When couples come for sex counseling, many couples express a sense of shame that they are having sexual issues. In our sex-saturated culture, it seems that everyone is having sex all the time, so that it seems unnatural for couples to have sexual difficulties. This often leads to what I call the the “blame and shame game”; a no-win interaction where the couple tries to figure out whose fault it is that they aren’t having the great sex life that they assume everyone else is having.
Some of the couples I see for sex therapy are young couples in the early years of their relationship, some are couples in mid-life with busy careers and children, and some are older couples, but all are concerned that they are not having the kind of intimate relationship they had expected.
We define a no-sex relationship as one where a couple engages in sexual activity less than ten times in a year, while a low sex relationship is sex less than 20 times a year. So, what do we really know about who is having sex, and how much sex? In 2010, researchers at Indiana University conducted one of the most comprehensive studies of sexual behavior to date, surveying almost 6000 men and women between the ages of 14 and 94. Known as the National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior (NSSHB), their report gives us the best information to date about various sex acts, and frequency, by age group.
In all areas, some of the results were surprising. For example, only about one-third of married couples under the age of 30 reported having intercourse more than once a week, while about 15% reported having intercourse not at all to less than once a month in the past year – a no-sex marriage, by our definition. By age 40, that number rose to about 30%, while by their mid-sixties, half of all married couples were in the no-sex category.
At the other end of the scale, about 20% of married couples over 70 years old were having sex about once per week!
Clearly age is not a predictor of sexual activity. Although frequency alone is not the only measure of a great sex life, we know that couples of any age can be having a lot less sex (or a lot more!) than what they think is “normal”. And although not measured in this study, we also know that the amount of sex is not determined by “chemistry”, but by an ability to create a healthy erotic relationship that can last a lifetime.
There is no need for any couple to feel ashamed or embarrassed that they are not having the sexual relationship they would like to have. If you are one of these couples, you can do something about it. If you can’t solve it on your own, get the help you need, so that you can look forward to joining those healthy, happy, frisky 70-year-olds!