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How much sex is the right amount?

Are you asking yourself how much sex you really should be having in your marriage? Do you wonder how much sex is enough? Or, if you are “normal” compared to others? Might there be a magic number? Furthermore, how important is sex? If you are asking these questions, you are not alone. These are common questions asked in the office of a couples therapists and sex therapists.

It’s risky to cite statistics on sexual satisfaction for a few reasons. This is because much of the data is from self-report style surveys, so, we really aren’t 100% confident about the accuracy of the results. While it is important to have an initial reference point for different groups of people (since that is what we do as social scientists), it is typically not what someone is really asking…

People actually wish to know if their relationship is healthy. They are wondering if they are enough for their partner or if their partner is indeed enough for them. They are wondering if “too much” or, typically, “too little” sex is at issue in their relationship. Sometimes they are not just wondering. In fact, they are terrified that their relationship is in jeopardy of this concern.

The question about sexual frequency typically comes when one partner is less satisfied with the amount of time that is spent in the bedroom. Having a “discrepant desire” level, where one partner wants more or less than the other, is a common phenomenon between two people in a committed relationship. It can also be that both partners are displeased with frequency in which they engage in sexual interaction.

The good news today, however, is that marital satisfaction is not simply a function of sexual frequency and certainly not frequent sex. In fact, nowadays married couples are looking at the quality of their sexual interaction and not just the quantity.

What does the research tell us?

First and foremost, the research on marital satisfaction is fraught with difficulties.

This is often due to the design of the experiment or the way in which data is collected. Nonetheless, people still need something as a gauge, so we can at least take a look at what we have available:

  • In the 90’s research studies found that 40% of couples had sex 2-3 times per week, and that frequency dropped with age and length of marriage.
  • Generally, there is a decrease in both frequency and satisfaction as couples are together longer.
  • Sexual frequency diminishes in a relationship as well when we consider other factors such as work, chores, children, physical or physiological factors, other relational issues, and so on.
  • Sexual frequency and sexual satisfaction are both inversely correlated to divorce rates. In other words, as one rate rises, the other goes down.
  • A research article published in November of 2015 that looked at over 2400 married couples found that the more sex a couple had, the happier they were. Interestingly, though, there was a cap of one time per week.

Why the once a week cap?

This cap can be viewed as the economic equivalent of the “law of diminishing returns”; when you add more employees to get a job done there is an increase in productivity to a point and after that point efficiency drops. So, sex once or twice a month might not be sufficient but more than once per week is not either. In fact, in another recent study, couples who were instructed to double the amount of sex they were having were no happier than they were before (with their usual rate of sex). Furthermore, they reported less enjoyment of sex. With the law of diminishing returns, there seems to be a downside to too much sex.

We know sexual satisfaction is better at certain stages of relationships.  We also know that life gets in the way. It is up to each couple to set their own personal standard and be okay with it. This is what is most critical when considering sexual satisfaction. It’s not about the number per se, but your experience of that number.

Couples who ruminate as to whether or not their frequency is “normal” are those who are likely dissatisfied and may indeed be below the curve. Yet there are couples, typically, but not always, older and longer married couples, for whom infrequent sex is just fine.

What if our desires are mismatched?

Discrepant desire can become a real problem—more often quantitatively but sometimes even qualitatively.

For those whose sex lives are challenged, there are steps you can take. For one, assess your relationship outside of the bedroom. Are you achieving intimacy there–both physical and emotional intimacy are imperative to your connection. This, by the way, will often lead to sex. Whatever your love language, whether it be one-on-one time, gifts, kind acts, kind words–nurture it. If your only love language is sex, you need to work on this.

Couples therapist traditionally suggest things like scheduling sex, changing the venue, going on a trip away from the family space, spicing things up or even reenacting your dating sex. Scheduling sex works for some and not others as do the other suggestions. With testosterone levels highest in the morning, that may be an option for some. If that is ineffective in boosting you into the bedroom, then seek the help of a sex therapist, but not without first ruling out any physical or physiological issues.

Sexual desire can be impacted by several things:

  • medical disease
  • medications
  • hormones
  • aging
  • family obligations/children
  • physiological problems or body image issues
  • sexual beliefs and attitudes
  • physical attraction
  • relational issues
  • psychological issues (depression/anxiety)
  • situational concerns (for example, how you feel about your partner at that moment)

If you have had a “dry spell,” for some, merely engaging in sex can get you back in the game. It will get your rhythm going again and help the flow of bonding hormones like oxytocin and vasopressin. You can revive and repair the disengagement you are feeling. Since intimacy and sex are intertwined, sometimes this is all a couple needs to get back on track.

Remember, it’s not the number that is important to those who are curious, but the meaning of the question. Staying married is hard enough in the context of today’s challenges and life’s distractions. Those challenges tend to migrate into the bedroom. So as we remain committed, or married, we can be just as happy with less sex. The overall quality of the relationship takes precedence over the bedroom. If you can waddle or dance through the years of more sex, you can make it.

Do you have an anger issue?

Anger can have a terrible impact on our marriages. Scriptures that tell us:

  • “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires” (James 1:19-20).
  • “A fool give full vent to his anger, but a wise man keeps himself under control” (Proverbs 29:11).
  • “A hot-tempered man stirs up dissension, but a patient man calms a quarrel” (Proverbs 15:8).
  • “But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips” (Colossians 3:8).
  • “What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight” (James 4:2).

Take some time to honestly reflect on how you deal with anger. Do you ever deal with it like turning a fan onto a stack of paper, hoping our emotion will straighten out a mess when it does the exact opposite? Do you falsely believe your anger will “make someone see a point,” when in fact it causes them to keep a safe distance from you. They learn to tiptoe around you, never certain as to whether you will turn the fan of hot air against them? Do you really want people to fear you?  

Be honest with your spouse about your anger and ask for their help with your responses with others in your life. Don’t let this continue to hurt the ones you love.

Listening to hard things and not getting upset

David Hawkins had a great post several years ago that I ran across today. It is worth repeating:

It is incredibly tempting, in the face of criticism, to retaliate, deflect or offer a defensive response. Who, after all, appreciates being told how they are failing to measure up or having done something wrong?  Yet, maturity—a most elusive character trait—requires that we continue listening in the face of criticism. Maturity actually requires that we not only listen, but even ask for more information. The mature person attends fully to the person offering criticism and leans into information on how they have contributed, perhaps even caused, a loved one to be upset. 

In one of my favorite passages from Scott Peck’s Best-seller, The Road Less Traveled, he expounds on the challenging work of attention. He shares:

“True listening, total concentration on the other, is always a manifestation of love. An essential part of true listening is the discipline of bracketing, the temporary giving up or setting aside of one’s own prejudices, frames of reference and desires so as to experience as far as possible the speaker’s world from the inside, stepping inside his or her shoes.” 

Many of us are quick to offer criticism in response to criticism. We can criticize the bearer of bad news for the way they spoke to us; for the way they confronted us; for the very information they are sharing. We, the wrongdoer, have often taken that person, shaken them up to the point of exploding, and then chided them for their reaction. Perhaps you can relate. When was the last time you sat still in the face of criticism and truly listened? When was the last time you, instead of offering a rebuttal, actually asked for more information? When was the last time you, when hearing news about yourself you did not want to hear, asked an even more profound question:  “What have I done to create this problem? Tell me more and let me make things right.”  If you find bracketing to be as difficult as I do, consider the following growth action steps: 

First, prepare for criticism. While it goes without saying, none of us are perfect. “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) We cannot be perfect and must accept this aspect of ourselves and others. Anticipate that you will let your mate down at times and seek only that you will continue growing and getting healthier, not perfection. 
Second, ask for more information. As you truly listen your mate will sense your acceptance of them. They will feel safe and loved and will actually become more vulnerable to you, leading to greater intimacy. Listening is a profound act of love. 
Third, get specific feedback and offer acceptance of your hurtful actions. Learn all you can about what you have done to hurt your mate. Discover why they feel the way they do and take full responsibility for your hurtful actions. Acceptance of wrongdoing is incredibly disarming to the one who was hurt.  
Fourth, apologize. After accepting responsibility for wrongdoing, offer a sincere apology. Scripture tells us “Godly sorrow bring repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret.” (2 Corinthians 7:10
) Offering a heartfelt apology is not only Scriptural but also practical and healing for both parties. Apologies allow us to share our sorrow for wrongdoing as well as giving the one hurt by our actions solace. 
Finally, make amends. We must, in addition to listening and bracketing our concerns, make amends for the harm we’ve caused. We can often do this with words but at times must offer even more in the form of actions. We can consider what action best offers restoration to let our injured mate know we are truly sorry for what we’ve done.  In summary, active listening in the face of criticism is hard work. Yet, it is incredibly valuable and necessary work. It is healing and healthy and must be learned by all of us. 

Extroverts and introverts – part 2

When it comes to marriage and relationships, a popular personality scale to consider is that of Introvert to Extrovert. People often think that the terms introvert and extrovert describe whether or not a person likes being around people. But the truth is that these terms are not descriptions of your affinity toward people, but rather, how you tend to recharge. In my last post, I indicated a key thing to remember was the concept of who needs alone time and who needs together time. How about two more keys?

2. Internal Processing vs. External Processing

For many extroverts, problems solving, conflict management, and decision-making are processes that need to be talked through. I am definitely one of those people. My husband will tell you that I enjoy talking everything through down to the itty-bitty details. There’s just something about verbalizing and articulating the situation out loud that helps an extrovert digest the information and come to a conclusion. “Talking it out” is simply part of the healing process. But what you have to remember as an extrovert, is that this is not always so for an introvert.

Many introverts like to think things through rather than talk things out. They tend to “take it in” rather than “talk it out.” They can internalize information in order to digest it better in moments of quiet. Some introverts may even need some time to step away and think before taking for a chance to speak. When problems or conflict arise in a relationship, it’s important to remember this key difference between introverts and extroverts, otherwise you’ll end up playing a game of cat-and-mouse with one person trying to “talk it out” while the other person is not quite ready.

If you’re married to an introvert, remember that it’s not only okay, but important to give them a chance to think before requesting for them to speak. Allow them the freedom to step back or step away from a situation momentarily, with the goal of coming together later to process, discuss, and work through the situation at hand.

3. One-on-One vs. Large Groups

“Bringing some friends home for lunch. See you in 10 minutes” was the simple text message that caused a major argument between two of our married friends. Being an extrovert, bringing a few friends home was no big deal for her. But as an introvert, her husband needed a warning and some time to prepare. Ten minutes of prep time just didn’t cut it when being around people was such a draining experience for his introverted personality. But it’s moments like this that remind us of the genuine and beautiful God-given differences between each of our personalities, as well as the difficulties those differences can cause if not well understood.

If you’re an extrovert married to an introvert, it’s important to remember that when it comes to socializing with others, your spouse is not wired like you are. What may seem like a “simple” get together for you, may be a much more emotionally elaborate event for your spouse. A quick text message or an impromptu gathering may come across as disrespectful or inconsiderate to your spouse. And though it might feed your social life, it may all the while be draining your marriage. Taking these differences into consideration, it’s important to learn to talk through your schedule, planning ahead for events or situations that might push one or the other of you out of their comfort zone. Get things on the calendar and find the right balance of one-one-one intimate gatherings and large group settings.  

There’s no doubt that personality differences in marriage can cause conflict, but they can also be used by God to build in us empathy, bolster our communication skills, and teach us how to selflessly love in the language that is most meaningful to our spouse.

Extroverts and Introverts

Are you more of an extrovert or an introvert?

With the rise of personality inventories flooding the web, you may have seen that question floating around social media lately in some way, shape, or form.

But believe it or not, these inventories are not just the next fad to hit the web. The truth is, personality inventories have been around for quite some time in the professional world. In fact, as a Licensed Professional Counselor, I’ve used personality inventories on myself as well as many of my clients.

As fun and interesting as they might be to take, the importance of getting to know yourself goes far beyond a fun Facebook fad, because the knowledge and self-awareness they bring have the ability to impact your life and even your relationships.

When it comes to marriage and relationships, a popular personality scale to consider is that of Introvert to Extrovert. People often think that the terms introvert and extrovert describe whether or not a person likes being around people. But the truth is that these terms are not descriptions of your affinity toward people, but rather, how you tend to recharge.

Are you a person who recharges and refuels by pulling away and being alone? You’re an Introvert. Or are you a person who recharges by being engaged with people and interacting in relationships? That’s an Extrovert! The answer to these kind of questions is very important because it impacts how you take care of yourself and, in turn, how you relate to others.

Sometimes in marriage both partners have very similar personalities and traits. They understand each other because they have similar needs and desires due to the nature of their personality types.

But more times than not, married couples tend to have differences in their personalities, and like the saying goes, “opposites attract.” Opposites tend to attract because we are drawn to people who balance us out. We find ourselves pulled in the direction of people who have strengths in the areas where we have weaknesses, and vice versa. But just as quickly as opposites attract, they can also attack when we there isn’t a deliberate attempt at healthy communication and understanding. Oftentimes, the same differences that pulled us together are the very things that cause conflict within a relationship. And because of the differences in personalities, you may find yourself speaking a totally different language than your spouse.

When it comes time to recharge and refuel, if you’re an extrovert married to an introvert, here is the first of 3 key things to remember:

1. Alone-time vs. Together Time

If you’re an extreme extrovert, you probably don’t even know the meaning of “alone-time.” Because extroverts get recharged by being around people, they try to fill their time with relationships and interactions to the best of their ability. If you’re an extrovert married to an introvert, you need to remember that their need for socialization isn’t quite the same as yours.

As much as introverts love people, in order for them to fuel up and recharge they have a need to simply be alone. This important alone-time gives them what they need to be able to interact and communicate to the best of their ability. It’s not only important, but it’s healthy for the introvert to get to a place where they can recognize and request some time alone. But to an extroverted spouse, the words, “Honey, can I have a few minutes to myself?” can almost sound rude or insulting. If you’re an extrovert, remember not to take this request as a personal insult, because it’s simply a sign that your partner needs to refuel and recharge. Be deliberate about building time into each day to allow for a chance to connect, while also making room for that important alone-time as needed. Talk about your different needs, and come up with a plan so that both partners feel loved in the way that speaks their language.

The next two come next time!

What is coming out?

Scripture tells us, “A good man (or woman) brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man (or woman) brings evil things out of the evil stored up in their heart” (Luke 6:45). Beware how you speak and the things you say to your spouse, and consider that they flow from what is in your heart. Take inventory on what is stored up in your heart and be careful to cleanse your heart with prayer and feeding upon the Word of God. 

Are you willing to say these two, simple words?

Could two words substantially improve a flailing sex life? That claim sounds as bold as promising you a 10-pound weight loss by Saturday or an all-inclusive vacation for under a hundred bucks. Understandably, you’re skeptical. Yet if you’re unhappy with the sexual intimacy in your marriage, I truly believe these could change the course of sex in your marriage.

And what are the two magical words? I’m sorry.

When marriages face problems and challenges in their physical intimacy, there is often a storehouse of hurt in one or both spouses. Even if the issues are external or involve sexual baggage brought into the marriage, when our spouse reacts poorly to what’s going on, we can feel rejected, attacked, abandoned, or misused. Our hurt feelings are harbored in our hearts and weigh us down.

Logically, we might know we should act differently to resolve our issues. Our spouse may know that as well. But we’re both steeped in personal pain that extends beyond whatever’s going on today. For instance, he asks for sex, and she’s reminded of all the times he ignored her emotions and pursued his own pleasure. She rejects his advance, and he feels the burden of all the previous refusals. He wants her to wear revealing lingerie, and she feels the pang of his previous porn use. And on and on.

It could be something large or small, but we feel these slights. And oftentimes, we don’t recognize the hurt we’ve caused our spouse with our words and actions. Maybe it was something we did or said that came across in a way we didn’t even intend.

But the hurt is there, it’s real, and it’s affecting sexual intimacy. Or really, just intimacy in your marriage.

What needs to happen? So many marriages need to start with those two words: I’m sorry.

  • I’m sorry I used porn/erotica.
  • I’m sorry I overlooked your sexual needs.
  • I’m sorry I demanded acts you weren’t comfortable with.
  • I’m sorry I assumed you didn’t love me emotionally when you pursued me physically.
  • I’m sorry I stopped touching you to avoid sex.
  • I’m sorry I pressured you and didn’t wait for our wedding night.
  • I’m sorry I didn’t listen.
  • I’m sorry I yelled.

How many of you in your marriages are longing to hear those two simple words from your spouse? I’m sorry.

Of course, that wouldn’t solve everything, but a genuine apology could change the course of your sexual intimacy — demonstrate that your spouse loves and respects you, renew hope for something better, begin to heal wounds long festering in your heart.

What if your spouse needs to hear those words from you?

Let’s face it: Plenty of us are thinking, “This is exactly what my spouse needs to do–apologize to me!” After all, if he’s 90 percent of the problem…

But I encourage you to consider this deeply: Even assuming he is 90 percent of the problem, you likely didn’t handle something well. You have your own issues that have hampered progress. Perhaps you even enabled his behavior in some way, not pursuing what was good but what was easy.

Almost everyone has some blame they should own up to. And it may be more than you’ve admitted to yourself, or to him.

Step away from the marital bedroom, sit down for a heart-to-heart conversation, and apologize for whatever you’ve done that has muddied the waters of your physical intimacy. It may be the two words your spouse craves, and it could set a new course for sexual intimacy in your marriage.

“Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5:23-24).

How can you know if your marriage is in trouble?

All relationships have some degree of these characteristics. However, if more than one is present or one is unyielding, there will be doubts about the viability of your marriage. Here are some ways that these characteristics can signal trouble.

Criticism

Some criticism is unavoidable in a relationship, but it becomes unhealthy when you do it in a way that implies something is inherently wrong with your partner. You may also be attacking your partner’s personality or character.

The intent is to win the argument or prove your spouse wrong. For instance, saying, “you always…,” “you never…,” or “you’re the type of person who …” or “why are you so …” will make the spouse feel attacked and is likely to elicit a defensive response. These bad patterns cause you both to not feel heard. You both may start to feel bad about yourselves when you are around each other.

It is critical to make a specific complaint about your partner’s behavior and not attack their personality. For instance, saying, “When A happened, I felt B,” or “I need C.”

Contempt

Contempt is the scariest of the bunch. It concerns any statement or behavior, verbal or nonverbal, that asserts superiority to your partner.

Examples of such behaviors may be mocking your partner, name-calling, eye-rolling, showing hostility, insensitive joking, hurtful sarcasm, sneering in disgust, and so on. It attacks your spouse’s sense of self. It is also intended to put down or emotionally abuse or manipulate him or her.

Couples must work to completely eliminate such behaviors. A culture of respect, appreciation, tolerance, and kindness is a basic requirement in marriage.

Defensiveness

Defensiveness arises from a perceived attack with your own counter-complaint. It is also another way to act like a victim or not to take responsibility for your mistakes. Such behaviors include making excuses or saying things like, “It’s not my fault.”

It can also involve cross-complaining. This is when you match your partner’s complaint or criticism with one of your own. You then ignore what your partner said. Other defensive behaviors are “yes-butting” or simply repeating yourself without really paying attention to what your spouse is saying.

Aim to slow down and try to listen to your partner’s perspective.

You do not have to be perfect. Consciously communicate by speaking honestly and listening well. Don’t forget to validate your partner by letting him or her know you get what they are feeling.

Stonewalling

Complete withdrawal from communication (and essentially the relationship) as a strategy to avoid conflict is called stonewalling. It may take the form of physically leaving or completely shutting down. Stonewalling might be giving the “silent treatment,” monosyllabic mutterings, changing the subject, or storming out. This might be an, albeit unsuccessful, attempt to calm oneself when overwhelmed, but it conveys disconnection, disapproval, distancing, and arrogance.

The antidote to stonewalling is to learn to identify the signs that you or your partner is starting to feel emotionally overwhelmed. It’s a good idea to verbalize that you feel overwhelmed. You can both agree to take a break and that the conversation will resume when you are both calmer.

Take time to rest

The Lord doesn’t mince words when discussing the Sabbath. He included it among His most important instruction to His people, the Ten Commandments: “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work” (Exodus 20:8–10).

The Sabbath is to be a holy time, devoid of work and dedicated to worship, prayer, and praise. When we honor God as a family, we begin to sense the depth of the love, peace, and power that are available to us.

God commands us to keep the Sabbath holy. (They are the Ten Commandments, after all, not the ten suggestions!) But how, you ask, can you make Sunday—or whatever day you choose as your Sabbath rest—a holy day in the midst of life’s many distractions? You can start by unplugging the phone and computer, and turning off the television, washer, and dryer. Begin the day and each new activity with a prayer. Join fellow believers at church. Light a candle as a reminder of the One who is the light of the world. By respecting the Sabbath, you’ll discover a holy, healing calm that will revive you and your entire family.

What men need part 5

5. Be His Playmate 

Find activities that you doing enjoy together. Whether active, interesting, or creative, find hobbies that you are both excited about. This is more than just “going along” with him on a fishing trip, or having him sit on the bench in the mall while you shop your heart out. Spending time together doing activities you both enjoy is something that will fill him up. 

This is especially important to make time for once you have started having children. If you cannot maintain a playful friendship as you also learn to parent, you may find it a struggle to remember what you had in common 20 years later after the kids have all moved out. You don’t want to find yourself sitting across from each other at the dinner table one day wondering why you ever got married to begin with. Create time and space to be friends who have fun together. Play music, cook dinner, read books, go running, take up a new sport, vacation, whatever it is; the investment of the time and effort is worth it. 

And finally, here is a bonus tip: 

Have Your Own Friends and Hobbies 

Just as he needs time to recharge, so do you. He can be your best friend and favorite activity partner, but he can’t be your sounding board for every subject in your life. You need to make time for your own creative pursuits, your health needs, spiritual disciplines and girlfriends. You will be stronger (and therefore, your marriage will be healthier) when you’ve had a chance to be alone, to connect with other women, to refuel yourself doing something you love, and then come back together. 

There are many needs that men have. Some are unique based on their personality, experiences and love needs while others are universal. Give him sex and respect; pray for him and encourage his friendships. Create space for hobbies you both enjoy, and then get away and make time for your own friends and pursuits. None of these ideas are new, or brilliant, but they will require your intentional effort. If you’re wondering if he is worth it, the answer is yes— every time. Try a few, and see what happens.