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Marital Sex

Sexual Frequency

Rates of intercourse appear to have increased among married couples in recent decades. For example, pioneering sex researcher Alfred Kinsey and his colleagues (Kinsey et al. 1953) surveyed over eleven thousand men and women living in the United States during the late 1940s and early 1950s about a variety of sexual issues, including how often they had sex. The results of these large-scale surveys revealed that young married couples tended to have sex approximately twice weekly. Twenty years later, in 1974, social scientist Morton Hunt reported slightly higher frequencies—on average, young married men and women (ranging in age from eighteen to twenty-four) had sex 3.25 times a week. This seeming rise in sexual frequency may stem from a variety of social changes occurring in the 1960s and 1970s that liberalized marital sexuality, including the advent of sex therapy, the "sexual revolution," the increased availability of erotic or pornographic material, and the introduction of the birth control pill.

More recent data, however, suggest that the amount of sexual activity between spouses has not continued to rise. According to a U.S. national study headed by sociologists Edward Laumann and John Gagnon (Laumann et al. 1994), most married couples have sex an average of seven times a month (this amounts to less than twice a week). Only 7 percent, in fact, of the married respondents in their study reported having sex four or more times each week. Other U.S. national surveys of married couples in the 1990s provided similar results (Call, Sprecher, and Schwartz 1995; Donnelly 1993). In addition, there is tremendous variability in the frequency of sexual intercourse in marital relationships. Some couples are celibate or have sex very infrequently, whereas others engage in intercourse on a daily basis. For example, Cathy Greenblat (1983) interviewed eighty people who had been married five years or less. The number of times spouses reported having had sexual intercourse each month during their first year of marriage ranged from one (or an average of twelve times that year) to forty-five (or 540 times that first year).

Several researchers have explored whether certain long-term couple types have sex more frequently than others. In general, surveys reveal that cohabitation is a "sexier" living arrangement than is marriage. That is, cohabiting heterosexual couples and homosexual male couples tend to have sexual intercourse (defined as genital contact) more frequently than married couples (Blumstein and Schwartz 1983; Call, Sprecher, and Schwartz 1995; Rao and DeMaris 1995). Homosexual female (lesbian) couples, on the other hand, have sex less frequently than other couple types, although they engage in more nongenital physical contact (e.g., cuddling, hugging). Despite these differences, all forms of long-term, committed partnership—married or cohabiting, heterosexual or homosexual—are associated with greater sexual frequency than is singlehood (Laumann et al. 1994).


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Marriage and Family EncyclopediaRelationshipsMarital Sex - Beliefs About Marital Sexuality, Sexual Frequency, The Decline Of Sexual Frequency Over Time, Sexual Practices And Preferences