More Often

“If you’re not having sex as frequently as you’d like, it can be helpful to share that thought with your partner, while finding out how frequently she’d like to be intimate and what biological, social or psychological barriers may be in place for her,” says Anderson.

“Your libidos may not naturally be the same but many couples can strike a balance where both parties are sexually satisfied enough to stay in the relationship if they are generally satisfied with other aspects of the relationship, and if they are honest and willing to seek professional help to explore their sexual dynamic, preferences, etc.,” says Anderson.

“I tell the higher interest partner they will probably not get sex as often as they’d like and I tell the lower interest partner that they’ll probably have sex more than they like,” she says. “The goal is to meet somewhere in the middle with as much energy and enthusiasm as possible.”

Once you’ve agreed on a target number, schedule it in your calendar. While scheduling sex feels like it’s a boring to-do, it’s actually the opposite. “A big part of the tension I see in couples stems from not knowing whether or not sex will occur on any given day,” says Anderson. “If they agree that they’ll have sex on a [determined day], it takes the guesswork out of it.”

“Scheduling sex may allow you to relax and bypass uncertainty around sex, and also gives couples something to look forward to and/or time to try to get ‘in the mood’,” she adds.

Sex Frequency in a Long-Distance Relationship

Just because you’re not in the same room, doesn’t mean sex can’t happen at your mutually desired frequency, Kerner says. Phone sex, Zoom sex, sexting, and fantasizing about your partner while masturbating are all creative ways to stay sexually active even miles apart.

There are also sex toys you can control from a separate location to control the speed, intensity, and timing of the stimulation your partner receives, allowing the encounter to feel mutual and collaborative, Anderson says.

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.

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