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Sex

When Your Partner Wants More (or Less) Sex Than You Do

There is no normal. There is only what’s healthy for you.

Key points

  • There is no right or wrong amount of sex that couples should have.
  • Neither lots of sex nor infrequent sex is an indicator of relationship health or problems.
  • Emotional intimacy—the true source of joy and happiness for most couples—is not contingent on the frequency or type of sex a couple is having.
Shutterstock, Kudryashova Vera
Source: Shutterstock, Kudryashova Vera

What Is Normal?

Our culture places a lot of focus on sex. What turns us on? Who turns us on? How often are we turned on? Etcetera. And we don’t need to go far to learn more. All we need to do is take that self-test in Vogue or do a quick Google search. It’s no wonder we question our sex lives.

As a therapist specializing in sex and relationship issues, one of the more common questions I hear from clients (both individuals and couples) centers on how much sex they should be having. A lot of couples seem to think that once they are together, the degree of love and intimacy they share is reflected in how often they have sex. And woe to the couple that is not having frequent sex because they often conclude (or are told) that something is amiss in their relationship.

The simple truth is there is no right or wrong amount of sex that couples should have. Neither lots of sex nor infrequent sex are indicators of relationship health or problems. When two loving partners are comfortable with the amount of sex they are (or aren’t) having, that’s great. More power to them.

The beliefs that “more sex is better” and “less sex means we’re having problems” are just not true. If a couple is comfortable with the amount of sex they’re having and they’re not experiencing relationship problems or other consequences related to sexual frequency, then there is nothing wrong with their sex life.

What Happens When Couples Can’t Agree?

The information above probably sounds great—unless you’re in a relationship where one partner wants a whole lot more (or less) sex than the other. When one partner desires significantly more or less sex than the other, individuals and couples can end up feeling broken, ashamed, or even angry. One partner may feel rejected; the other may feel pressured; and both partners are likely to feel shame—as if something is wrong with them as individuals or as a couple because their sexual desire (or lack thereof) is “abnormal.”

If you are experiencing this in your relationship, do not despair. You are not alone. There are countless couples where one partner wants a lot more sex than the other. In such cases, a good therapist can help both partners and the couple explore the situation.

Often, there are legitimate reasons why one partner might pull away from sexual activity. For starters, there may be lingering resentments or relational issues that make sexual intimacy less appealing. Other times, there are underlying issues, such as unresolved trauma (especially unresolved early-life sexual trauma), substance abuse or other addictions, physical issues, religious beliefs, depression, anxiety, and more. Age is also a factor, with sexual frequency nearly always diminishing as we age.

Whatever the reason, how disagreements about sexual frequency impact a couple over the long run depends almost entirely on the specific emotional meaning that sex has for that particular couple. If both partners are OK with more sex, less sex, or even no sex at all, then so be it. When couples are not able to agree, however, working to understand the issues that underlie the desire or lack of desire can at least lead to empathy and resolution of disagreement (even if one or both of the parties are not entirely happy with that resolution).

Intimate Connection vs. Sex

The good news for couples who disagree about the amount of sex they’d like to have is that they can still have a great relationship. If you find yourself struggling to understand that, simply ask yourself the following question:

What matters more to me—the continual emotional connection, validation, and support that I get from my life partnership or the occasional sexual gratification that partnership provides?

The simple truth is that emotional intimacy—the true source of joy and happiness for most couples—is not contingent on the frequency or type of sex a couple is having. For most couples, things like companionship, camaraderie, mutual reliability, and a sense of trust and belonging are far more important than sex.

For the most part, sex is a natural and healthy way—but not the only way—for couples to express emotional intimacy. As such, sex can be an important contributor to relationship health and happiness. That said, nonsexual touch and just plain talking openly and honestly can be every bit as effective as sex in this regard. Sometimes more so. As long as couples are open with their feelings, the mutual individual need for emotional intimacy can be satisfied regardless of sexual frequency.

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