Sex Question Friday: How Often Do Married Couples Have Sex?

Every Friday on the blog, I answer people’s questions about sex, love, and relationships. This week’s question comes from a reader who wanted to know the following:

“Is there any good data on how often married people have sex, on average, at different ages, or at different stages of their marriage? Or how often, for example, on average, married people in the 40s have sex? I am sure there is an immense range of variation here, but it would help to have some kind of reference point, at least, for gauging where in the spectrum one's own experiences lie. And I think this must be a fairly urgent question for a fairly large number of people, especially in marriages where there is a significant desire gap between the two partners.” 

Thanks for this question. There is definitely some data that can speak to it; however, it is important to keep in mind that most research looking at frequency of sex in marriage has looked very specifically at frequency of penile-vaginal intercourse within heterosexual marriages. As a result, we do not know quite as much about frequency of other sexual activities (e.g., oral sex) or how the frequency of those acts might vary for married partners of the same sex vs. those of different sexes.

That said, let’s take a look at some data from the National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior (NSSHB) [1,2]. The NSSHB was conducted in 2009 and involved a nationally representative U.S. sample of over 5,000 adults. In the table below, you can see the frequency of penile-vaginal intercourse reported by married men and women of different ages.

NOTE: the data in this table only reflect frequency of Vaginal intercourse for married individuals

NOTE: the data in this table only reflect frequency of Vaginal intercourse for married individuals

As you can see, there is quite a bit of variation when it comes to frequency of vaginal intercourse; however, there is a distinct pattern with age, such that older married folks tend to report intercourse less often than younger married folks. 

To answer your specific question about married people in their 40s, it appears that about half are having sex a few times per month, whereas the other half are split between those who are having sex more often and those who are having sex less often. In other words, the sex lives of married couples in their 40s spans quite a wide range!

One last thing I would like to mention about these data is that you should not look at them as a gauge for how much sex you “should” be having. The appropriate frequency of sex for a given couple depends upon how much sex is mutually desired within that relationship. Of course, as you mentioned in your question, “desire gaps” do sometimes occur, which sex therapists generally referr to as “sexual desire discrepancies.” To learn more about sexual desire discrepancies and ways of resolving them, check out this article.

For previous editions of Sex Question Friday, click here. To send in a question for a future edition, click here.

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[1] Herbenick, D., Reece, M., Schick, V., Sanders, S.A., Dodge, B., & Fortenberry, J.D. (2010). Sexual behaviors, relationships, and perceived health status among adult women in the United States: Results from a national probability sample. The Journal of Sexual Medicine7(s5), 277-290.

[2] Reece, M., Herbenick, D., Schick, V., Sanders, S.A., Dodge, B., & Fortenberry, J.D. (2010). Sexual behaviors, relationships, and perceived health among adult men in the United States: Results from a national probability sample. The Journal of Sexual Medicine7(s5), 291-304.

Image Source: iStockphoto.com

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