Don’t get us wrong: Sex is a normal, healthy, fun part of adult life. In fact, 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 could be the sign of a problem. So how much sex is ideal, and how much is too much?
Research suggests that, for people in relationships, having sex is linked to greater well-being and happiness. But more doesn’t equate with better. People having sex twice a week aren’t any happier than people having it once a week. (Don’t worry, they’re not less happy either.)
Which leads to the question: Is it possible that doing the deed too much can interfere with a happy, healthy life?
If a rabid sexual appetite isn’t related to a new infatuation, it could be part of a more serious issue.
If your sexual impulses feel out of control, or you’re having sex to avoid feeling lonely or depressed, or you’re having sex despite risky consequences (like contracting a sexually transmitted infection (STI) or losing a partner), this might be the sign of a problem.
Sex obsession — sometimes called hypersexuality, compulsive sexual behavior, or sex addiction — is a murky topic. Some research supports the idea that sex addiction is a psychiatric disorder, but other reports suggest the subject is still up for debate.
A study published in 2013 suggests that much of the time, hypersexuality is really just high desire and not necessarily a disorder.
Regardless, if sex is being used as a substitute for dealing with a real issue, it’s time to consult a doctor or therapist that specializes in the area of sexual health.
The Mayo Clinic suggests asking yourself these questions to help you decide whether to seek professional help:
- Can I manage my sexual impulses?
- Am I distressed by my sexual behaviors?
- Is my sexual behavior hurting my relationships, affecting my work, or resulting in negative consequences, such as getting arrested?
- Do I try to hide my sexual behavior?
At the end of the day, it comes down to quality over quantity. Having sex daily doesn’t mean it’s too much, as long as both partners are into it and no one’s getting hurt.
But if you’re having a lot of sex and one person feels more satisfied than the other (read: is having more orgasms), sex can start to feel like a chore for the less-satisfied party.
According to recent research, Americans in their 20s had sex an average of about 80 times per year, and those in their 60s about 20 times per year.
]. So if that’s average, what’s healthy?
Sexual behavior expert Barry McCarthy, PhD, suggests that once or twice a week makes for a healthy sex life. But during the infatuation stage (aka the honeymoon stage, when two people can’t stop thinking about each other), you might have sex every chance you can get.
But keep in mind, with all that action, sex can get a bit uncomfortable. After all, vaginas don’t stay lubricated eternally. If you’re having pain or numbness, it’s smart to call it quits for the night. And keep a bottle of lubricant on hand for rough or marathon sessions.
Not only can lube make for more comfortable sex, it can help prevent condoms from breaking.
Of course, there’s no right way to go about sex, and the preferred amount varies from person to person. For a fulfilling sex life that’s just right, it’s helpful to be honest and open with your partner about how frequently you’d like to be getting it on.
And that doesn’t mean it needs to be a boring discussion. Telling your partner about your desires — in specific terms — can be highly erotic. In fact, some research shows that couples who communicate about sex are more sexually satisfied and happier in their relationships.
In fact, greater sexual communication has been associated with more frequent orgasms for women.
As unsexy 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.
That said, if you ever feel overwhelmed by the kind or amount of sex you’re having, stand up for yourself. According to Planned Parenthood, pressuring someone to have sex or do something sexually they don’t want to do is a form of abuse called sexual coercion.
Don’t stay quiet if you feel uncomfortable. And if your partner’s not receptive to your asking for them to chill a little, talk to someone who can help or walk away. Sexual coercion is no joke.
Having sex on the regular is part of a healthy, normal adult life. But when sex gets in the way of your day-to-day, it might be time to seek professional help from a doctor or therapist. The American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors, and Therapists (AASECT) offers a nationwide directory of certified therapists who specialize in human sexuality.
Our appetites for sex grow and shrink, and successful couples need to manage those ups and downs. Sometimes libidos will match up, but when they don’t, we need to take responsibility for our sexuality by enjoying ourselves by ourselves. The answer may lie in our very own hands.