How much sex makes people happiest?
Is there a magic number of times per week the average couple should aim for to keep both partners happy in bed and out?
Traditionally, therapists say sex counts for about a quarter of the total happiness of a relationship. But new studies reveal all sorts of interesting – and contradictory – evidence on how much sex contributes to long-term relationship satisfaction.
Here’s the latest on who is happiest doing what:
COUPLES WHO HAVE SEX EVERY DAY
If you’re under 25 or in the first throes of your relationship, you’ll put a mental tick beside this one and go back to flicking through Instagram.
But if you’re a long-term couple or older, the idea of daily sex will probably seem, well, unlikely.
A few years ago, books like 365 Nights: A Memoir of Intimacy grabbed the headlines, chronicling what happened when a long-term couple agreed to have sex every single day, (pretty much) no excuses allowed.
The couple claimed at the end of their sex-fuelled year, they felt happier, less angry and less stressed.
Since then, hundreds of journalists and other couples have taken the challenge – with varying success.
Daily sex is a big ask for most busy people and more sex isn’t necessarily a good thing.
One study that asked couples having sex about six times a month to double the frequency had a disastrous effect on their sex lives.
They enjoyed sex less and were in worse moods than those who stuck to their norm.
(Ask any couple trying for a baby: there’s nothing like having to have sex to dampen the keenest participants!)
Most of us, sensibly, enjoy this level of frequency when young or at the start of relationships, then turn it down to more realistic levels.
COUPLES WHO HAVE SEX THREE TO FOUR TIMES A WEEK
Three, well-respected US scholars (including sexologist Pepper Schwartz) drew on thousands of surveys to find out what makes couples happy (results in their book The Normal Bar).
They found three to four times a week was the perfect amount of sex for prime levels of happiness.
If you don’t have children, are in the peak of health, going through a great time in your relationship, highly sexed and highly motivated, this could be your magic number.
COUPLES WHO HAVE SEX ONCE A WEEK
The reality is, this is the category most of us fit into.
If forced to generalise about how often the ‘average’ couple have sex, once a week is probably the best estimate you’re going to get – far lower than the often bandied about figure of 2.5 times a week.
The most recent reputable data on Britain’s bedtime habits (NATSAL) reports that most of us have sex around five times a month.
The good news is, there’s now research to prove weekly sex isn’t the ‘failure’ lots of couples think it is.
A sizeable US study (of 2,400 married couples) found although couples who had more sex said they were happier, the benefit levelled off at once a week.
Couples who had sex four or more times a week weren’t any happier than those who did it weekly.
Why does this figure hit the jackpot?
Because it’s a realistic goal.
It allows you to find a time when both of you are feeling relaxed enough to become aroused but is often enough to stop the awful pressure couples feel when there’s been a sex drought.
The longer you go without sex, the more the pressure is on to have sex for longer next time.
But if you can’t find time for a quickie, how do you find time and energy for a two-hour marathon session that’s also got to be fantastic to make up for not having it for ages?
COUPLES WHO DON’T HAVE SEX – EVER
One in four couples over 50 don’t have any sex at all.
But far from complaining about it, the couples surveyed by Gransnet (634 users aged 51 to 58) said they felt extremely happy and satisfied in their sexless relationships with only 65 per cent rating sex as important. There’s an important caveat here: this holds true when both partners are happy not having sex, not when just one person decides to take sex off the table.
But if you’ve both had an honest conversation and decided it’s simply not something you value any longer, sex doesn’t appear to be the ‘must have’ factor for a happy relationship that experts traditionally believed. This can also be the case for couples under 50, who both have low or no sexual drive, and are happy not to have it. Another well-respected US study also found the biggest predictor for overall happiness for couples was the relationship connection not sex.
It’s still society’s view that couples who aren’t having sex are unhappy and clearly have problems – but that simply isn’t true.
The only question you really need to answer is this: are you both happy with the amount of sex you’re having? If the answer is yes, you’re doing just fine.