Boyfriend says not enough sex happening!

Dear Alice —

My boyfriend sometimes gets frustrated, saying we don't have sex enough. It can be difficult to find time, since he lives off-campus and works at night, and sometimes, by the time I see him at midnight, I'm just too tired. We don't usually go more than a week or a week and a half without it, but when he gets on my case about it, it's the last thing that's going to put me in the mood.

What's the average frequency of sex for couples (is there one?) and what can I tell him so he won't think I'm just rejecting him physically or something stupid?

— No excuses

Dear No Excuses,

Discussions about sex and frequency of sex can be loaded. The sensitive nature and vulnerability these types of discussions present may make it challenging to truly communicate beyond simply "I want it" or "I don't" statements. It's natural that you'd want to compare yourselves to an average, but unfortunately there's not a ton of hard science to show just how often people have sex. The sexual part of a relationship sometimes may be complicated by other aspects of your relationship, and discussing just sexual frequency may not resolve the root of the disagreement. Building up communication skills to help you both discuss what you need and what does and doesn't work for you may help you explain to your boyfriend how you're feeling without hurting his feelings. 

Since every couple is different, the frequency that a couple has sex varies, too. There's no "normal," and studies show that whether and how often couples have sex varies by things such as the age of the partners, the age of the relationship, or the quality of life and the relationship (including the presence of stressors). Sex plays a valuable role in some relationships, and studies have shown that couples that regularly have sex may experience positive impacts on mental health for both partners. However, it’s also shown that feeling satisfied about the frequency of sex can also improve mental health, regardless of whether that frequency is high or low. 

Ultimately, having sex is a decision between both of you, without any one right answer. It's incredibly common for couples to experience mismatched sex drives. To overcome the contention that it may cause will require empathy between partners and a commitment to consent and mutual respect. It may feel tricky to communicate with your boyfriend about your exhaustion or scheduling challenges, but one way to lead with empathy and reduce feeling of rejection might be to reassure your boyfriend that your decision to refuse sex is not because of anything wrong with him. It's normal to have fluctuating sex drive, whether due to medications, stress, or just being not in the mood. You may also have the sex drive, but may not have the energy or time for it. Likewise, it might be worthwhile for your boyfriend to collaborate with you to find ways to maintain your relationship aside from sex. Your relationship is a partnership, and it will take some work from both of you to keep it strong and healthy!

Keeping all of that in mind, sometimes people unintentionally bring struggles about money, power, time, other relationships, etc. from our daily lives into the bedroom. Just knowing this might make the two of your more objective and can help you both decide whether this concern is a simple sexual mismatch or whether there is a deeper root to the discrepancy. And, while it's necessary that you and your boyfriend communicate openly with each other about how and when you want to have sex, it's imperative that you not feel pressured into having sex or doing any kind of sexual activity when you don't want to. This type of pressure, or sexual coercion, can be tough to pinpoint, but is still an abusive behavior that can cause the coerced member of the relationship to feel guilt, confusion or discomfort. Your boyfriend must respect your boundaries – when you say that you don't want to have sex, he should not continue to pester you for it. Other coercive behaviors beyond constant asks could include using guilt, threats to end the relationship or cheat, or drugs or alcohol to persuade a partner into sex. If you feel that your boyfriend is employing these types of behaviors, or if in your gut the pressure he places on you doesn't feel right, it may be helpful to discuss with a trusted friend, counselor, or healthcare provider about how to proceed. You deserve to be in a relationship where you feel safe and respected for your decisions about your own body.

It is natural for couples to be in different places from time to time on how their levels of sexual desire and how much they want to have sex. In any given relationship, this is often a recurrent theme, and will certainly ebb and flow the longer a couple remains together. Think about the contexts in which you and your boyfriend have had discussions about sex frequency. Are tension levels already high around the issue (i.e., when you're both in bed)? Initiating closeness and conversation with your boyfriend in a comfortable and neutral setting may help open up lines of honest communication — meaning you may consider taking the discussion beyond the bedroom walls. Remember that people fluctuate in their sexual expressions and amounts of desire. It could be that this is a particularly busy time, but there is hope for more synchronicity later on.

It may be helpful to expand what intimacy looks like with your boyfriend beyond penetrative sex. This could be a way to better meet both of your sexual and intimacy needs. Maybe massages twice a week will do the trick, or having sex more during less hectic times, such as weekends, may relax you both and take the pressure off weeknights or working nights. You might encourage him to masturbate with you watching, thereby giving him sexual release and allowing you to take a more passive role. Try to be true to however hot or cold you may be feeling, and let your boyfriend know what you're in the mood for. The honesty and newly found comfort around this topic may even heat things up in the bedroom more than usual!

Overall, periods of high and low sexual intensity, which may or may not synch up between partners, are an expected and common aspect of couple-hood. With a fresh take on communication and some creativity, you and your boyfriend may be well on your way to in-sync sexual bliss.

Last updated Oct 26, 2022
Originally published Feb 01, 1994

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