Photo purchased from iStock, used with permission. But whatever the fear , whether too much or not enough, the individuals who pose these questions typically feel a considerable amount of stress and anxiety about what they view as a potentially unhealthy sexual life.
That, dear readers, is a bit of a loaded question. Some of the most methodically obtained data and therefore the most likely to be accurate is provided by the General Social Survey , which has tracked American sexual behaviors since the early s. The GSS suggests that married couples have sex approximately 58 times per year.
Other information provided by the GSS more helpfully suggests that couples in their 20s have sex an average of times per year, and that the frequency of sex drops approximately 20 percent per decade as couples get older. Are you counting decades and percentages on your fingers right now? I analyzed data from the General Social Survey, a classic research site. Heterosexual men 18 and over say that they average 63 sex acts per year, using a condom in 23 percent of them.
This adds up to more than 1. Heterosexual women say they average 55 sex acts per year, using a condom in 16 percent of them. This adds up to about 1. Who is telling the truth, men or women? According to Nielsen, fewer than million condoms are sold every year. Apparently people tend to lie when asked about sex—even when asked by anonymous scientific researchers such as those employed by the GSS. Who would have ever guessed?
So, again, what constitutes normal? Interestingly, the diagnostic criteria for the two issues are extremely similar. So why have two? Essentially, whether male or female, a lack of sexual activity or interest is pathologized if and when: Sexual disinterest lasts for six months or longer.
Sexual disinterest causes significant distress to the individual—stress, anxiety, depression , fear, etc. Sexual disinterest is not attributable to an external factor such as substance abuse , side effects of medication , a medical condition, or severe relationship trauma as occurs with domestic violence , for instance.
Notice that even the DSM-5 does not give a specific number of sexual encounters that makes a person undersexed. Nor should it be, because sexual frequency is an individual preference. Neither person should be pathologized for this difference. The point that I am trying to make here is that either way—lots of sex or very little—there is no need to panic.
Yes, you may be having sex much more often than you think is normal whatever that is , but this does not make you hypersexual , nor does having sex infrequently or not at all make you clinically undersexed and in need of psychotherapeutic treatment. If either of these extremes is causing you significant distress, of course, and if hearing the facts about sexual frequency such as they are does not help to alleviate your distress, you may want to seek professional assistance.
On the other hand, if the simple realization that you are probably more "normal" than you thought diminishes your stress and anxiety, then you should proceed accordingly.
One overarching factor that science is just beginning to explore is the difference between physical sexual arousal and the desire to actually have sex. Now we are finding that this is not in fact the case, particularly for women , who, generally speaking, need to feel not just physical arousal but an emotional connection before they fully desire sex.
In other words, physical arousal is not always enough. Many men do, too. Interestingly, this realization has recently spawned a new genre of sexuality identifiers.
Regardless of the terminology, there are growing numbers of people who freely accept that it is perfectly okay to have little or no interest in sexual activity. So where are you on the spectrum of sexual?
And does the answer really matter? The simple truth is that human sexuality cuts a wide swath in terms of what people like to do, how often they like to do it, and who they like to do it with if anyone at all. Further, these desires, especially as they relate to sexual frequency, can be significantly influenced by all sorts of internal and external factors—age, physical health , psychological wellbeing, emotional intimacy, medications, substance abuse , grief , work, financial stress, hormonal imbalances, etc.
And there is nothing inherently wrong with any of this. And in cases where the issue is not physical in nature , there are plenty of therapists who specialize in helping individuals heal from sexual issues.