How Often Do Married Couples Have Sex? What The Research Tells Us

Contributing Sex & Relationships Editor By Kelly Gonsalves
Contributing Sex & Relationships Editor
Kelly Gonsalves is a sex educator and journalist. She received her journalism degree from Northwestern University, and her writings on sex, relationships, identity, and wellness have appeared at The Washington Post, Vice, Teen Vogue, Cosmopolitan, and elsewhere.
how often do married couples have sex

If you're married and not very happy with your sex life at the moment, it's normal to wonder about...well, what's normal. Here's what we know about how often married couples have sex, according to research and experts.

But first an important note: "It's important to know that a normal sexual frequency is determined by what the couple agrees is mutually satisfying," sexologist Shamyra Howard, LCSW, tells mbg. And she adds: "Sexual frequency is not an indicator of sexual satisfaction."

Average number of times per week married couples make love.

According to the 2018 General Social Survey's data on about 660 married people who shared details about how often they had sex in the past year:

  • 25% had sex once a week
  • 16% had sex two to three times per week
  • 5% had sex four or more times per week
  • 17% had sex once a month
  • 19% had sex two to three times per month
  • 10% hadn't had sex in the past year
  • 7% had sex about once or twice in the past year

Other studies have found similar numbers. A multiyear study of 35,000 British people published in 2019 found about half of people in serious relationships have sex less than once a week.

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How often married couples make love, by age.

In 2013, AARP reported that in a study of over 8,000 people over 50 years old conducted by sociologists Pepper Schwartz, Ph.D., and James Witte, Ph.D., 31% of couples have sex a few times a week, 28% of couples have sex a few times a month, 8% of couples have sex once a month, and 33% of couples rarely or never have sex.

Among people in their 70s, a 2015 study published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior found 33% of sexually active men and 36% of sexually active women had sex at least twice a month. For people in their 80s, 19% of sexually active men and 32% of sexually active women had sex at least twice a month. According to the International Society for Sexual Medicine, the 2010 National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior found almost 25% of partnered women over age 70 had sex more than four times a week.

"Frequency of sex seems to decrease overall as couples age," Howard says. Though citing studies on older adults' sex lives like those above, she adds: "Age is just a number!"

Lauren Fogel Mersy, PsyD, psychologist and AASECT-certified sex therapist, adds: "All aspects of our sexuality can change as we age. Arousal and orgasms might take longer, desire can lower, and sexual frequency can certainly decline, particularly as a relationship matures over years. Of course, this won't be true for everyone, but it is common."

How often married couples should have sex.

There is no ideal number of times every married couple should be having sex. What each couple needs or wants will vary based on their own personal preferences.

"The frequency that a couple 'should' be sexual is the frequency that they negotiate based on their individual needs and levels of desire. There is no one size that fits all here," Fogel Mersy says. "I hesitate to recommend a specific number because it won't fit for a good portion of the population. When people use a statistic to determine their sexual frequency, it reinforces performative sex, which is when you go through the motions just to check the box."

That said, Howard notes that a 2015 study published in Social Psychological and Personality Science journal found couples are happiest when they have sex about once a week. Their happiness with the relationship decreased when couples had sex less frequently than that, but it didn't increase if they had sex more often than that.

"It seems like the magic number to sustain positive sexual well-being in a relationship is once a week," Howard says.

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FAQs:

Is once a month a sexless marriage?

Generally speaking, a sexless marriage is defined as one where the married couple has sex 10 or fewer times per year. That said, people have very different definitions of what counts as a sexless relationship and how much sex they personally want. Some couples have sex once or twice a year or don't have any sex at all, and they're perfectly happy with that. Other couples may struggle if they have sex less than once a month.

(Here's our full guide to sexless relationships, plus what to know about a marriage without intimacy.)

Is having sex every day normal?

According to 2018 GSS data, just 5% of married people said they had sex four or more times per week. So no, it's not very common for married couples to have sex every day. That isn't to say it's unhealthy or abnormal to have sex daily if that's what works for you and your marriage, as long as both partners are open to it.

(Here's what to do if your spouse wants sex all the time when you don't.)

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What to do if you're not happy with how often you have sex:

1. Talk about it.

"The first thing I recommend is for partners to have a discussion about their feelings and needs," Fogel Mersy explains. "It's important that this gets explicitly verbalized so there isn't miscommunication or assumptions."

Howard adds: "I will always recommend couples to keep an open mouth when it comes to discussing sex. Talk to each other often."

Here's more on how to address the sexual avoidance cycle.

2. Schedule sex.

"For couples who might be struggling with sexual intimacy but feel connected in other areas of the relationship, I recommend scheduling sex. Yes, I said schedule sex," says Howard. "It doesn't make sex less spontaneous. Scheduling sex is a way to show your partner that you want to prioritize sex just as you do other areas of importance in your life."

How do you do that? Howard's advice: "Scheduling sex doesn't mean that your sex life will run on a schedule like, every Tuesday, at 8 p.m., in the missionary position, for six minutes. No, not like that. Sometimes scheduling sex is telling your partner to be naked when you get home."

The method might not work for everyone, she adds, and that's OK. Try it out and see how it feels. If it's not working, time to try something else.

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3. Try intimacy dates.

"For partners who are both committed to being more intimate together, I recommend that they broaden their definition of sex, so that it doesn't feel too narrow or pressured," Fogel Mersy says. "One of the main exercises that I recommend is for partners to plan a weekly intimacy date. This is different from a sex date, in that it's pleasure-focused, not goal-oriented, and geared toward physical connection in its various forms. This can involve anything from kissing, lying naked together, cuddling, showering, massaging, or sexual activity."

4. See a sex therapist or coach.

"A qualified sex therapist or sex coach can help you collaborate on the best methods to increase the sexual intimacy in your relationship," says Howard.

This can be a lot more fun than it might sound. Yes, there will be some tough and vulnerable conversations, but there's also often fun sexual homework and creative ideas to bring sexual energy back into the relationship. Most importantly, bringing in a third party can help you troubleshoot through recurring blocks and clear any negative energy that might have settled around your sex life so that you two can get on the same page and start fresh. 

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