Dear Dana is a bi-weekly advice column for humans who engage in romantic relationships. Please send your dilemmas, issues, conundrums, assumptions, conflicts, anxieties, worriments, obstacles, complications, predicaments, queries, questions, and any other synonyms for “problems” to email@example.com.
I’ve been with my boyfriend for over five years, and I love him dearly. Our relationship is solid and healthy, and we’re both very happy with each other. But here’s what concerns me: We don’t have sex that often.
When we do have sex, it’s great, but it might only be once or twice a month. And I feel like everything I read says “happy couples” *should* be having LOTS more sex than that.
So are we not really happy in this relationship? Is there some sex standard everyone’s supposed to measure up to? How do I know if it’s enough? If WE’RE enough?
Dear Happily Undersexed,
A month into what would become a long-term relationship, I was cuddling with my new boyfriend in the mandatorily intimate way that is only possible on a twin bed. We were both languidly smoking cigarettes in the way you do when you’re 23 years old and not really aware of death. We had just finished having sex and I was thrilled. I had, before making this man’s acquaintance, only had sex exactly once in my life. But now I had met this man and we were having sex on the regular, every single day, and I was so overjoyed at this turn of events that I had begun to keep track of our sex life on my bedroom wall calendar. I marked each incident of fornication on the day it occurred with a tiny exclamation point.
Back in the bedroom, I exhale a string of gray smoke, turn to my new man, and say, casually, “Do you know that we’ve had sex 62 times?”
He sputters in response, “Huh?”
I tell him that we’ve had sex 62 times and I tell him I know because I’ve been keeping track.
“That’s weird,” he responds.
“That we have sex so much?”
“That you’re counting it. You should stop doing that, or at least don’t tell me about it. It’s really strange.”
If we had the word “thirsty” back then I’m sure he would have used it.
At that moment I didn’t understand why my boyfriend was taken aback by my record keeping. I figured he was being sensitive and perhaps prudish. I continued to quietly keep track of our sexings, worry when the rate decreased, rejoice when it increased, and eventually, eventually, stop keeping track altogether.
Keeping count is a way of keeping score. The young man I was seeing was likely put off by the idea that I was keeping track because I was turning this most intimate aspect of our relationship into a dry statistic to be held up against other statistics and evaluated.
And he was completely right, of course. I wanted to have hard data on my sex life because it was the first time I had ever had a sex life. I wanted to keep track so I could enjoy the feeling, for the first time in my life, that I was having more sex than other people. I was keeping track because I wanted to feel superior to others.
In 2013 Tim Wadsworth, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Colorado Boulder, published a paper, “Sex and the Pursuit of Happiness: How Other People’s Sex Lives are Related to our Sense of Well-Being.” This paper outlines the results of his study of the sex lives of 15,386 people. He found a correlation between reported happiness and frequency of sex but, even more importantly, a correlation between happiness and how much sex you think other people are having.
According to Wadsworth, “Having sex makes us happy, but thinking that we are having more sex than other people makes us even happier.”
You consider yourself to be relatively sexually inactive, but I’m sure that there are many couples who only have sex once every other month, or even less. There are couples who would love to hear all about your secrets to maintaining a twice-a-month sex habit, and there are couples who would consider twice-a-month sex to be the equivalent of never having sex at all.
So what is a normal sex life? The average for a married couple is three times a week, but that statistic is quite misleading. It accounts for both the couples who have sex 20 times a week and the couples who don’t ever have sex. Unless you start asking all of your family, friends, co-workers, acquaintances, and Twitter followers “Hey – how often are you doing it?” you will never actually know whether or not you are having less sex than everyone else around you.
It sounds like you’re more worried about your perception of your sex life than your actual sex life. You’re asking if it’s OK to be together and happy and only have sex once a month. I say: Hell yes, it’s OK.
But I also don’t have a say in this. Your sex life isn’t between you and me or between you and the rest of all sexually active Americans—it’s between you and your partner.
Does he think that you aren’t having enough sex? Do you think that you aren’t having enough sex? What does he want? What do you want? What do you want together?
When we first fall in love we have sex all of the time because of the high of it. It’s such a gorgeous, dangerous, legal drug. You never know when you’re going to see your partner again and you’re obsessed with him and when you’re together you want to press yourself into him and absorb as much of his essence that you can. But after years and years that drug-like high fades. You know when you’re going to see him again. You know what he’s going to eat for lunch and which socks he prefers and which articles he’ll find interesting. There’s less pressure to have sex right now because you know, for sure, that you’ll be with this person tomorrow.
But this can lead to a situation where you never have sex yesterday and never have sex today and always plan on having sex tomorrow but then tomorrow comes and someone feels like maybe they’re coming down with a cold or you ate too much pasta or you really want to catch up with “House of Cards.” That magic moment when you see him and he’s hot for you and you’re hot for him and your genitals explode in mutual hot lust at just the thought of each other occurs much less frequently, or not at all. Sex changes. It becomes something you have to actively decide upon.
So: Actively decide. Do you and your partner want more sex? If yes—then have it. If no—then don’t. But know that either way, it is enough.
Dana Norris once went on 71 internet dates, many of which you may read about here. She is the founder of Story Club and editor-in-chief of Story Club Magazine. She has been featured in McSweeney’s, Role Reboot, The Rumpus, and Tampa Review and she teaches at StoryStudio Chicago. You may find her on Twitter at @dananorris.