Maybe you’ve skipped dinner and gone straight for dessert before, but if you’re skipping meals (and other vital things) to have sex instead, you might be having too much of it. While science suggests sex can improve mood and decrease anxiety by reducing stress signals in the brain, it’s possible doing the deed can interfere with leading a healthy life Pleasurable behaviors reduce stress via brain reward pathways. Ulrich-Lai, Y.M., Christiansen, A.M., Ostrander, M.M., et al. Departments of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neruoscience and Internal Medicine, University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, OH. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 20120, Nov 23;107(47): 20529-20534. .
Don’t get us wrong—sex is a normal, healthy, fun part of adult life. In fact, Greatist Expert Ian Kerner says sexual attraction and sexual compatibility are the basis of many successful relationships. Thinking with our nether regions may be natural, but continually acting on those thoughts while the laundry piles up for weeks may be a sign of a sexy-time dilemma. So how much sex is ideal, and how much is too much?
Sex Rx—What's the Deal?
Let’s break down the deets between the sheets. According to the Kinsey Institute, 18- to 29-year-olds have sex an average of 112 times per year, while 30 to 39-year-olds do the deed (on average) 69 times per year (what a relevant number). So if that’s average, what’s healthy?
Kerner says most couples in a relationship should be having sex at least once per week. Couples therapist Dr. Barry McCarthy agrees that once or twice a week makes for a healthy sex life. During the infatuation stage (also known as the honeymoon stage, when two people can’t stop thinking about each other) couples often have sex every time they’re together, Kerner says. And when couples first move in together, the frequency of sex increases (but only temporarily) The impact of the transition to cohabitation on relationship functioning: cross-sectional and longitudinal findings. Rhoades, G.K., Stanley, S.M., Markman, H.J. University of Denver, Department of Psychology, Denver, CO, USA. Journal of Family Psychology. 2012 Jun;26(3):348-58. Epub 2012 Apr 30. .
But with all that, err, gyrating, sex can get a bit uncomfortable. (Let’s just say our bodies can’t stay lubricated eternally.) If there’s pain or numbness, it’s smart to slow down or bag it for the night. Using lubricant can make for more pleasurable sex by cutting down on painful friction, and can actually help ensure safe sex because it makes condoms less likely to break. Whether a marathon or a quickie, sex should be fun, and most definitely shouldn’t cause bodily damage.
Let’s Get It On (But Not Too Much)—The Answer/Debate
It may be a cue to hop out of bed when sex gets in the way of leading a healthy life. Having nookie instead of eating breakfast, lunch, and dinner, or skipping out on the 9-to-5 just because you’d rather shag like Austin Powers can become problematic if it happens on a regular basis. But while some sources maintain that sex addiction is a real thing, a study published in March 2013 suggests that wanting sex all or most of the time isn't a real disorder (regardless of what some celebrities and politicians might have us believe). Regardless, if your sexual habits are getting in the way of day-to-day life, it's best to consult a doctor or therapist.
At the end of the day, it comes down to quality over quantity. Having a ton of sex doesn’t mean it’s too much, so long as both partners enjoy it, Kerner says. But if partners are regularly having sex and one person feels much more satisfied than the other (read: is having more orgasms), sex can start to feel like a daunting chore for the less-satisfied party.
Of course, the tricky thing is that there’s no “right” way to go about sex, and preferred amount can vary from person to person. For a fulfilling sex life that’s juuuuuust right, it’s helpful to be honest and open with your partner(s) about how frequently you’d like to get jiggy with it. One study found that couples who communicate about sex—especially during the act—are more sexually satisfied.
[Also Check Out: How to Have Sex Without Screwing the Environment]
Just remember that compromise is key: Instead of singling one person out for how much or how little they want sex, research suggests that it can be helpful to assess the couple's collective desires and then meet in the middle Gender differences in desire discrepancy as a predictor of sexual and relationship satisfaction in a college sample of heterosexual romantic relationships. Mark, K.P., Murray, S.H., Department of Applied Health Science, Center for Sexual Health Promotion, Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana. Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy. 2012;38(2):198-215. . As funny and un-sexy as it sounds, it may even be smart to schedule sex so the lower libido partner doesn’t feel pressured, and the higher libido partner doesn’t feel rejected Libido: the biologic scenario. Graziottin, A. Menopause Center, H. San Raffaele Resnati, Milan, Italy. Maturitas, 2000 Jan;34 Suppl 1:S9-16. . That said, if you ever feel overwhelmed (either physically or emotionally) by the kind or amount of sex you're having, let your partner know you need a break. Sex can be dangerous if there's any sort of pressure or force to do something with which any party isn't comfortable.
Human, Love Thyself—The Takeaway
Our hunger to get frisky comes and goes, and successful couples need to manage those ups and downs. Sometimes libidos will match up, but when they don't, Kerner says we need to take responsibility for our sexuality by enjoying ourselves by ourselves. “Masturbation is an important aspect to a healthy life. If you have a higher libido, masturbate more,” he says. It seems the answer to our sexual inconsistencies may lie in our own two hands.
Thanks to Greatist Expert Dr. Ian Kerner and Dr. Barry McCarthy for their help with this article.