How often do Americans have sex?

Many American adults wonder on occasion about the sexual habits of other people, seeking to assess whether they themselves are “normal” when compared to other people of similar age and relationship status. Since the answer to such a question is not easily discerned in polite company, it devolves to research organizations to pursue accurate data and dispel (or reinforce) myths.

The answer to the question, of course, depends upon a variety of common factors: the age of the respondent, stressors in their lives, their relationship status, how long they’ve been in that relationship, and if there are young children at home. While many young adults—saturated in Hollywood narratives about the single life—worry that marriage spells the end of stable sex, is such a piece of conventional wisdom accurate?

WHILE MANY YOUNG ADULTS—SATURATED IN HOLLYWOOD NARRATIVES ABOUT THE SINGLE LIFE—WORRY THAT MARRIAGE SPELLS THE END OF STABLE SEX, IS SUCH A PIECE OF CONVENTIONAL WISDOM ACCURATE?
NOT REALLY.
Figure 7.1Average sexual frequency per week, by relationship status

Not really. When it comes to sex, it’s all about opportunity. Married Americans reported having sex an average of 1.2 times per week, or just about five times a month, while cohabiting couples reported 1.6 times per week (or about 6.5 times per month). Persons who’ve never been married and were not currently cohabiting understandably reported a much lower average figure—0.6 times a week.

But when we restrict the analyses to those people who have never been married but who are currently romantically involved with someone, they report having sex 1.1 times per week, almost as much as married couples. Altogether un-partnered adults who are not dating report a more modest average of 0.3 times per week.

Figure 7.2Sexual frequency per week by age and marital status

It might seem that moving in with a significant other increases sexual frequency—by expanding opportunity—but that getting married reduces it (perhaps by familiarity). This sort of thinking, however, fails to account for the fact that cohabiting and dating people tend to be younger and in newer relationships than married couples. Married people in the Relationships in America survey data are older than cohabiters or never-married persons, on average, by about a decade. Advancing age, of course, is associated with decreased sex drive and other stressors that are associated with declining frequency of sexual activity, right? Yes, but not drastically so. Figure 7.2 illuminates the age-and-relationship association with sexual frequency. To be sure, cohabiting couples still report more frequent sex than married couples, but the difference is only pronounced until around age 25, by which time married and cohabiting couples display parallel patterns of similar sexual frequency. Moreover, the decline with age is not a very pronounced one. Married 30-year-olds report a sexual frequency (about 1.5 times per week) not dramatically different from that of married 50-year-olds (about once a week). By contrast, never-married singles report notably less sex at every age. So neither marriage nor advancing age spells the end of a consistent sexual relationship.


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