Maybe you’ve sensed a shift in your sex life. Perhaps it isn’t what it used to be or you and your partner are busier than usual. It happens. Hell, maybe you’re just curious about what a normal amount of sex is for couples and want to see how you and your partner rank. Whatever the case may be, there’s a question ping-ponging around your brain: Am I having enough sex? It’s not the right question to ask, but it’s one worth investigating, because of what else it hints at.
First, there’s no normal when it comes to sex. “Normal is a setting on the washing machine,” cheekily notes Dr. Tammy Nelson, a renowned psychotherapist, relationship expert, and author of Open Monogamy and When You’re the One Who Cheats. “It means nothing. What feels like a ‘normal’ amount of sex to one person can differ widely from what your partner needs or wants or what a friend tells you they enjoy or want.”
Sex drives are highly individualized. An amount of intimacy that feels like barely enough for you might be quite frequent for someone else. In a large part, that’s because people get different things out of sex.
“Some people feel it is a form of exercise or physical release,” says Marriage and Family Therapist Layla Ashley. “Others seek greater emotional intimacy through sex. Others find a sense of creativity and play through sex. And yet others do not find it very important beyond procreating. It all depends on the purpose, as well as each individual’s bodily chemistry.”
So, there is certainly no species-wide “normal” amount of sex. There’s just what feels right for you. Asking if you’re having enough sex can be a good question for mental and relationship health. But while it’s a good question, it’s probably not the question you really need to ask yourself.
First, the consequences of not having enough sex are mild. And there’s a readily available remedy. “No one ever died from a lack of sex,” says Dr. Nelson. “If you want a sexual release on a regular basis, then masturbate.”
A solo session could be enough to let you move on with your life. Or it may not be. Afterwards, you could feel mostly the same as when you started. Or you could feel worse than when you started.
If so, you’re probably not getting enough of something. But it’s something that’s related to, yet distinct from, sex. So the real question you need to ask yourself comes to the surface: Is there something missing from my relationship?
What you’re lacking could be as simple as touch. As sex and intimacy coach Leah Carey notes, from infancy onward, human beings need physical contact.
“Every person has a minimum and a maximum touch need,” Carey says. “Babies don’t get the amount of touch they need, they go into something called failure to thrive. Their brains are literally not making the connections that they need to make. They require touch and physical connection for their brains to wire properly.”
Besides touch, you may long for the acceptance and belonging you had earlier in your relationship. If the question is ‘Will sex fix this situation?’ or ‘Will more sex fix this situation?’, I would suggest that what you are missing is connection,” Carey says.
When you first fell in love with your partner, you probably had more frequent sex than you do as married people with kids. Life gets in the way. But also, you were discovering things about each other and taking pleasure in their company. As your relationship matured, that intimacy may have eroded. Now, you miss it.
“What made that sex special?” Nelson asks. “Did you talk to your partner, did they express what they wanted? Were you more affectionate with one another? Did you share your fantasies? Did you do it in the morning, the afternoon, or in the middle of the night?”
When people in relationships lack touch or feel disconnected, pressure builds. “A telltale sign that might indicate a couple is not having enough sex is when they start building tension, arguing or fighting a lot,” Ashley says. ”This may mean one or both partners are not getting enough of whatever sex gives them, depending on what it means for them.”
So, how can you approach the situation? Unfortunately, the fix isn’t simple. For heterosexual relationships, initiating sex more often, for example, may make matters worse. “What happens in that situation is that the woman feels like all of this pressure is being put on her and on her body to fix the relationship,” notes Carey.
Carey advises looking for opportunities for intimate, but non-sexual, touch. “Cuddling, just that sort of grazing, touch, hugging, kissing things that don’t immediately lead you to, oh, now we’re going to get it on,” she says.
Dr. Nelson suggests talking to your partner, both about the things that are working in the relationship and what you would like more of in it.
“Pointing out what you’re not getting enough of just sounds critical and complaints will get you nowhere,” she says. “Sharing an appreciation of what you like and what you want to expand on will get you more of those things.”
“The secret to life is you always get more of what you appreciate,” she says. “And that definitely applies to your sex life.”
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