Not everyone's comfortable talking about their sex life, but knowing what goes on in other people's bedrooms can help us all feel more inspired, curious, and validated in our own experiences. In HG's monthly column Sex IRL, we'll talk to real people about their sexual adventures and get as frank as possible.
If you've ever been in a long-term relationship, it's likely you've probably wondered: Are we having enough sex? It's not easy to quantify abstract metrics in a relationship like compatibility or emotional support, but how often we have sex can be measured and often is. As a result, a couple's sexual frequency can carry a subtle value judgment and used to evaluate if the relationship is going well or if there's cause for concern.
As if that's not enough pressure, our culture also fixates on the notion that more sex equals more happiness. But according to a 2015 study, research shows that having sex once a week seems to be the preferred, magic number for couples to maintain their relational bliss. Having more or less doesn't increase or decrease the benefits, so there's no need to performatively go through the motions to strive for improvements in the relationship. One study that was also published in 2015 says it could have the opposite, unintended effect; pushing to have more sex can actually diminish the enjoyment of intimacy. The researchers recruited some couples to double their frequency of intercourse and reported a decreased correlation in happiness and wanting sex. Time after time, it seems that research shows quality sex trumps quantity.
Another study published in 2019 about women's orgasms found that better communication associates with higher sexual satisfaction. Interestingly enough, speaking openly about intimacy, our preferences, and sexual pleasure can increase relational well-being as much as the physical act of engaging in intercourse itself.
Despite the fact that there isn't a right answer to this eternal age-old question, it still persists as a popular topic for many couples today. We know we should trust our instincts and do what's best for our relationship and address any desire discrepancies head-on. Yet once we commit seriously to a partner and the relationship blooms from passionate love to compassionate love, insecurities can start to set in as the nightly romps fizzle and the relationship anchors around dependability and certainty. Stable, yes. But exciting? Not always. Transitioning away from the honeymoon stage should be a sign of a deepening connection, so why does it still bring so much fear around the relationship losing its spark?
I spoke with seven couples in long-term committed relationships about their sex lives. They share how often they have sex each week, their changing relationship to intimacy, and their satisfaction in their relationship as it stands today. Here's what they told me.
"Over the past year, [depression has] affected my libido and the way that I look at myself."
"We have sex every other week. But to be honest, I would probably like to take a break from it altogether. In the beginning, we used to go wild for each other. It was normal to have sex three to four times a day, easily. We were drunk on affection. She's extremely touchy-touchy and still prefers an active sex life, but I've been depressed.
"Over the past year, it's affected my libido and the way that I look at myself. I don't see myself as attractive and sex comes across as a responsibility. She lovingly paws all over my body all the time trying to get close. I know she's doing it out of a good place but it makes me irritable. I know she connects that way but it makes me feel like I owe her sex… which pushes me away from her even more. My body doesn't feel like my own so it's strange to inhabit it during sex. I would rather be close in different ways right now. I can't help but compare our sex lives to our friends. A lot of people aren't having sex, which makes me feel better, but the few that are sexually active can make me feel bad about myself. But I have to remember they're not dealing with mental illness.
"Intimacy is a really big deal for her and we've had some intense, potentially relationship-changing conversations about it. She just wants more but I don't feel like I can give intimacy without being resentful. I want to do it because I want to, not because I'm feeling forced to. It's tough. It's not about her but because she's around me, she can't help but think it is. I can't blame her either. I'm not doing the best to support her physically the way she needs. We love each other and have a lot of fun together but this problem isn't going away. I'm focusing on my health so things will be better soon. All we can do right now is try to be there in other ways and show up for each other emotionally."
— Woman (29) and woman (37), New York, together 1.5 years
"It wasn't until our third year of dating that I started regularly orgasming."
"We've been together since we were 18. We were each other's first and only sexual partners. After the first time we had sex, we were still shy, so we would only have sex one to three times a month. The frequency has varied throughout our relationship because we were long-distance during some points. Relationship-wise, it was a great time to be apart because I was kicking off my career while he was pursuing his master's degree. We saw this as a major independent growth period because we knew at the end of it, we would have each other for moral support.
"When we lived closer, it built up to three to four days a week. It wasn't until our third year of dating that I started regularly orgasming. In early college, we experimented with anal, which remains a go-to sex position when I'm on my period. I'm a Type A personality so, in the bedroom, we like to play with situations where I'm the sub. I recently learned that I enjoyed being choked and slapped in the face. To avoid conflicts, we've agreed that he can only do it when I ask for it. We definitely believe that our sex life is reflective of our relationship because whenever we hit a milestone, like moving in together or finding a new job, it results in a period of more amazing sex than usual.
"Even though we live together, we have our own hobbies and lives outside of the relationship, which keeps things interesting. We have fun stories to share during the day and are still learning a lot about each other. Now, we're intimate three to four times a week. In terms of satisfaction, we're both at 110%. I attribute that to our very loving and thoughtful relationship. It's been eight years but we are still getting to know each other and communicating new desires every day. We don't compare our sex lives to others and I'm guessing that it's because we're completely satisfied and don't see the need to compare."
— Woman (27) and man (27), California, together eight years.
"Our sex is a lot different than it was ten years ago when we first started dating."
"Over the last ten years, I've been on the pill, had an IUD, switched to condoms, and now we are having unprotected sex to see if we can start a family. Our sex life isn't different regardless of birth control, but now the awareness of it is amplified. We've been trying for two months with no pregnancy and I'm hyper aware of my ovulation window. To relieve that pressure, we decided to just stick to our sex every other day schedule.
"We have a healthy and spontaneous sex life. We're extremely satisfied and our communication about sex is honest and open. I think as I grew up and matured, I learned more about my body and what gives me pleasure and now I'm more comfortable asking for that. We always knew that we had sex three to four times a week, but when I started to see gaps of four to five days without sex, it clicked that they were always in times of stress like a big work project or a tense time during our home renovation. Subsequently, when we are under stress, the sex stops. We can usually get started but our minds and bodies just aren't into it and it fizzles out quickly. Before I started logging how often we had sex in a pregnancy app, I never realized how much we were affected by stress.
"I don't talk about sex often with my friends but we are aware that our work from home jobs are more flexible than most, and we love to capitalize on that! After being so cramped in our apartment during the pandemic, we're actively trying to mix up our sex locations. From every room in the house to outside on the terraces, we're being more creative. While we haven't left the house yet, we're open to finding other discrete outdoor destinations around our city. My husband is bespoke to me. Our sex is a lot different than it was ten years ago when we first started dating. As we continue to change and evolve, I'm sure our sex will too."
— Alex (32) and Ryan (32), Medellin, Columbia, together for 10 years.
"Neither of us feels like we need to be the others' sole source of sexual satisfaction."
"We typically have sex one to two times a week, usually on the weekends. We define sex as any sexual activity that we're doing together, so those times we are intimate doesn't always include penetrative sex. That's helped us have sexual intimacy at a frequency that feels good for both of us. Occasionally, we also masturbate alone during the week which helps remove the pressure to have sex, which can be an inhibitor to my sex drive. Neither of us feels like we need to be the other's sole source of sexual satisfaction.
"If I feel pressured to want sex, I will absolutely not want it. Earlier on, we didn't know how to communicate these things like what we wanted and what we were up for. Now that we can, it removes pressure and helps me want and enjoy sex more. My libido tends to be more responsive. I don't think about sex out of the blue, but when my husband initiates, I gauge if I feel up for sexual interaction. Sometimes we'll start having sex, and I'll realize that I only feel up for clitoral stimulation at the moment, so we'll transition.
"After my partner and I expanded our definition of what sex can look like, our sexual satisfaction has increased a lot. He makes me feel comfortable to communicate exactly what I want at the moment. As a result, we interact sexually more and our sexual interactions are more varied, which we really enjoy. We'll start kissing and it may end in fingering, analingus, oral, or penetrative sex. Or I'll just say that I want to be fingered while using my vibrator but I don't want it to turn into more than that. Both of us have found this arrangement feels really fulfilling. Right now, we both feel very sexually satisfied. By eliminating pressure for every sexual interaction to end with full-blown penetrative sex, I end up wanting sexual interaction more often.
"Exploration and new sexual discoveries bring boosts to my sex drive. When we explore new sex acts, fantasies, or kinks together it often kicks up our sex together. When my husband gave me analingus for the first time, we probably had sex the next four days straight. We also enjoy discussing our fantasies together and getting worked up by the possibilities of what we can explore together—even lightly testing the waters of non-monogamy with online sexting. Feeling completely comfortable to share and sometimes explore our fantasies without shame or judgment helps us feel more sexually energized."
— Kate (27) and Adam (28), Indiana, together for five years.
"I am not satisfied with things as they are."
"My live-in partner and I have not had sex in five years. He is funny, intelligent and treats me with respect but we are more best friends than lovers. Sex with him was always good. I almost always climaxed, but it was always exactly the same. Nothing fancy, just missionary style. I was almost always the initiator, too. He has Type 2 diabetes, which has caused a lot of neuropathic damage so he is impotent. Since the heart attack, he has shown little interest in sexual intimacy of any type. I used to try to initiate sex but gave up because I realized it was too much pressure on him. I am not satisfied with things as they are. He is an amazing man that treats me like a queen, but this queen needs sexual satisfaction!
"It's been really hard on my ego since I've never had a hard time obtaining sex in the past. The rejection and lack of any type of sexual touch have made me feel as if I've lost my sexual appeal. I feel a desperate need to be told that I am beautiful, attractive, and sexy and feel so unsure of myself. This feeling has held me back somewhat from seeking a partner for an affair. He told me last year that he wouldn't blame me if I had an affair, which I'm considering doing, but the pandemic hit so this has been on hold."
— Woman (59) and man (59), California, together for nine years.
"It was the highest of highs until I got pregnant with our first baby."
"I grew up very inexperienced about my own body. I never masturbated and we saved ourselves for marriage. When we got married, I couldn't orgasm and my libido took a huge nosedive. Although we tried so many things and kept having sex once a week, nothing worked. I honestly thought I was broken. I was incredibly frustrated and it stripped me of a lot of my self-esteem. Two years into our marriage, it changed. I'm still not 100% sure what did it, but our sex life went through the roof. We were having sex every single day and I was orgasming daily.
"It was the highest of highs until I got pregnant with our first baby. Sex was the last thing on my mind for those nine months. Ten months after having my first, I got pregnant again, so our sex life has stayed the same for the most part but I've had bouts of postpartum depression and anxiety. I experienced the first time immediately after my oldest was born. Thankfully, the second bout of postpartum depression has been a million times easier than the first. I was put back on antidepressants the day after my second baby was born, and I've only had a few panic attacks since.
"I'm currently 11 months postpartum and our sex life is slowly but surely coming back to life. Although postpartum depression is a lot more manageable now, the fact that we have two kids severely limits the amount of sexy time we can carve out. I'd say that right now, I'm more satisfied with sex, I have a higher libido, and we have sex more frequently than we did the first time I had postpartum depression. We still have sex often, maybe once or twice a week.
"The longer I'm married, the more I realize that there's a lot more to intimacy than sex and touching. I feel a lot closer to him emotionally these days, and it really helps me with my postpartum depression because it forces me out of my limbo and into a place where I have to pause, get out of my head, and think."
— Grace (25) and Daniel (30), Utah, together for seven years.
"I have been taking Prozac for many years and it definitely lowers my libido."
"My husband and I have sex maybe once a week. It is more likely that we have sex every other week. I am totally fine with that, but he would love it if we had sex on a daily basis. I suppose there are quite a few factors that affect our sex life. My husband is in the Navy. He has been serving for over 22 years. We live in a 33-foot Airstream RV. Another factor that affects our sex life is anti-depressant medications.
"I have been taking Prozac for many years and it definitely lowers my libido. Prozac has diminished my desire for sex greatly. I have tried to wean myself off of it. But, honestly, being in a good mental state is just more important to me. I believe that our relationship is fine. It would be better if we had sex more often. With that said, we would have to weigh my mood and how a change without the meds, would affect our relationship negatively. I think that we have played our cards just right in this particular instance.
"Our sex is fantastic when we engage. We have experimented with toys in the bedroom. We both enjoyed it, but only minimally. We have become experts when it comes to each other. We just use ourselves to please one other. We have done dirty talk but after so many years together, it seems inauthentic and we end up laughing. I think the best thing that we can engage in now is spontaneity. We do involve a slight bit of kink on occasion, this is typically when alcohol is involved and we are a bit more relaxed. We know each other quite well after so many years. We used to compare our sex lives to others but at this point in life, we don't that anymore. There aren't many couples that we know that have been together as long as we have."
— Cortney (45) and Jeremiah (40), Virginia, together for 21 years.
Interviews have been condensed and edited for clarity.