From bonding with your partner to disease prevention and keeping your brain sharp, there's no question that having sex regularly is a good thing, both when it comes to happiness and physical health. But how much sex is normal? Whether you're single, in a relationship, married, or somewhere in between, that's probably a question you've asked yourself at least once.
While there's no such a thing as "normal," here are a few numbers to mull over: The average adult has sex 54 times a year, but that number is on the decline: Recent research out of San Diego State University found that on average, people had sex 16 fewer times between 2010 and 2014 than they did between 2000 and 2004. And as we age, sex continues to be a strong indicator of happiness—a 1992 study found that for couples over 60, if they had sex once per week, they reported being happier and having more exciting lives.
In 2015, the results of a large study were released that left couples around the country feeling either relieved or a little bit anxious: Sex once per week is apparently the magic number. This is based on 30,000 couples who were surveyed over 40 years, who reported being less happy with sex less than once per week but not any more happy if that number moved up to twice or more per week.
While the science surrounding sex is certainly interesting, the truth is that frequency of sex really depends on a variety of factors: stress levels, kids, jobs, and typically where people are in their relationship—most people can attest to having a period of thrice-daily "honeymoon phase" sex at the beginning of their relationship and seeing that drop off once they settled in more.
At the end of the day, sex is deeply personal—which is why we got in touch with real couples to find out how much sex they're having and what variables contribute to more or less sex. Here's what you should know.
Sex in new relationships.
While there are a number of debates surrounding how long couples should wait to have sex in a new relationship, once they do, many couples report having tons of sex in the early stages. But what does "tons" really mean?
Ben, 30, has been dating his girlfriend Ally for five months. The couple met on Tinder, and they spend five nights together per week on average. "We probably have sex most of the nights we spend together," says Ben. "So maybe four out of five nights? As far as I know, we're both pretty satisfied with that amount. I'm sure it will slow down someday—that's been the case in my previous relationships, at least—but for now, I'm happy with how things are going."
The two-month dry spell.
Chloe, 35, has been with her girlfriend for 10 years. When asked about her sex life, she wasn't all that thrilled to share the details. "Ugh, this is actually a horrible question right now," she admitted. "We've gone weeks without it, and in the past we've gone months. When we do, it's awesome, fun, and actually has gotten better as we've gotten older."
The one thing she cites as putting a damper on her sex life? Stress. "The more stressors we have from our adult life, the worse it's been. To get back into the groove, we schedule dates or just do it—even when it's not necessarily what we want. Because once you're in it, everything's great. I think the longest we've ever gone without having sex is two months. I don't feel great about it, but what can you do?"
Finding new ways to be adventurous.
Even without kids, regular sex in long-term relationships isn't always the easiest thing to maintain. A study out of University of Toronto that came out in November found that the key to sexual satisfaction in committed relationships had less to do with expecting it to just happen and more to do with admitting it takes time and effort—like a garden that needs to be "watered and nurtured," as study author Jessica Maxwell explains it.
Lavender, 29, got married last September to man she has been with for a decade with a yearlong break in between and has sex once per week on average. While she agrees that a good sex life takes work, she doesn't believe in "taking one for the team" and doing it even if she's not in the mood. "It feels dirty to withhold your mind as part of the lovemaking process, you know?" she says.
"Usually the frequency with which we do it comes in 'spells,'" Lavender adds. "We'll do it a bunch for a few weeks and then not as much for a few weeks. I'd say it's changed since we first started dating. Truthfully, it took a while to actually get to the sex part, so we'd get more creative with what we did. That was really fun, actually. Now that we're married, we try to find new ways to be adventurous."
Lavender says that while she's pretty satisfied with her sex life, her husband has said he would like to do it more. "It's doable but needs to be a conscious effort," she says. "I think it's kind of like self-care for your relationship, though; it's important to create the conditions that put you in the mood."
Kids and your sex life.
Long-term relationships and new marriages are one thing. Kids are another. There's no question that adding kids into the mix does a number on couples' sex lives, and after having a baby, couples see a whopping 67 percent decline in marital satisfaction, and the solution to spicing up your sex life is pretty mundane—think "splitting up household chores."
Anna, 41, has three kids and has sex with her husband three times per week—and she says she has definitely seen a decline in her sex life since having kids. Especially in the early years, when she had a "tiny human" attached to her all day long, she wasn't exactly craving more contact. "The lazy morning weekend sex just doesn't happen anymore, so we have to be sneakier," she says. "Like we'll get the kids plugged in to morning cartoons with a bowl of cereal before sneaking back to the bedroom, or sometimes we'll wake up and have sex at 2 a.m."
She adds that while it's frustrating that they can't have as much sex as they used to, there's a closeness that has come with having three kids together. "I think I'm really lucky that I have a partner who has seen my body go through some crazy contortions through pregnancy, childbirth, post-pregnancy, and nursing and still finds me sexually attractive," she says. "To me, that's really sexy. That's been even more fulfilling than the crazy hot new romance sex."
Want ideas for how to take your sex life to the next level? Here are three things you should know.