How Much Sex Are Married Couples Actually Having?

Jul 2, 2018 at 3:00 p.m. ET
Couple with tangled limbs in bed.
Image: Torwai/Getty Images. Design: Ashley Britton/SheKnows.

Whether you're married or not, you've probably heard about the stigma that surrounds married couples and sex — the jokes and the talk around the watercooler are evidence married couples' sex lives might not be as lively as they were when they first exchanged vows. 

To get to the bottom of this, SheKnows spoke with experts to find out if there is truth to these rumors, what is causing the lack of sex between committed partners and, most important, what we can do about it.

Fact or fiction

Does sex really fizzle out after people tie the knot? Of course, it depends on the couple, but overall, it looks like the rumors may be true.

"I don't think there's any question that married couples are having less sex than they used to," Xanet Pailet, a sex and intimacy coach and author of Living an Orgasmic Life, tells SheKnows. In fact, according to the latest National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior, which was conducted in 2010 (it’s only done once a decade), the average married couple has sex about once a week.  However, 20 percent of couples are only having sex once a month, which is considered a sexless marriage. 

More: The Problem With the "Best Sex Positions for Female Orgasm" Articles

And this lack of sex is on the rise. There is a decline in sex overall according to a study published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior, which found that American adults had sex about nine fewer times per year in the early 2010s than they did in the late 1990s. While that took into account people who were both married and unmarried, it also reports “sexual frequency declined among the partnered (married or living together).”

Pailet says she's pretty sure these numbers are likely underreported, as it doesn't take into consideration the number of couples who stay in their marriage for "financial reasons or for the children, but have completely unsatisfying sex lives."

This is a topic people are clearly interested in. An article published in The New York Times written by Seth Stephens-Davidowitz reports that Google searches for “sexless relationship” are second only to searches for “abusive relationship.”

Why are we having less sex?

Stress: In many couples, both people work long hours and are trying to manage a busy household with children or caring for older relatives on top of that. "Stress is one of the most common factors in losing your desire for sex," Pailet notes.

Technology: If you want to have more sex, put down the phone. Pailet says we've become out of touch with our bodies and ourselves because of technology and because we live in an "overprogrammed" society in which we spend a lot of time with our devices instead of bonding with our partners. As a result, our sex lives suffer.

Age: As couples get older, their sexual encounters can become few and far between, as menopause and erectile dysfunction may become more common, Dr. Madeleine Castellanos, a psychiatrist who specializes in sex therapy with couples and individuals and author of Wanting to Want: What Kills Your Sex Life and How to Keep It Alive, tells SheKnows.

Resentment: Another factor married couples face is "letting anger turn into resentment," Castellanos says. When you pair resentment with a busy schedule, both people are exhausted, upset and drained, and sex is the last thing on their minds.

Sex becomes boring: If we're having boring sex, it's because we don't make it a priority in our lives. And unfortunately, Pailet says many of the couples she works with complain of having a really boring sex life and as a result, "no ones' needs are getting met." 

Too much of a focus on intercourse: According to Pailet, most people with vaginas are not ready when intercourse starts; they aren't aroused enough, which can make sex painful and keeps them from experiencing "intense sensations," she says. After it happens a few times, the likelihood of a having sex decreases by quite a bit.

Pressure: Both people may feel pressure to perform and please the other, Pailet notes. And let's face it: When you are married with kids, your time can be limited and leave you feeling even more pressure to get it right in a short amount of time. 

People with a penis "feel pressure to keep erections and get their partners off," she says, while people with a vagina "feel like they need to orgasm even if they fake it." 

More: Why the Pleasure Gap Is a Gender-Equality Issue

Don't lose hope

If you and your partner (or just one of you) isn't having the amount of sex you'd like, it's important to try to fix it. It may be a tough topic to bring up; it may feel labor-intensive, or you may be afraid of hurting your partner's feelings. But Castellanos says she always encourages her clients to talk about the issue in a loving way instead of coming from a place of "blaming and judgment." It's important to let your partner know you would like to make a positive change and move forward. 

It's also important to note that sex does not only mean penis-in-vagina intercourse. Many couples engage in other acts, such as oral sex, masturbation or the use of sex toys. While they might not be having penetrative sex, they still have an intimate, active sex life.  

Ultimately, it's up to you and your partner to determine what type of sex life you have. "How a couple decides they like to share their sexuality is up to them and doesn't need to be defined by population surveys," Castellanos adds.

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