How much s*x 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 s*x 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 s*x contributes to long-term relationship satisfaction. Here’s the latest on who’s happiest doing what.
COUPLES WHO HAVE S*X 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 finding out the latest on Kim and Kanye.
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 s*x 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 s*x 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 havingto 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 S*X THREE TO FOUR TIMES A WEEK
A 2004 study found the more s*x people had, the happier they felt (I told you the results were contradictory!).
The book, The Normal Bar, supports this finding.
Published in 2013 and written by three, well-respected US scholars (including sexologist Pepper Schwartz), it draws on thousands of surveys to find out what makes couples happy.
Three to four times a week was the perfect amount for prime levels of happiness, according to the authors.
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 S*X 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 s*x, once a week is probably the best estimate you’re going to get – far lower than the often banded about figure of 2.5 times a week.
The most recent reputable data on Britain’s bedtime habits (NATSAL, 2013) reported most of us have s*x around five times a month. The good news is, there’s now research to prove weekly s*x isn’t the ‘failure’ lots of couples think it is.
A sizeable US study done earlier this year (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 s*x 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 s*x, 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 S*X – EVER
One in four couples over 50 don’t have any s*x 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 s*x as important.
There’s an important caveat here: this holds true when both partners are happy not having s*x, not when just one person decides to take s*x off the table.
But if you’ve both had an honest conversation and decided it’s simply not something you value any longer, s*x 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.
Times readers may have read the excellent piece ‘Just good friends: can sexless marriages really survive?’ this weekend, complete with convincing first-hand testimonies from real-life couples whose relationships actually improved once they stopped having s*x.
Another well-respected US study also found the biggest predictor for overall happiness for couples was the relationship connection not s*x.
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.
One of the main reasons why couples stop having s*x isn’t because their relationship has gone sour or they don’t fancy their partners, it’s because they’re so close, the relationship has stopped being sexual.
The closer you are, the more you describe yourself as ‘best friends’ or ‘soul mates’, the less likely you are to be turned on by your partner.
Feeling like s*x is usually our motivation for having s*x but if you think of your partner more as a friend, your brain subconsciously takes them out of the ‘someone who I have s*x with ‘ basket and puts them into the ‘someone I cuddle with’ category.
‘Forget everything you’ve been told,’ says US s*x therapist Ian Kerner, ‘Trust, familiarity, predictability, romance – are not the building blocks of desire.’
Novelty is what tricks the brain into producing the hormones it did at the start. If you’re happy with the brother/sister dynamic, fine. If you’re not, simply start by having sex once a week whether you feel like it or not.
Change location to make yourself see your partner in a different light. Feed your fantasies. Be naughty; think edgy.
Imagine someone else fancying them: a little bit of jealousy might feel uncomfortable but it does wonders for suddenly making you see your partner through someone else’s admiring eyes.
COUPLES WHO MAKE THEIR OWN RULES AND COULDN’T CARE LESS WHAT EVERYONE ELSE DOES
No-one can really look in on your relationship and come up with the ideal amount of sex for you.
Individual circumstances make a mockery or any statistic, no matter how reputable the study or convincing the argument.
If you’ve got three kids under four and under foot, the right amount of s*x for two frazzled, exhausted parents is probably none for months at a stretch.
If you’re both 21 and three months into a relationship, once a day is a low s*x day.
Your fitness levels, the state of your relationship, your natural resting libidos (the amount you’re motivated to have sex), medication, stress levels, commitments to ageing mothers, traumatised friends, career pressure, depression, menopause, erection difficulties, feeling unwell, too drunk, too angry, too tired – we’re human beings, not machines and all these factors affect desire.
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.
For more of Tracey’s views on s*x and relationships, visit traceycox.com or for her product ranges visit lovehoney.co.uk