Apparently other than everyone’s nextdoor neighbor, Americans are having less sex than previous generations. Blame the political landscape, shoddy birth control access, limitless free porn on the internet, or the gig economy for the decline in the millennial libido—who can say for sure? Whatever the reason, Americans are boning less. As one of the top five horniest people of all time, this initially seemed concerning to me, but as it turns out, it might not be such a big deal.
To be sure, not having any sex or a experiencing a sharp decline could be a sign of an unhappy relationship. Check out the unmitigated horror that is r/deadbedrooms if you need further proof. But according to some recent science, your friend who brags about getting a blowie every morning probably isn’t any happier than you.
Much like washing your hair, you don’t need to have sex as often as you think—at least according to a 2015 study published in Social Psychological and Personality Science, which suggests any amount over once a week is simply overkill, especially if you’re not feeling it. That may seem obvious, but there’s a persistent belief out there that quantity of sex correlates precisely with the happiness of a couple, with no upper limit. Most long-term partners are doing it about once a week anyway; the average married couple has sex 51 times a year. And not only are married couples generally still out-sexing singles, but it turns out that not-strictly-sexual acts of affection, like hand holding or kissing, were actually better predictors of being “intensely” in love with your long-term partner than sexual frequency.
Recently, one of my friends was shocked—horrified— when I confessed that my boyfriend and I hadn’t had sex in a couple of weeks. He and I were doing great, but I’d been dealing with minor health problems (which tend to kill the mood), and we both were busy, and it just didn’t happen. Meanwhile, she and her boyfriend of four! years! were having sex every day. Unheard of! I’ll admit I felt jealous, and not a little bit competitive. I mean, in theory I’m certainly game to have sex every day; I think about those photos of Jake Gyllenhaal listening to Rihanna at leastthat often and get all hot and bothered, so why wasn’t I having sex as often as her? When I talked to my friend (read: interrogated her) further I found myself a lot less envious. It turns out she was often getting bored halfway through sex, which is even more unimaginable to me than having enough time and energy to have sex every day. Ultimately, they broke up a few weeks after we talked, which is perhaps unsurprising.
I myself did a very unscientific survey of about forty people on Twitter (of any gender and relationship status), asking about the frequency they have sex, if that’s changed over time, and if they’re happy. Almost all the answers fell into three categories. First, the single folks, or those who didn’t have a primary partner, reported having sex every month or every few months and mostly wished they had more, or had a monogamous partner. (One woman with multiple partners said she was having sex approximately 4 times a week, a true master of sexy time management.) The next group were people in monogamous relationships who were having sex 3-6 times a week. Most of them were in newer, younger relationships (think five months long and people who are in their twenties). All of them felt satisfied with the amount of sex they were having, but mentioned that at times, the frequency would wane if things got stressful or busy.
The last, and by far the largest group, were people in long term relationships with a primary partner who had sex weekly or once every other week. For the most part, they described themselves as satisfied, however, many mentioned feeling like they should be having more sex, but that life got in the way. (Surprisingly, one of the most common things that people mentioned was health problems impeding sex.) The idea that they weren’t having “enough” sex seemed to stem from the idea that they used to be having more. Without exception, they all mentioned when they first got together, they were banging a lot more often.
In general, people aren’t great at sustaining a high volume of sex after the honeymoon phase wears off. The limerence period, coined by psychologist Dorothy Tennov, represents the first 18 to 24 months of a relationship where you love (or overlook) everything your partner does, including never closing kitchen cabinets and talking over The Bachelorette, because your brain is hopped up on loving them. After that time, your brain chemistry changes, the excitement wears off, and you guys settle into more stable patterns—less frequent sex included.
We have a nearly pathological belief as a society that there’s a certain amount of sex that we should be having, and very few examples of happy couples who just don’t feel like 48 minutes of foreplay on a Tuesday night, but who still love each other. Men, especially, are expected to exist in a permanent state of horniness, and additionally that the frequency with which they get laid somehow directly correlates to their masculinity. For women, there’s a not-unrelated pressure to “satisfy” their partner sexually, lest they go looking elsewhere, almost as if it’s part of a job description, akin to being proficient in Microsoft Excel. We’re all chasing some fictionalized sex quota—one that none of us are meeting, but that we’re sure other people are.
But again, couples don’t seem to mind the dip much as long as they’re actually still having sex. So get busy as often as comes naturally to you and your partner, and don’t worry about the imaginary magic number you feel like you should be hitting every week. Overdoing it (pun most certainly intended) just leads to boring, perfunctory hump-seshes rather than steamy hot I-need-you sex. Having a ton of sex won’t create a good relationship, or improve a struggling one, but rather that healthy relationships tend to organically involve more sex.
So chill out, open a bottle of wine and fall asleep on the couch to that new documentary about the Panama Papers; you two have had enough sex this week.