Couples often ask me how frequently they should be having sex, and, until recently, I’ve always responded that there’s no one right answer. After all, a couple’s sex life is affected by so many different factors: age, lifestyle, each partner’s health and natural libido and, of course, the quality of their overall relationship to name just a few.
So while there may be no one right answer to the question of how often couples should have sex, lately I’ve somewhat been less equivocal and advising couples to try to do it at least once a week. I’ve seen an increase in sex ruts and low-desire relationships due to a number of factors:
- The stress of the recession and the toll it’s taking on relationships
- Couples are too busy and too tired for sex
- The side effects of many medications which inhibit desire (especially anti-depressants in the SSRI family)
- The easy access to Internet porn
- The rise in obesity and other health/lifestyle issues that dampen libido
Sex seems to be rapidly falling to the bottom of America’s to-do list but, in my experience, when couples stop having sex their relationships become vulnerable: to anger, detachment, infidelity and, ultimately, divorce. I believe that sex matters: It’s the glue that keeps us together and, without it, couples become “good friends” at best or “bickering roommates” at worst.
Beyond the fact that sex is fun and free and enables couples to stay tuned in and turned on, what are some other reasons to do it this week?
- Sex rejuvenates you, relieves stress, boosts immunity, releases feel-good chemicals called endorphins, and—in men—improves prostate health.
- A healthy sex life may even make you a superstar at the office: Recent research by biological anthropologist Helen Fisher, Ph.D,. suggests that people who enjoy regular sex may be more successful at work, possibly because sex can increase confidence and increase self-esteem.
So go ahead and break that rut! Sex is a little like exercise. Once we stop doing it, it’s easy to get stuck in a slump, but once we get back on track, we remember how much we missed it. The old adage “use it or lose it” has some truth. So does my suggestion, “try it, you’ll like it.” It’s easy to forget how much fun sex can be, and just having sex once a week will put you back in a regular groove.
And if you’re stuck in a sex rut, think about the following:
1. Exercise and eat right. Your sexual health is connected to your overall health, and it’s no surprise that people who have sex more frequently are also healthier overall. If you’re too tired for sex, it probably means you’re too tired in other areas as well, and that you’re not taking care of yourself as much as you should be.
2. Minimize stress. Not only does stress release cortisol, which inhibits testosterone, but studies have also shown that for a woman to want to have sex (and to enjoy it) parts of the female brain associated with outside stressors need to deactivate. So figure out what’s stressing you out and put together a plan with your partner to deal with it.
3. Turn off (your computers), so you have some time to tune in to your partner and turn on. When you look at all of the precious time that gets sucked up by Facebook, surfing the Web, and email, no wonder you’re plopping into bed exhausted and spent.
4. Give your partner a hug. Non-sexual physical intimacy builds a foundation for sexual desire. Studies show that a 20-second hug raises oxytocin levels. Oxytocin is also known as the “cuddle hormone” and facilitates a sense of love and connection, especially in women. Most couples don’t take the time to hug at all, much less for 20 seconds.
In the end, remember, if you want to have a satisfying sex life, you have to have the sort of relationship that supports your sex life. Studies show that the difference between those relationships that succeed and those that fail is the ability to have a high ratio of positive to negative interactions. It’s actually believed that the ratio should be 5 to 1 — five positive interactions for every negative one. Of course, you can’t go through life tallying every interaction, but you can know whether you’re fundamentally in positive or negative territory and start swinging the pendulum back to where it belongs.