How to know if there's enough sex in your relationship


How often do you and your partner have sex? The answer might be more often than you think depending on how you define sex, according to author and couples therapist Esther Perel.

How to know if there's enough sex in your relationship

How much sex is enough sex to keep the marriage healthy? The average couple can have sex in three minutes, but does a “quickie” make for good or bad sex? What makes for good sex—for you and your partner?

Does not having frequent sex create a problem in relationships?

It really depends on how people connect with each other in the relationship and how they define sex. Sex to most people, especially males, is a very measurable experience. But there is a whole area of sexuality that doesn’t involve intercourse. People yearn for intimacy in their relationships and sex is a way couples connect. Sex is when you experience physical generosity and at the same time you are totally absorbed in yourself and your partner. Things like touching, kissing, licking and tickling can create a feeling of desire and closeness. There are many couples that are sexually physical with each other but they aren’t having “sex” and that’s okay.

Is there a danger in not defining and accepting the broader definition of sex in your relationship?

Yes, because you don’t have to have just one sexuality style in your life, you can have multiple sexualities in your life and in your relationships. If you only think and know sex as the “act of sex,” if that goes away or doesn’t work like it used to you will feel like you have really lost something in your relationship. Because a relationship is dynamic your sex life will change over time. You and your partner will get older, or have an illness or have something else going on in your life that affects your sex life. If both partners haven’t experienced sex more broadly, then the relationship can really suffer over the long term when things change in the relationship. People would feel better about themselves and their relationship if they widen their view and thought about sex more broadly.

How frequent should couples be connecting intimately either through the act of sex or some other way?

It depends on the relationship and the partners’ level and need for intimacy. Some people really need to be physically intimate to feel connected and satisfied sexuality.

What are the red flags to watch out for in your sex life?

If you and your partner have tried to have sex and it’s failed, and then you waited months before trying again, it can create an issue. It’s better to try again the next night.

Another red flag is if you and your partner usually have frequent sex, say every week, and a few weeks go by and you aren’t having sex. You really need to take the time to connect with your partner, to reengage and have a conversation. Maybe you need to take a break together or simply to have some fun to reconnect.

Lastly, sometimes partners will blame each other for the lack of sex in the relationship, saying things like “You’re never interested in me, you don’t pay attention to me.” That’s not healthy and can cool down opportunities for sex.


Transcript LISA BIRNBACH: I'm Lisa Birnbach for How much sex is enough sex to keep a marriage health? The answer may be less than you think if the sex is good. Esther Perel is a psychotherapist and author of the book Mating in Captivity, Unlocking Erotic Intelligence. She's here to talk about everything you ever wanted to know about not having sex. Esther, thank you for coming to howdini.

ESTHER PEREL: Thank you for having me.

LISA BIRNBACH: When you are thinking about you and your partner, and you think, "Hmm, we didn't make love this week and maybe we didn't make it the week before either," is that going to necessarily create a problem to feel comfortable and free to make love the next week?

ESTHER PEREL: Not necessarily. I think that the couples who actually struggle, are the ones who work with the pass/fail approach. You tried, it didn't work, you wait for the next six months, rather than you tried, it didn't work, you try again tomorrow. It didn't happen the last two weeks, you look at your partner and say, "What's going on with us? I think we need a break. I think we need a walk. I think we need a drink. I think we need some fun." And you reengage with that person and you just say, "God, where have we been?" or, "What do you think is going on?" and you are able to actually have a conversation. It doesn't work well when instead of having a conversation that is inviting and connecting, you blame. "You're never interested in me."


ESTHER PEREL: "You don't pay attention." You, you, you,--that dynamic, of course, can happen in every area of the relationship, then you will be sure that you can wait another two weeks.

LISA BIRNBACH: So there is no number one should keep in one's head in terms of frequency? But how can it be normalized like that?

ESTHER PEREL: Because what's problematic with the question is that sex is reduced to foreplay, intercourse, orgasm. Sex is when you have measurable results with the end, this big finale that you know proves to you that sex has occurred. But there is a whole realm of sexuality that is sensual, that is touching, that is kissing, that is licking, that is tickling, that is caressing, that doesn't end with orgasms, and that doesn't get included in the statistics. So you have couples who can be very physical with each other, sexually physical with each other, but they are in a stage or they have an illness or they are older or they are struggling with something and, no, they are not having that narrow, genitally focused, quite male oriented definition of sex. And then you say they are sexless couples. I think we need to broaden our definition of sexuality, and then maybe we will actually see that there are a lot of people who are sexually engaged with each other. No, they're not having what we have defined as sex.

LISA BIRNBACH: So people could actually feel a lot better about themselves and about the physicality of their relationship if they widen their view to all kinds of touching and kissing and so on?

ESTHER PEREL: I had a woman call in this week. The husband is early 60s; he's starting to have some erection difficulties. And her question is, "Shall I mourn the sexuality of our relationship? Is this the end? Is it never going to happen again?" We don't have one sexuality in our life. We have multiple sexualities. But when you have limited yourself like that--there is only one way and you rely on one thing, for it to happen--when that thing isn't working as well as it used to, you suddenly think that there is no other places to go.
LISA BIRNBACH: How would you define 'better sex' as opposed to 'more sex'?

ESTHER PEREL: It's about the poetics of sex; it's about feeling desired and desiring. It's about feeling afterwards that you've gone to that other place and back. It's about that moment where you experience at the same time generosity and self-absorption. You're at the same time totally inside yourself and inside the other, and something magical happens there. That's what people really yearn for most of the time. They don't--to have the once a week thing is not that complicated. It can take 3 minutes, which is the average in many relationships.

LISA BIRNBACH: Is there a diminishment of sexual desire that you can absolutely, as an expert, say, "This marriage is through"?

ESTHER PEREL: I think that when one person really yearns for it and the other is not responsive, at some point there is a red flag.

LISA BIRNBACH: So interesting, Esther. Thank you so much.

ESTHER PEREL: Thank you.

LISA BIRNBACH: For, I'm Lisa Birnbach.

meet theexpert
  • Esther Perel

    Esther Perel Marriage and Family Therapist, Author Esther Perel is a licensed marriage and family therapist and member of the American Family Therapy Academy and the Society for Sex Therapy and Research. She's author of the international bestseller: "Mating in Captivity: Unlocking Erotic Intelligence." more about this expert »

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