From the moment we’re born our health and growth (physical, psychological, spiritual) is compared to others based on numbers. Actually, it happens even before we’re born: How far along are you? How often do you feel a kick? Once we're born everyone wants to know what level we read at, how high can we can count, what our SAT score was. The competition to be both normal and above average is endless, and endlessly frustrating.
Given this backdrop it’s no wonder that many adults, once they get in committed relationships, begin to wonder if they’re having enough sex and how much sex does the average couple have. Many also wonder how long sex is supposed to last, regardless of how often you have it.
- Hucksters trying to sell you a book or sex tape will give you a single answer to this question. They might say the average couple has sex 12 times a month, or 2 times a month. Or maybe they’ll tell you they have sex 1.4 times a week.
- These are all true statistics, supported by scientific research. There are hundreds of scientific studies looking at the frequency of intercourse (because when they say sex, they usually mean intercourse, and when they say couple, they mean straight couple).
- There are also hundreds of marketing surveys by condom, lube and sex toy companies that aren’t scientific at all, but still get covered in the media. The problem is that it’s almost impossible to compare these studies, and when you read them, none of them agree.
The Hard Data
- With so many studies out there, the numbers you’ll get depend largely on where you look, who was asked, and how they were asked. Here are a few numbers to consider: The most recent data from a nationally representative sample of Americans aged 18-70+ asked people individually about the frequency of particular sex activities. In terms of vaginal intercourse 28% reported having it a few times per month/weekly, 16% reported 2-3 times per week, 15% reported a few times a year/monthly, and 4% reported more than 4 times per week. These numbers include people who were and were not in committed relationships.
- In a review of more than 86 other studies on women’s reports of sexual intercourse frequency, U.S. and European women between the ages of 26 to 35 reported having sex between 8 to 12 times per month.
- In one of the largest U.S. studies, the majority of men and women who were living together but unmarried reported having sex 8 to 12 times per month, and the majority of married people reported having sex “a few times per month.”
- One textbook compared studies in the U.S. of men and women surveyed about the frequency of “marital coitus” from 1938, 1970 and 2003. There was, in fact, little difference across the decades, and looking at men and women from ages 20 to 45, they reported between 6.8 and 8 times per month.
- Researchers point out that there are many problems with these numbers, including a lack of agreement on what “sex” meant to those answering the question and problems with how the data was collected.
Quantity or Quality?
- I would like to propose that quantity is not a useful measure of any sexual activity. How much is not enough? I guess the answer is one time less than what you want. How much is too much? One more than you desire.
- Are we supposed to believe that our desire for sex remains constant throughout our lives? In truth, the amount of sex we have is determined by many things: how we’re feeling, our relationships, access to a partner, our health and how much we feel like compromising in a given moment.
- The only practical yardstick to determine whether you and a partner are having “enough” sex is how both of you feel about it. Another problem with using quantity as a measure is that it can steer you in the wrong direction for a goal.
- Is your goal really to have sex two more times per week, month or year? Or is your goal to have a different kind of sex, or sex you enjoy more, or sex that makes you feel a certain way? If all you’re trying to do is have more of something that isn’t satisfying you, having more won’t make it better.
The Bottom Line
- So where does that leave you? If you ask a researcher how often the average couple has sex, at best they’re giving you a guess. If you ask a sex therapist the same question, they’re going to tell you what they see in their offices, but that is a small and skewed sample.
- Also, unfortunately, if you ask friends, they may not want to be honest for fear of being judged. My advice is that if you want to know how often other people are having sex, figure out why you want to know. What do you think you’re going to get out of knowing a number? And if you can, try to be satisfied with this truest of all answers:
- Some couples are having more sex than you are, some are having less, and if you want to improve your sex life, statistics are the last thing that will help.