Talking about sex can be an extremely vulnerable and nerve-wracking thing(That’s probably why it’s a top talked-about topic in online relationship forums.) The act itself can be awkward, and when you start thinking about how much sex you and your partner(s) are — or aren’t — having, it can bring up some anxiety. And while thinking about it may be stressful enough, talking about sexual frequency with your partner can seem even worse.
“Sexual contact is an integral part of the foundation for a healthy relationship,” Dr. Stephanie Zeman, a clinical sex therapist and educator, tells SheKnows. “It combines intimacy, romance and connection, which are the identified main components of love — each of which must be present for a successful relationship.”
Still, so many factors can influence how often people have sex. “Relationship status, health and age can all play a role,” according to the International Society for Sexual Medicine. “Couples who are in the early ‘honeymoon’ stage of their relationship may have sex frequently. As the relationship progresses, the rate might slow down. If they are busy with work or childcare, they might not have as much time for sex as they used to. If they have an illness or chronic pain, they might have less sex — but that might change if they’re feeling better.”
Before you get too caught up in worrying what is and isn’t “normal,” please know there are many ways to broach the topic of sexual frequency with your partner.
Communicate openly – & often
Open and honest communication is not only a main component for the relationship — but also before, during and after sex, Zeman notes. “A conversation regarding sex, sexuality, gender roles, fantasy and arousal should be a topic of sex at least once a week between couples or intimate partners,” she says.
She suggests initiating conversation regarding sensual play with a reflection of the last intercourse. For example, “I really enjoyed being with you last night and here is why…”
According to Zeman, the more often partners talk about sexual topics, the more comfortable and open each partner will be. “It may be slow and steady, but you will be surprised how quickly your partner will feel comfortable talking, engaging in frequently and even asking for more sex,” she says.
Time the talk right
Find a time when you’re not busy, stressed, preoccupied or otherwise not able to give your all to the conversation to talk about sex, Raffi Bilek, a couples counselor and director of the Baltimore Therapy Center, tells SheKnows. “Sit down together where you won’t be interrupted (don’t forget to turn off the phones!) and just open up the topic: ‘Honey, I was wondering if we could talk a bit about our sex life… here are some things on my mind…’”
It’s probably not going to be the most comfortable conversation you’ve had in your life, but that’s OK. “You can both be uncomfortable together knowing that you are doing it in the service of your relationship,” he says.
Listen to your partner
It’s perfectly OK to ask your partner, “How are you feeling about how often we have sex?” At this point, it’s important to listen to what your partner has to say, Zeman notes. “This can lead to more understanding about what’s going on for the partner with a lower desire,” she says.
“Many times, it’s about the context that can take a team effort to work on,” Zeman adds. “It’s likely fatigue, stress, conflict in the relationship and, especially if it’s the woman with lower desire, these factors are central to her being open to sexual encounters.”
It’s more than OK to schedule sex
She’s found the best way to approach planning sex is to pick out a couple of times during the week that are most likely times that sex would feel right for both partners. “This allows couples to work on the context,” she says. “It might be: ‘OK, Wednesday night is our chosen time, so we’ll pick up dinner out, so no dishes, put the kids to bed on time and hop in bed way before we’re tired.’”
Fox suggests taking a low-key approach to scheduled sex nights. “If events of the day interfere with any date night, then agree to discuss a specific rain check date,” she says. “This prevents a drift from happening and keeps you focused on prioritizing your intimate time together.”
Remember, every couple is different. What works for one may not work for another, and there’s no magic number that means you’re living your best (sex) life. Also, it’s in no way helpful to compare your sex life to others. Sex is great, but it isn’t a competition. Step up your communication skills, and you’ll connect better with your partner.
Better connection means more intimacy, which almost always translates to better sex. Shift the focus from a sex to-do list to pinpointing what you want and need, and you and your partner will most likely have better, more frequent sex.
A version of this story was published August 2018.