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IF IT’S BEEN a while since you last got busy in the bedroom, you might find yourself wondering: how long is too long without sex in a relationship?
Sex in a romantic relationship is important for most people, but the type and frequency of sex people we (and want to have) varies between people and stages of our lives. It’s common to find ourselves wondering how much sex others are having in comparison to us, and if our sex life is “normal.”
First, there is no normal! However, on average, couples in long-term relationships report having sex about once a week. Sex within partnerships naturally waxes and wanes, so there’s no need to be alarmed if you and your partner(s) are getting it on less than you used to, or less than other people you know. A lack of sex doesn’t always mean there is something wrong in the relationship.
That said, there are times when a lack of physical intimacy could be a sign that something is not quite right. Or, if there is a desire discrepancy—in other words, one partner wants it more than another—this can lead to problems within the relationship.
How to tell if it’s been too long without sex:
In romantic relationships, a sexual bond can provide us with plenty of benefits, from pure carnal pleasure to deep emotional intimacy to stress reduction and relaxation.
When we say “sex,” we don’t necessarily mean penetration. Sex can be deep kissing, fondling, oral pleasure, or any other variety of sexual contact you and your lover(s) can imagine and have with one another.
Statistics on how often people have sex vary based on factors such as age, length of time in a relationship, and how they define sex. There isn’t anything wrong with individuals or couples who have sex less or more often than the averages. The true signs of whether it has been too long without sex include:
♥ If either partner is concerned about the lack of sex
♥ If something is impacting sexual desire
♥ If one partner does want to be having more sex
♥ If the sexual frequency is impacting the relationship
Any time there is a change in sexual frequency, there should be communication around it, at the very least an acknowledgment of the change.
How the honeymoon phase impacts sexual frequency:
Often, in the beginning of a relationship—during what we call the “honeymoon phase” or “limerence stage”—couples can’t keep their hands off each other. When chemistry is a key factor in the early stages of a romantic bond, our hormones can propel us through even several years of what feels like more than enough great sex. At this time, you and your partner might feel like your sexual plate is full.
Yet this stage of a relationship is called the honeymoon phase for a good reason. Even if you have a loving commitment, you may not yet know your partner’s worst habits and traits, since it’s common to keep these under wraps for as long as possible: hence, all that delightful, uncomplicated sex you’re probably having. You’re not mad at your partner for leaving the dishes in the sink for the 47,0000th time, and it’s less likely that you have kids underfoot, making you both exhausted and irritable.
As a relationship progresses, life can get in the way. Realities like stress from work, overcommitments, parents, children, medical issues and more can impact sexual desire and our energy. Yes, the media wants us to believe that your relationship isn’t good if you are not all over each other at all times. In many movies and shows, we see couples who can’t even make it to the bedroom, so they start having sex up against a wall by the front door. Don’t get me wrong: that’s amazing and there’s nothing wrong with it, but that just isn’t the reality in most long-term relationships. And that’s totally okay!
What might be causing a lack of sex in a relationship?
There are a number of potential factors that can contribute to a decreased sexual desire or disinterest in sex, including, but not limited to:
♥ Physical factors (such as lack of sleep, injury and pain)
♥ Mental factors (such as stress, depression, and anxiety)
♥ Medication side effects
♥ Interpersonal factors
♥ Intrapersonal factors
♥ Contextual factors
♥ Lack of appropriate stimuli
♥ Expectation of negative outcomes
♥ Issues within the relationship
Again, it’s normal for frequency of sex to decline over time, so it’s impossible to say how much sex is enough. The truth is that only you and your partner can answer this question for yourselves. There is no magic number; some couples want to have sex every day, some want to have it once or twice a week, and some are content with having sex once a month or less.
When the preferred frequency is different between you and your partner—say, you want it at least 2 times a week, and they’re more of a once-a-month type—we call that a desire discrepancy, and it doesn’t mean the end of your relationship.
What can we do about a lack of sexual frequency?
The first step is communicating with your partner about it. If we don’t address our differences in desire, we might find ourselves dealing with frustration, resentment, ambivalence, and sometimes even infidelity.
So if you enjoy sex and you want more of it, talk about it! First, are you on the same page about not wanting sex at the moment? If not, can you get on the same page or find a middle ground? If you are on the same page about not wanting sex, what might be contributing to that decline—and is the lack of sexual frequency something you’re concerned about for the short and long-term?
Having good, pleasurable, regular sex is something you can learn to do together at any stage. If you’re both game to have more sex, come up with ways to make connecting physically more exciting. Go back to what it was like in the beginning. Often times, we are so caught up in life and all that comes with it that we forget to continue to court our partner. Be kind, thoughtful, and playful. Also, be sure to engage in other types of physical intimacy, such as affectionate touching, holding hands, and kissing—all of which support connection.
Remember, sex includes a number of activities, so find some that are satisfying for you both—and be flexible. If you’re not “in the mood,” are there things that could get you there? If not, can you hold space for your partner to be sexual: maybe touching them or being naked with them, while they self-pleasure?
If communicating with your partner about this feels too complicated or fraught with emotional landmines, that’s the time to call a mental health professional who specializes in sex or a certified sex therapist who can help you understand all the factors that are contributing to the lowered frequency and help you with understanding the desires and change. They can help you get back to the place you want to be sexually. (You can also check out our list of the (best books for your sex life.)
Sexual desire and connection helps keep a relationship alive. So spend time figuring out the amount and type of sex all partners want to have, and make it a point to do that. If there are things getting in the way, address them. If you are not able to do that on your own, look for a mental health professional who specializes in sex who can support you in the process.
Dr. Rachel Needle is a Licensed Psychologist, Certified Sex Therapist, and Co-Director of Modern Sex Therapy Institutes, which provides continuing education, certifications, and a Ph.D. in Clinical Sexology to mental health, healthcare, and education professionals around the world.