It’s a conflict that comes up in almost every relationship that has managed to last for a year or two (or maybe even just a few months). It causes tension, fights, and hurt feelings. Often both partners feel misunderstood and frustrated. Regardless of their satisfaction level, most couples will eventually have some conflict regarding sex. Research shows that one of the most common fights couples have centers around sexual frequency or how often the couple is engaging in sexual intimacy. Stereotypically this involves a male partner seeking higher frequency than his female counterpart but this is not always the case. Regardless, unmet expectations in the bedroom can trickle over and cause communication problems, a lack of emotional connection, and general instability in the relationship. So how do you counter such negativity? What is the right amount of sex? Here are some general thoughts to help make sure this issue doesn’t undermine the other parts of your relationship.
How much sex should a couple have?
The right answer to this question is that there is no “right amount.” Every couple is different and, more importantly, every person encounters changing life circumstances due to illness, careers, and children (among many other things) that will interact with sexual desire and availability. There may be times in a couple’s life where having sex every day would be perfectly possible while at other times it would be a logistical impossibility. Research shows that an “average” couple generally has sex about 2-3 times per week. However, if you’re worried that you’re under this average I would encourage you to think about your intimacy over the course of several weeks or even several months. Again, every couple will have good and bad weeks in terms of intimacy frequency and there is no magic number that couples need to hit to be “healthy”.
How do you avoid negative conflict about sexual intimacy?
For the partner wanting more:
Understand intimacy is a two-way street. Sex obviously involves two people. It is very clear from research that sex is more fulfilling, enjoyable, and satisfying if both partners have a desire for that intimacy. If you are the partner who wants to have sex more regularly, realize that having sex every day may not be the enjoyable experience you think it will be if your partner’s desire does not match your own. Be okay with delaying intimacy if your partner isn’t in the mood and avoid taking this as a personal rejection.
For the partner wanting less:
Understand that your partner is likely seeking connection, not physical gratification. Often the person who wants less sex views their partner as sex crazed and overly focused on the physical element of the relationship. It can feel like this is all your partner cares about. It is important for the person desiring less sex to realize that attempts to engage in sex are one of the best signs of a healthy relationship and are often coming from a desire for both physical and emotional connection. In our modern world there are plenty of places that people can turn to (online or otherwise) if they are only seeking personal gratification. Your partner’s attempts to be intimate are likely coming from a loving place and a desire to be intimate with you. Treat such attempts as such and be careful about how your reaction might be overly negative or feel rejecting to your partner.
For both partners:
Talk about the taboo. Even among married couples who have been sexually intimate for many years, sex can be a taboo topic. In order to engage in healthy communication it is vital that such couples bring issues related to sex out in the open. If one partner wants to become intimate and the other doesn’t, talk about a “rain check” and have the partner who isn’t in the mood explain clearly why. While it may not sound romantic, scheduling intimacy can be a very practical and useful thing for many couples (especially those with children). Schedule that rain check for the next day and then spend the day flirting and teasing each other. Make it something you both look forward too. Another option may be to take turns being in “charge” of planning and initiating intimacy. Above all else, talk about intimacy and sex.
While these things may help many couples avoid conflict regarding the frequency of sex, it is unlikely to help larger and more conflictual issues some couples may be experiencing. If you’re worried that sexual intimacy problems have created more long-term or chronic issues in your relationship, take the RELATE assessment and get a complete picture of the health of your relationship.