Most couples and individuals who come into sex therapist Tammy Nelson’s office want to know the same thing: Is my sex life with my partner normal?
“They want to know if they are having enough sex, the right kind of sex, if their partner wants too much sex,” Nelson, a sexologist and the author of The New Monogamy, said. “Sometimes, they’re worried that they should be doing something totally different in bed.”
In response, Nelson usually tells people the same thing.
“Forget about ‘normal.’ ‘Normal’ is a setting on the washing machine, nothing more. What’s most important is that you learn to have empathy for your partner and accept whatever their needs might be, even if they are different than your own,” she explained.
Below, Nelson and other sex therapists share the advice they give couples concerned about their sex lives (or lack thereof).
Stop worrying about how often other couples are doing it.
Forgot about keeping up with the Jones’ very active sex life: Each couple has a “norm” when it comes to sex and that’s what you should be concerned about, said Dawn Michael, a sexologist and the author of My Husband Won’t Have Sex With Me.
“If a couple had sex three times a week for many years and it’s now down to once a week, the pattern has changed and the frequency has gone down,” she said. “We focus on that in our conversation.”
But Michael also stresses that when it comes to sex, there is no magic number ― and most couples who say they’re getting it on all the time are fibbing.
“A lot of couples will say they have sex three times a week, but from what I see in my private practice, that number does not correlate with the truth.”
What’s normal for you now won’t be what’s normal for you in a few years.
What matters more than finding a nationwide average is determining how sexually satisfied you are at this point in your life, said Chris Rose, sex educator at the website Pleasure Mechanics.
“Your shared sex life is a constant navigation between the tides of your libido, your time and energy, and mutual desire to prioritize sex,” she said. “Frequent conversations about your sex life ― and increasing the amount of affectionate touch you share outside of the bedroom ― may actually be the most important factors in a long-term sexually satisfying relationship.”
Don’t lose hope if you’re the partner with the higher sex drive.
Someone needs to maintain an interest in your sex life. Otherwise, you might end up in a dead bedroom situation, said Ian Kerner, a sex therapist and New York Times-bestselling author of She Comes First: The Thinking Man’s Guide to Pleasuring a Woman.
As he points out, sex isn’t always spontaneous; sometimes, kick starting your sex life requires focusing on arousal over orgasms and just enjoying the moment and the buildup.
“I tell couples that for many people, sexual desire doesn’t emerge at the start of sex, but more toward the middle,” he said. “You need to commit to generating some kind of arousal (through kissing, making out, dancing, reading erotica or watching porn) that may lead to desire. Be willing to generate arousal and see where it goes.”
If you’re the partner with the lower sex drive, determine if there’s a reason.
If you’re the partner who is less interested in sex, there’s no need to feel shame, said Celeste Hirschman, a sex therapist and the co-author of Making Love Real: The Intelligent Couple’s Guide to Lasting Intimacy and Passion. Desire discrepancy in relationships is more common than most people realize.
As Hirschman’s co-author Danielle Harel explains, if you want things to change, you have to be willing to deep dive into why you’re disinterested in sex. It could be that you’re experiencing physical and hormonal fluctuations and intercourse is painful ― or maybe you’re just tired of doing the same ol’ thing in the bedroom.
“Sometimes, the lower sex drive partner might not be getting the kind of sex they want or they might be feeling too much pressure from their partner which makes them feel obligated,” Harel said. “Feeling obligated to have sex is definitely not sexy.”
Remember: Good sex can’t be quantified.
At the end of the night, when you’re laying in bed with your partner, don’t stare at the ceiling and wonder if your sex life is “normal” compared to others. Be proactive: Reach out to your S.O. and talk about what both of you want in the bedroom, Nelson said.
“Try new things,” she said. “Snuggle more, masturbate, negotiate an open relationship if you’re into that, but make sure you always talk about what is important to you,” she said. “Never silently seethe or hold resentment.”
She added: “The secret to a satisfying sex life is not just getting the sex that you want, it’s learning how to give your partner what they want, too.”