One of the most difficult conversations you can have with your long-term marital partner is about sex. It’s hard enough to talk about the quality of sex, but even harder to discuss quantity. As a result many couples suffer silently in sexless marriages, and wonder if the amount of sex they’re having is “normal” or something to worry about.
If you’ve been living in the camp of worry you can feel a bit relieved by a recent research study from The Austin Institute for the Study of Family and Culture which showed that married Americans reported having sex an average of 1.2 times per week, or just about five times a month. Even if this sounds like more than you’re currently having in your own marriage, it’s very clear that most couples are not ravaging each other on a regular basis even though they may want you to think that. In fact an earlier study revealed that about 15 percent of married couples have not had sex with their spouse in the last six months to one year.
We of course can contribute the lack of sex to many factors including, age, length of marriage, whether there are children involved, and even cultural factors. It’s also fairly common knowledge that the amount of sexual engagement in a marriage ebbs and flows throughout the life of the relationship with the average going way down during childbearing years and way up in the beginning when lust is the driving force.
As human beings we are driven to procreate, and thus have sex. Even if that sex doesn’t produce a child, we are evolutionarily wired to seek a mate and work toward that end goal. Once a baby is conceived the purpose for sex (at least in the primitive brain) shifts and is dependent on desire not procreation. For childless couples the drive will be the same even though a baby is never produced. However, research has shown that couples who don’t have children tend to be happier overall with their marriages, which could be due to a continued drive for sexual intimacy or the lack of stress that children at to a marriage.
It’s clear from the research and from what we know about normal human behavior that a reduced amount of sex is pretty standard, but is a marriage without sex healthy?
It may seem obvious that more sex would always be better for a marriage, but that’s not necessarily true. There are many forms of intimacy and sex is just one. It’s also true that sexual intimacy can serve as a replacement for emotional intimacy, which is equally if not more important.
Pros and Cons
Consistent sex in a marriage ensures a sense of connection and closeness, and a feeling of satisfaction. Being sexually fulfilled is a natural human necessity and when there is a lack in this form of intimacy it opens up space for other outlets leading to infidelity or other sexual encounters. Research has shown that both men and women report greater sexual satisfaction and higher levels of overall relationship happiness when they have more sex.
However sex in marriage is often more about quality than quantity. A lot of disconnected and unsatisfying sex is probably less healthy than infrequent but fulfilling sex. If a partner is satisfied sexually it doesn’t mean they are feeling satisfied overall with the marriage. However satisfaction is a key element because satisfied couples have sex more often and frequent sex leads to increases in sexual satisfaction. It’s also possible that a highly sexual marriage could be too much of a good thing. If the marriage is solely based on this type of connection, and it disappears or can’t be sustained, then the couple may have trouble finding other ways to connect. Many couples base their relationships on sexual chemistry only to find that this was the only common denominator.
Less sex in a marriage can ultimately lead to divorce, but a research shows that even when couples are unhappy, and are having less sex as a result, they are likely to stay together because of social expectations, or because they had children they were raising.
Fit or Flop
Consistent and satisfying sex in a marriage is definitely a fit. Having a sufficient amount of sex is a basic human need, and research confirms that sex in marriage is essential for a person’s health and wellbeing. It’s also an important factor in each partner’s level of overall happiness. Regular sexual activity in marriage is correlated to personal satisfaction, and both men and women report higher levels of overall relationship happiness when they have more sex.
Couples who have more sex live longer, have improved immune systems and lower their risk for many diseases, including cancer. The act of sex itself has also been shown to improve sleep and mood.
The amount of sex is completely negotiable however. As long as both couples agree that the amount of sex is satisfactory then there shouldn’t be a problem. When one partner becomes dissatisfied or frustrated with the lack of sex than the issue should be addressed for the marriage to remain on track.