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.
What might seem like too much sex to one person may seem like too little to another: (Remember that scene in Annie Hall, in which Woody Allen and Diane Keaton are discussing their sex life, split-screen, with their respective therapists? Asks Woody's therapist, "How often do you sleep together?" To which he responds: "Hardly ever. Maybe three times a week." Meanwhile, Diane Keaton's therapist is asking her the very same question, and she replies, "Constantly. I'd say three times a week.")
Every couple have to find their own middle ground. As my colleague and fellow contributor to Good in Bed, Dr. Gail Saltz, says: "If your sex drives are out of balance, your aim is to meet in the middle, having sex a bit more than one partner likes but probably a bit less than the other likes."
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. That's because I believe that sex ruts are becoming epidemic. Not long ago CNN reported that 40 million Americans are stuck in sexless marriages, and in my own practice I've seen an increase in sex ruts and low-desire relationships due to a number of factors:
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?
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.
Like the Nike ad says, Just do it!