Married sex

Alexandra Fine, Credentialed Sexologist, M. Psych | Written by Dame

In today’s more sensitive and respectful world, you don’t hear them as often.

For decades, though, it was rare to attend a wedding without hearing at least a few jokes about marriage and sex.

“What food causes a woman’s sex drive to drop by 95%?” “Wedding cake.”
“How does a man satisfy his wife in bed after the honeymoon?” “By sleeping on the couch.”

Those jokes were actually grounded in beliefs that are still commonly held today – even if they’re no longer proper to voice in public settings.

But what’s the real story? Does married sex really become an afterthought after the glow wears off? Or is that just a myth?

Let’s find out.

Frequency of Sex among Married Couples

One of the most important historical studies of married sex looked at data from the National Survey of Families and Households, conducted between the years 1987 and 1983. It showed that the frequency of marital sex declined as partners grew older.

Several of the factors that explained the less frequent sex were the arrival of children, worsening health, and “habituation to sex” – in other words, and in findings bolstered by supporting research, people who’ve had more sex often find it less rewarding. In fact, the study found that the biggest drop off in a couple’s sex life is likely to be between their wedding day and their first anniversary; the frequency declines more slowly after that.

But the research found that the most important factor that leads to less sex in a marriage is biological age.

Why would that happen? Aside from the issues we’ve already mentioned, there are also potential roadblocks like career demands, lower hormone levels, and possible sexual dysfunction.

Does that mean it’s inevitable for married people to see their level of sexual activity fall off a cliff after they’re no longer newlyweds? Not necessarily.

The data also show that married couples who’d lived together before making it official, and those who were on their second (or third, or fourth) marriage, were likely to have more sex than their counterparts. Researchers speculate that those who “cohabitate” first are sexually more adventurous, and that those who remarry do so – at least in part – because they’ve found a more satisfying sexual relationship.

One other analysis of the data shows an additional factor to consider: the quality of a couple’s relationship enhances sexual intimacy. That supports other findings that satisfying sex among married couples, at least in the first few years, is directly related to perceptions of marital well-being like affirmation and lack of tension.

Affirmation and lack of tension seem like smart goals for marriage partners, particularly if they’ll lead to a good sex life. But is there more you can do to maintain (or even increase) the amount and quality of sex in a marriage?

Of course there is. But first, there’s one key question to ask.

Is Less Sex Really a Problem?

One positive note before we begin this discussion: some studies have found that, on average, married people actually have more sex than unmarried ones. That makes sense on an intuitive level; many of those who aren’t married don’t have “access” to a regular partner, while others find themselves only having brief sexual encounters for physical and not emotional reasons.

These statistics don’t mean, however, that married couples are getting it on regularly. Research shows that married couples had sex an average of about 60 times per year in the early 1990s, but that number dropped to around 53 times per year in 2014.

Is that enough? As you might expect, it depends on the couple. Some partners are completely satisfied with less-frequent sex but lots of cuddling and hanging out. There are also couples, particularly as they grow older, who are fine with a loving but sexless marriage.

For married couples who aren’t on the same wavelength when it comes to lovemaking, though, finding a solution that works for both sides can be crucial.

Research regularly shows that satisfaction with a marriage and sexual satisfaction within the marriage are positively associated with each other. So for most couples, satisfaction with the marriage leads to more sex, and good sex leads to a happier marriage.

That doesn’t always require increasing the number of times you jump into bed with each other. One important series of studies found that, for example, married couples having sex more than once a week aren’t necessarily happier and more satisfied than those who do it once a week or less. Everyone has different needs and desires – if you think the frequency is right, then it’s right for you. Increased frequency doesn’t always lead to increased happiness.

But quite often, the sex drive of one partner is far stronger than the other’s sexual desires. Sex therapists find that to be one of the biggest issues they’re asked to tackle.

Here are some of their suggestions.

Married Sex: Improving Frequency and Satisfaction

There’s no tried-and-true formula for increasing satisfaction and frequency of sex in a marriage. However, there are approaches which have worked well for an enormous number of couples.

  1. Be more affectionate. Studies have shown that partners who are more affectionate with each other are likely to experience improvements in their mood and their overall well-being – and they’re more likely to have great sex more often.
  2. Carve out some sexy time as a change of pace. We’re not referring to Borat’s explicit definition of sexy time; we’re talking about getting away from the sometimes “unsexy” day-to-day rigors of work, cleaning, child care and bills, to focus on connection, mutual attraction and fun.

    Recreating the more carefree times in your relationship – whether it’s with regular date nights, candles and champagne, or a night away in a hotel – can bring back the mindset that left you (and your partner) turned on and ready for the best sex ever.
  3. Don’t rewrite history, though, to misremember that single sex was always “better.” And it’s certainly not true that married sex can only be improved by moving it “out of the house.” Shared experiences and intimacy often create a lasting personal bond which can make sex much more rewarding than the first time you and your partner made love (or hooked up). How do you translate that bond into great sex? Communication.

    Many spouses hide their sexual needs, desires, likes and dislikes (for example, more foreplay before penetration or a greater willingness to experiment in bed) from each other. It’s often because of embarrassment, or fear of offending their partner. But research shows that when they communicate more openly about sex, couples find their sex lives improve dramatically – and believe it or not, they fake orgasm less often.
  4. Affection, better communication and sexy time can all help improve sexual satisfaction and frequency in marriage. There’s no question, however, that monogamy can lead to boredom in bed, potentially causing one or both partners to look for satisfaction outside the marriage.

    A more varied sexual diet often relieves that boredom. Sex educators say that the use of sex toys can play an key role, and the most commonly-suggested toys are vibrators. There are many different types of vibrators; they can provide stimulation of different and/or multiple erogenous zones, they can be used by one or both partners – and importantly, they provide a shared sexual experience leading to greater intimacy and communication.

    There’s one other big reason why vibrators are the best choice for married couples. Research has shown that vibrator use is a reliable predictor of sexual satisfaction in both vulva-havers and penis-havers.

    And what better motivator is there to have more sex with your spouse, than sexual satisfaction?

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