Rethinking Your Lousy Sex Life

The following are highlights from an article in Men’s Health Magazine (May 2016) on the frequency of sex within a relationship and what this frequency could mean.

Stated simply, a low frequency of sex in a relationship, while previously thought to be a universal “bad” sign of the health of the relationship, may not necessarily be a bad sign.

The article explains a number of why and a number of situations that cause the frequency of sex in a relationship to drop.  So…if this is happening to you, take heart.  You are not alone.  You may still need assistance in increasing your intimacy but there is comfort in numbers, you are not alone.

Take a look…….


“How often are you supposed to have sex in a healthy marriage?  I immediately say you’re thinking about sex wrong – there’s no magic number for any given couple.” Brian Willoughby, Ph.D.

Fine, but what if this not-so-magic number is slouching perilously close to zero?  This can’t be healthy, right?  Wrong – it can, say the researchers and the therapists who listen to stories of low-sex marriages.  It just happens, though few couples will admit it except in therapy sessions, says sex therapist Stephanie Buehler, Psy.D.

Few are confessing to researchers either.  Nonetheless, two major studies have made educated guesses: Somewhere around one in six American marriages are “sexless,” depending on how that term is defined.  One study found that 16 percent of married couples hadn’t had sex in the month prior to being contacted for the National Survey of Families and Households.  And another study by University of Chicago sociologist Edward Laumann, a leading researcher in his field, concluded that about 14 percent of married men and 15 percent of married women had had little or no sex within the previous year.

If you’re squirming with recognition, maybe you should relax.  It’s possible that sex droughts are hitting younger couples these days, but generally, if you’ve settled into a comfortable pattern, your therapist would nod understandingly.  It’s called married life.  Infrequent sex may be a vestige of our evolutionary past, when sexual shutdown naturally occurred in what is now early middle age.  Then there’s passion-sapping 21st century life: work, distractions, children, stress, medication, porn, and that murky cocktail of exhaustion and indifference.  All of this can conspire to make both of you roll over and fall asleep without even thinking about sex – except, foolishly, to compare yourself to everyone else, who you’re sure is having more than you………..

Laumann says, “Only 5 percent are having sex four or more times a week.”  Fully one-third of people 18-59 have sex less than once a month (or not at all because they lack a partner).  For another third, it’s about once a week, and for the rest maybe twice a week or a bit more.

Moreover, Laumann thinks rates of sexual inactivity have remained steady over recent decades.  Some problems have persisted since the invention of marriage: health disorders that make sex impossible, loss of desire, and relationship conflicts that douse smoldering embers.

All expected.  What may be new is that these troubles are starting sooner, among couples in their 20s and 30s, some therapists report.  Their frequency is dropping to a rate where we feel like they’re sexually inactive.  Desire has dropped too.  “I’m seeing it in young, attractive, energetic people in their 30s who should be f*#@!ing like bunnies,” says sex therapist Isadora Alman.  “they’ve got a roof over their head.  They don’t have any major problems in their lives; but they’re just not interested”…………..

…In a relationship, women and men say sex fosters emotional closeness and mutual affection, helping solidify their commitment.  Less lovey-dovey facts:  A woman may initiate sex to keep her husband satisfied (and deplete his sperm count), preventing him from impregnating rivals.  A man may subconsciously do something similar – overwhelming any rival’s semen with frequent copulation.  Both sexes report a host of other less-than-lofty motives for having sex – an affair to punish a partner, or for money, social status, or job promotion.

Given all this, sexual frequency isn’t necessarily a good barometer of relationship health, says UT Austin’s Daniel Conroy-Beam, Ph.D©.  “Human long-term mating is about much more than just sex, and our motives for having sex are not always good,” he says.  “Sometimes we have sex not because we want to but out of obligation, duty, or fear of losing our partner.  If the decline in sexual frequency within a marriage is driven by a decline in these more negative emotions, it’s possible this might even be a good thing for the state of the marriage.”

So what’s ailing American sex lives?  Let’s have a look.

Your Past

Walking around with our Pleistocene-epoch genes can be tough, especially on a college campus.  “The average college freshman sees more attractive females in a single day than our hominid ancestors saw in an entire lifetime,” says UT Austin psychology professor David Buss, Ph.D.

Combine this with social media and dating apps, and mate choice seems limitless.  Willoughby, an assistant professor at Brigham Young University’s School of Family Life, says today’s 20-somethings are showing anxiety, “terrified about making a mistake.  There’s this pressure to pick the perfect person who will make them happy and fulfilled for the remainder of their lives.”

So sow your wild oats and get it out of your system, right?  Maybe not.  Willoughby’s research has found that the more pre-marriage partners people have, the lower the sexual quality, communication, and relationship stability is during marriage.  Possible reasons:  The more relationships you’ve had, the easier it is to cut and run; skills like communication and compromise aren’t developed.

This can lead to the “comparison effect”.  If you were once a player, “it’s easy to compare in your mind all these previous experiences you’ve had,” he says.  This sense of missing out can erode sexual satisfaction with your long-term partner.

Plus, we’re living unimaginably longer than our ancestors did.  “Even 200 years ago,” Buehler says, “people married young, had kids young, and were dead by the time they hit 40.  Today, we’re outliving the natural life of our hormones.”

Modern men can procreate decades longer.  Or pretend they can.  Which brings us to the cast to thousands of imaginary partners in today’s pornography.  This may affect marital relations – a bit.  “We do have enough research now to suggest a weak negative relationship between viewing pornography and relational and marital sexual satisfaction,” Willoughby says.  “It’s not strong, but it’s there.”

The negative tug, so to speak:  It’s about expectations.  The porn star is “willing to do anything and everything the male partner wants her to, and taking great pleasure in doing so,” Willoughby says.  “After watching all these clips, he starts thinking, “Gosh, why is my wife not in the mood?  Why is she saying she’s too tired or she had a long day?”


“Kids are the most effective libido squashers I know of,” says Alman.  Wee ones have a tendency to hang on to their caregivers like monkeys, providing so much physical touch that the last thing you want is more groping from a partner.

Touch, notes Fisher, releases oxytocin, further bonding parent to child while temporarily suppressing dopamine and libido.  Breastfeeding and general exhaustion can further deplete desire.  In one study, Laumann surveyed women in their 20s about their desire for sex.  In those without children under six, 34 percent reported no interest; in those with kids, the number soared to more than 95 percent.

A man may find himself at the end of the queue for affection.  It’s easy for him to feel unappreciated and even a smidge resentful, says Alman.  Buehler says it’s not surprising “that couples with children under age 5 have the least sex and report more sexual dissatisfaction than any other group.”

The recent trend toward delaying pregnancy may further exacerbate all this, Buehler says – obviously, parents in their 30s and 40s are not as energetic as they once were.


If both partners work, finding time to be intimate can be hard.  In a time crunch, sex may not be a priority, a study in the Journal of Marriage and Family reports.  Different shifts, child care, aging parents:  These stressors can trigger a cascading hormonal response that can affect libido…….

Another huge bedroom buzzkill:  A whopping 11 percent of Americans take antidepressant medications.  Alas, research shows that these drugs can cause and worsen many forms of sexual dysfunction, from fading libido to the inability to climax to “emotional blunting.”  Though these medications can smooth out the emotional lows, they also seem to cap the highs, putting the brakes on sexual excitement, passion, and maybe even love……………………


If you’re thinking about leaving this article on your wife’s nightstand, hold off.  Take a moment:  Is anything truly broken?  If both of you are okay with your sexual frequency, be it nonstop, middling, low, or none, then from  Alman’s point of view there really is no problem.  “If you’re happy and your partner is happy, those are the only votes that count,” she says……

“The reality is that more couples live happy lives, even with no sex between them, than most people would imagine,” adds Alman.

Even sexually active couples should resist the urge to compare.  When researchers at the University of Colorado asked more than 15,000 people about their sex lives, they did find a link between sexual frequency and happiness.  But that happiness was relative:  If people knew their peers were having more sex than they were, their happiness dipped……………


Discord often has less to do with the frequency than with a discrepancy between how often each partner wants it.  A partner who is feeling sex-deprived can wonder if a mate’s lack of interest is evidence that the love is gone.

Both partners should acknowledge that dry spells happen.  “It is completely normal for a couple’s sex life to have peaks and troughs,” says Buehler.  “The important thing is to discuss the troughs.  Do you both understand why sexual frequency has slid – the birth of a child, perhaps, or the innless of a parent?  If so, accept it and make a pledge to get back on track when the period of extra strain has passed.”

Clients roll their eyes at one of Buehler’s suggestions for kick-starting sex: scheduling it.  “They resist the hell out of doing this because they want to be ‘spontaneous.’  I say good luck with that.”………………

It’s better to plan to share pleasurable experiences with your partner without necessarily making intercourse the goal.  “Our desire to initiate sex itself diminishes more quickly than our capacity for pleasure,” Tamar Krishnamurti, Ph. D., of Carnegie Mellon University, explains.  “Focusing on creating pleasurable experiences may allow an increase in sexual intercourse frequency to happen more naturally.”

Alman adds: “Sex doesn’t always have to equal penis-in-vagina intercourse.  Cuddling, kissing, and rubbing against each other in ways that are pleasurable and can result in orgasm to either or both, or maybe no orgasm but certainly pleasure.  Aren’t these sex too?  In my book they are.”  And don’t discount the power of affectionate touch.  One study found that the more cuddling, kissing on the lips, and hugging couples engaged in, the more easily they were able to resolve their conflicts………..



Source:  Irwin Goldstein, M.D., Director of Sexual Medicine, Alvarado Hospital Medical Center, San Diego, Men’s Health Magazine, May 2016