Everything has a value. My definition of economics is. what’s it worth to you?
We are constantly weighing-in and re-evaluating what we want, especially today since there are 40+ options for salsa on the supermarket shelf. Despite what you think, our brain is now wired to take in and process more——and we consider many variables in a moment in order to make a simple decision like salsa, or a more complex and meaningful decision like how much sex is enough for your relationship?
- How much sex is enough?
- What is your magic number?
- How much do you need?
- How important is it really?
As a sexologist and sex addiction specialist, this question comes to me at times.
It’s a precarious move to cite statistics on sexual satisfaction to patients for a few reasons. For one, given that much of the data is survey data, we really aren’t 100% certain. While it is important to have a baseline for different groups, since that is what we do as social scientists, it’s typically not what someone is really asking. Someone is asking if their relationship is secure. They want to know if they are enough for their partner or if there is a potential threat to the relationship. They are looking to assess whether or not their relationship might possibly be in jeopardy.
The question typically comes when one is less satisfied with the amount of time that their relationship invests in the bedroom. And sometimes it is not just one partner in a ‘discrepant desire’ relationship, but both who are displeased with the frequency in which they engage in sexual interaction.
The good news today, however, is that marital satisfaction is not simply a function of sexual frequency and certainly not frequent sex. In fact, today married couples are looking at the quality of their sexual interaction and not just the quantity
Marital satisfaction research is tenuous at best. Most of the studies are based on survey data on large numbers of people of all different relationship categories; there is typically not a group breakdown. Nevertheless, that is, for the most part, what we have; we also know historically self-report data is subject. Yet individuals need something as a gauge so even survey data is a good start here.
So what do that data say?
The 90’s research is our most recent baseline, our standard fare. That data revealed to us that 40% of couples had sex two to three times per week and that the frequency dropped with age and marriage duration. In 2002 Klusman found a drop in both frequency and satisfaction as couples are together longer. While it sounds intuitive, those numbers are old and we know that frequency diminishes when we consider other factors as well, such as two adult working homes, children (my benchmark is children under 10), physical and physiological factors, relational issues, and so on.
The research from over 2400 married couples published in the Journal of Social Psychological and Personality Science just last November found that the more sex a couple had the happier they were, but, interestingly, there was a cap—once per week. The same held true for a much larger sample of romantic relationships, where marriage was not teased out.
The law of diminishing returns, borrowed from economics, applies to the frequency with our time in the bedroom is most efficient. The law states that there is an optimal amount of employees that should be added to get a job done efficiently and that too much, in fact, leads to inefficiency. Having sex once or twice a month might not be enough, but more than once per week is too much. In a 2015 controlled study couples who, via instruction, doubled their amount of sex were no happier the with their baseline rate and in fact reported enjoying sex less. With the law of diminishing returns, there is a downside to too much sex
Interestingly, research on cohabitating couples found sex to be a more important variable in part because the option for divorce is easier in many cases—legally, emotionally and economically and less sexual satisfaction is more likely to lead to relationship termination than in legally defined unions.
We know sexual satisfaction is higher at certain stages of relationships and at times that life gets in the way. Newlyweds have a lot more sex than two engineers with four kids under 10. It is up to each couple to set their norm and being ok with that norm is what’s important to satisfaction. Its not about the number, but an individual’s experience of that number. Couples who worry obsessively as to whether or not their frequency is statistically normative (these are the couples who ask the therapist what the magic number is) are typically those most disgruntled that they may indeed be below the criterion. Yet there are couples, older long-term married couples, where periodic sex is ok.
Staying married is compromised amidst today’s challenges and life’s distractions. And it is those challenges that move with couples into the bedroom. So as we stay committed, or married, we are just as happy with less sex; partnership becomes important if not takes a front seat to the bedroom. If we can meander or lope through the years of more sex, we can make it.
Our numbers don’t match. What can be done about it?
If you define for yourself the law of diminishing returns and are satisfied with that that is what’s important. It is where discrepant desire exists that there is a problem—more often quantitatively but sometimes even qualitatively.
For those whose sex lives remain challenged, there are steps you can take. For one, clearly looking at your relationship outside of the bedroom and achieving intimacy there—both physical and emotional, are imperative to connection, which, by the way, often leads to sex. Whatever your method of expressing and demonstrating love, your love language, whether it be gifts, kind acts, one on one time, kind words-nurture it; if it is only sex it is important to reassess this within the context too little sex being an issue.
Couples’ therapists historically suggest things like planning or scheduling sex, changing the venue or dating. Instead, go on a trip away from the family space, bring in some novelty or even reenact your dating sex. As with anything, these will work great for some and not for others. With testosterone levels highest in the morning, planning early morning sex might just do the trick. If that is fruitless in propelling you into the bedroom, then seek the help of a sex therapist, but not without first ruling out any physical or physiological issues.
Sexual desire is multi-determined; to get to that orgasm requires the perfect storm. Variable that might effect functioning in a negative manner might be issues related to, but not limited to, medical disease, medications, hormones and aging body issues, sexual beliefs and attitudes, physical attraction, relational issues—how you feel about your par
tner or yourself at that moment, extra-relationship engagement and so on.
For some, simply engaging in sex with your partner after a dry spell can get you back in the game; that is, it will get your rhythm going again, your energy aroused, and with more vasopressin and oxytocin, the disengaged attachment can be repaired. Since intimacy and sex are connected, sometimes this is all a couple needs to get them back in the game.
Remember, it is not the number that is important to those who ponder a retort, but the significance of posing the question. We know that sexual frequency and sexual satisfaction is inversely correlated to divorce rates. The bottom line is that it is important to keep that connection, whether it be in the bedroom or out.