Real women talked to SELF about how often they do it, whether they're in sync with their mate and how their nooky dynamic affects their relationship satisfaction. Find yourself in one of their stories and discover how to achieve your own sizzling sexual synergy.
By Laura Beil
There is no magic number, no "normal" or "appropriate" amount when it comes to frequency, says Catherine Birndorf, M.D., self's mental health expert and coauthor of The Nine Rooms of Happiness(Voice). You can get it on every night and be unfulfilled or do it once a month and feel satisfied.
"The real question is, How often do you want to have sex?" she adds. And just as important: How often does he want to? "The optimal frequency is whatever agreement a couple comes to," says John Gagnon, Ph.D., professor emeritus of sociology at Stony Brook University in New York.
Almost Every Night
Sarah and her husband, Dane, are not, as she describes it, "a lovey-dovey kind of couple." They don't do candlelit dinners. But they have always had the sense that they were meant for each other. They met 10 years ago. The attraction was instant, and after three months of dating, Dane, then 30, proposed. A month after they eloped, she was pregnant with her first child.
On a typical evening, they go for a walk, tuck their four kids into bed and then get down to business. Usually, the sex isn't terribly imaginative or long-lasting, but that is just fine with them. "We call it 'the basic,'" Sarah says. "It's good, solid sex."
And there's a lot of it. Early in their marriage, they realized they had never gone without sex for more than two days. They joked that they must have a Third Night Rule and since then have made a point of never going three days without. Sarah believes their lively sex life keeps the stress of running a business and raising children from undermining their relationship, even if most of the time the sex is not a passionate romp. "If that 15 minutes is satisfying to you both, you've had your time together," she says.
The Sexpert Assessment: No worries if you don't have a sexual "rule" like Sarah and Dane, but taking stock of how often you do it can be a smart move. Over the course of a month, consider keeping track of when you get it on. Note the number of your encounters and whether there were any patterns (e.g., maybe you tend to do it on Thursdays). "Taking inventory gives you some objective data to go on," Dr. Birndorf explains. "It's a jumping-off point for having an informed discussion about frequency." Another cue you can take from this couple: Don't wait for a romantic moment. As Sarah says, taking 15 minutes to shag after you tuck the kids in can totally do the trick.
Twice a Week
Heather* met Mike* at a local bar in New York City when they were both 26, seizing the single life. The chemistry was undeniable. Once they started having sex, they couldn't stop: They did it almost every night they saw each other—in bed, on the couch, on the floor, even on the roof of his apartment building.
Two years later, they moved in together. Heather sensed a change within a month: Sure, they were still in love, but their once high-octane sex life had shifted to low. Now they seemed to be doing it at the same time, in the same place, and going to sleep without sex more often than they once had.
They still do it once or twice a week, but Heather is concerned about their downward trajectory. "I think, We've been living together less than a year, and I've already noticed a difference," she says. "What's it going to be like in 10 or 20 years?"
The Sexpert Assessment:The downshift Heather and Mike experienced isn't unusual: Sexual frequency tends to drop the longer you're together. "After the initial libido-revving infatuation phase wears off, the act itself often becomes more habitual," says Erick Janssen, Ph.D., a researcher at The Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction at Indiana University in Bloomington. That's not to say that you're doomed to a sexless future. To prevent a rut down the line, make a concerted effort not to slip into roommate mode. "Continuing to plan fun dates, flirting and making romantic gestures will keep the spark alive," Dr. Birndorf says. If you want to spice up a vanilla routine, agree to go a week having sex anywhere except in the bedroom and any time except at bedtime.
A Few Times a Month
In her first marriage, Susan,* 39, and her husband had such a magnetic attraction, they had sex almost every night. Problem was, "We had a very unhealthy dynamic," she says. "I made the mistake of interpreting the physical connection as love."
A few years after they split, she started spending more time with a neighbor, Peter,* who had been her friend for more than a decade. "I didn't feel an instant draw to him, but I really enjoyed his company," she says. After returning from a monthlong business trip in 2008, she realized she wanted to be with him. She called him when she got home, and "it was 'on' after that."
Today, she and Peter don't have sex as often as she did in her first marriage—they average a few times a month—but she is more emotionally and sexually fulfilled. "Our sex is more fun, wild and passionate," she says.
The Sexpert Assessment: Quality trumps quantity when it comes to sex for some couples. "Having a strong, emotional connection can make sex—however sporadic—more satisfying," Dr. Birndorf says. Part of the reason Susan and Peter have such an intense bond in bed is that they are good friends, as well as being lovers. To encourage or rekindle that kind of a connection, Dr. Birndorf suggests, do something new together (e.g., learn how to paddleboard). "Sharing a new adventure, however small, will make you feel closer, and that can translate into greater intimacy in bed," she explains.
Mike Harrington/Getty Images
Once a Month
Growing up, Charlotte,* 39, had never been comfortable with her sexuality. When she married her husband, Paul,* 13 years ago, she blamed their infrequent lovemaking on their busy schedules and hormones. A year in, she started seeing a therapist and eventually realized that she held a deep-seated belief that "good" wives aren't supposed to be sexy—an issue she still struggles with. Through it all, her love for her husband, and his for her, hasn't faltered.
They do it every month or so and are affectionate otherwise—hugging, kissing and cuddling. He expresses disappointment sometimes, and she continues trying to increase her sex drive. The latest? Pole- dancing classes. They boosted her confidence so much that she installed a pole in her house. "I'm less embarrassed being sexy for my husband," she says.
The Sexpert Assessment: When your libidos are so disparate, it's essential to have an open dialogue about sex and to be up-front about what you're willing to work on and compromise on. According to Dr. Birndorf, the couple's relationship is sustainable because both make concessions for the sake of their relationship: Charlotte is committed to exploring her sexuality, and Paul accepts doing it less often than he'd like.
Betsie Van De Meer/Getty Images
A Few Times a Year
About six months before Kathy,* 37, and Tom,* 38, got married, she noticed that they were having sex less than they normally did (once or twice a week). Only natural, she figured, given the stress of planning a wedding. But the amount has continued to dwindle over the past nine years, and they haven't had sex since the birth of their second child last summer.
Kathy is quick to say how much she still loves Tom, but sex is so rare, she can catalog almost every encounter going to back to 2007—fewer than a dozen times to date. When she makes overtures, Tom says he's too tired or the timing isn't right. Talking about it only seems to make him depressed. "He'll say, 'I know. It's my fault. I'll work on it.'" She longs for physical passion and to be desired sexually. "I don't want to leave him," she says. "But I need a husband, not just a roommate."
The Sexpert Assessment: Low libido has been cast as a female issue, but a surprising number of men suffer from it, too, according to Mary Jo Rapini, a sex psychotherapist in Houston. The causes vary from hormone levels to stress; counseling can help suss out the source. Tom's sensitivity about the topic is not uncommon, either. "Guys feel as if they've lost a part of their masculinity, and they get defensive talking about it," Rapini explains. To get someone like Tom to see a therapist, Rapini suggests, reframe your request as a mutual effort ("Let's go so we can both learn the skills we need to improve our relationship").
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