There are many reasons to have sex more often, at least when it comes to quality sex in a supportive relationship. More frequent sexual activity is linked to physical benefits, such as lower blood pressure, emotional perks, such as reduced stress, and relationship benefits, such as greater intimacyand a lower divorce rate.1 While there is not a magic number when it comes to the ideal frequency of sex, the results of a few studies can suggest a ballpark.
As far as the ideal frequency, a 2015 study found that general well-being is associated with sexual frequency, but only up to a certain point. Relationship satisfaction improved progressively from having no sex up to having sex once a week but did not improve further (and actually decreased somewhat) beyond this point.
This goal number is fairly consistent with the current average, but should be of concern with our increasingly busy lives. Looking at the frequency of sex in the 2010s, adults are now having sex nine times per year less than in the late 1990s.2
Even though the frequency often decreases with age, sexual activity in older adults remains very important to many people. Those who are married people tend to have sex more often than those who are not.1
There are many emotional and psychological benefits from making love that is strongly linked with overall quality of life. Some of these include:
According to a 2015 study conducted in China, more sex and better quality sex increases happiness (though unwanted sex lowers happiness).
That many people deal with chronic stress is a given and has been cited as a reason why adults are having sex less often. This may be a double whammy, as sex may be considered a stress management technique.
Our bodies secrete cortisol and adrenaline (epinephrine) as part of the stress response. These hormones (the fight-or-flight response), can lead to fatigue, high blood pressure, and much more. Sex can reduce the level of these hormones, with effects that can last well into the next day.1
There are a number of chemicals our bodies release during sex that can affect how we feel. During sex, our brains release endorphins—”feel good” chemicals that can reduce irritability and feelings of depression.3
Another hormone, oxytocin (the “hug drug“), is released with nipple stimulation and other sexual activity.3 Similar to the effect it has on nursing mothers (oxytocin is responsible for the “let down” reflex in breastfeeding), oxytocin can create a sense of calmness and contentedness.
Finally, orgasm leads to the release of yet another hormone, prolactin, that can aid in sleep.4
Sex can boost self-esteem and lower feelings of insecurity, leading to a more positive attitude.
It’s fairly intuitive that sex would improve emotional health, but there are a number of physical benefits as well. Some of these include:
Improved Physical Fitness
Sex is a form of physical activity, and there are a number of studies linking exercise with better health. According to a statement from the American Heart Association, sexual activity is equivalent to moderate physical activities such as walking briskly or climbing two flights of stairs. The movements associated with sex can tighten and tone abdominal and pelvic muscles. For women, this improved muscle tone translates to better bladder control.
The 200 calories burned in 30 minutes of sex,5 combined with the reduction in food cravings associated with the chemicals released during sex, are beneficial as well.
Better Immune Function
Being more sexually active also has positive effects on immune function.6 This translates to a lower likelihood of getting a cold or the flu.
The endorphins mentioned above do more than lead to a sense of well-being and calm, but appear to reduce pain (such as migraines and back pain) as well.
Sexual activity (but not masturbation) has been linked with lower systolic blood pressure.7 Elevated blood pressure, in turn, is associated with an increased risk of heart disease, stroke, and more. It’s thought that sexual activity helps dilate blood vessels, increasing the delivery of oxygen and nutrients to the cells of the body while reducing blood pressure.
It’s important to note that having sex can also promote a heart attack in those at risk, but having sex more often may help reduce this concern. While sex can precipitate a heart attack, and anyone at risk should talk to their doctor before having sex, a 2011 study published in JAMA, found that this risk is diminished in people who have high levels of regular sexual activity. In other words, and similar to other forms of physical activity such as running, infrequent activity could put a strain on the blood flow to the arteries supplying the heart, but regular activity may be protective.
In the past, studies in rats found that more frequent intercourse was correlated both with better cognitive function and the growth of new brain cells. Researchers are now learning that the same may be true in humans. A 2018 study looking at over 6,000 adults found that having sex more often was associated with better memory performance in adults ages 50 and older.
Being more sexually active actually boosts libido and increases vaginal lubrication in women. Making love is more often associated with lighter menstrual periods and less bothersome period cramps.
For men, while it was once thought that sex caused an increase in prostate cancer, a 2016 study found that men who had more ejaculations (21 or more per month) were less likely to develop the disease than men who had fewer (seven ejaculations or less per month). Since prostate cancer is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in men,8 this is worth noting.
Other Physical Effects
A number of other physical effects have been associated with more sexual activity, such as an improved sense of smell, healthier teeth, improved digestion, and that healthy-skin glow that’s related to an increase in the release of DHEA by the body.
Having sex often can benefit you and your partner individually, but it can also help your relationship in a number of ways.
Having regular sex in a monogamous relationship can increase your level of commitment and help you connect emotionally. Couples are more likely to stay together when they can express their love in this way, and the divorce rate is significantly higher for couples who don’t.
The relational benefits of sex are assisted by the chemicals our bodies make: The release of oxytocin, in addition to being calming, can contribute to bonding and greater emotional intimacy.9
We are wired from birth to crave the intimacy of sex, and lacking sex is one of the things that can lead people in a relationship to grow distant and, perhaps, look elsewhere.
It’s important to note, however, that an active sex life is sometimes difficult or impossible due to physical or psychological conditions. Couples can maintain a strong, healthy relationship despite this, and looking at non-sexual ways to improve intimacy is invaluable even for those who can’t have sex on a regular basis.
Working with a licensed couples therapist can help as well.
Jumpstarting Your Sex Life
The frequency of sex can, and often does, change over time, but that doesn’t mean that it’s a progressive downhill slide. If you’re wondering if sex can ever be as good as when you were first madly in love, the answer is yes. It can even be better when you add in what you didn’t have before: a stable loving relationship that’s grown mature and intimate. That said, it can take work.
As many say, the biggest sex organ is between the ears. Increasing the frequency of sex without talking and connecting emotionally isn’t likely to create lasting improvement. Stress management is also important.
In her book, “The Sex-Starved Marriage: Boosting Your Marriage Libido, a Couple’s Guide,” therapist Michele Weiner-Davis suggests taking a “just do it” approach:
“At first, many were understandably cautious about my Nike-style approach to their sex life; the ‘Just Do It’ advice ran counter to everything they had believed about how sexual desire unfolds…I could often see the relief on people’s faces when they learned that their lack of out-of-the-blue sexual urges didn’t necessarily signify a problem. It didn’t mean there was something wrong with them or that something was missing from their marriages. It just meant that they experienced desire differently.”
If you always wait for your level of desire to match that of your partner, you may be waiting a long time.