How Important Is Sex in a Relationship?

Maybe you’re out having drinks with your friends, and they’re bragging about how often they have sex with their husbands and wives. Or you’re hanging out one on one with a friend, and they confess to you that it’s been months since they were intimate with their boyfriend or girlfriend.

As much as we were all raised to talk about “polite company,” we talk about sex so often and so frankly that it’s easy to forget that sex is just one part of a relationship—and how large a part of the relationship can vary based on the taste, identity and energy involved.

Couple Cuddling on a Bed

Is There a Magic Number?

Between legitimate scientific studies and your friends’ bragging, you’d assume there’s a “right” amount of sex a relationship needs to stay healthy. In truth, it’s you and your partner who get to decide what that magic number is—and that number may not be consistent week to week, or that number may be zero.

While we may daydream about spending days in bed with our partners (or we may even get the rare opportunity to make that a reality!), life often gets in the way. Work, school, kids, and any other kind of family obligations can take up time that you’d rather devote to more pleasurable activities. It’s also possible that you still have time to be alone together after visiting your in-laws, but the mood may not be right.

The true key to knowing if you’re having enough sex is if both partners are satisfied—not just by the quantity, but also the quality. And a big part of that is communication.

What If Our Sex Drives Don’t Match?

Mismatched libidos are a very common problem in relationships. While you and your partner may have been evenly raring to go early on, stress, hormone fluctuations, and other factors can increase or decrease a person’s sex drive over time.

What’s crucial is to determine exactly how far off you are in levels of interest, and if there’s some place to meet in the middle. You could look it in the black-and-white: one of you wants to, the other doesn’t, but it’s not as simple as that. Does “sex” have to mean the full penetrative birds and bees experience, or will one or both of you be satisfied with the physical intimacy and not so focused on achieving a goal?

As always, communication is key. Find out what your partner wants, and express your desires, too. Neither of you should ever have to participate in an activity you find unpleasant or degrading, but you may find it’s the black and white thinking about what sex needs to be that’s tripping you up.

What If They Don’t Want Sex At All?

There are many people in the world who don’t express love or intimacy through sex. There are some people who identify as asexual or demisexual. It doesn’t mean anything needs to change about them. Those who identify as asexual don’t have interest in sex at all, while demisexual people often refer to themselves as being in a “gray zone” where they may develop sexual attraction, but only in the context of a deep, serious emotional relationship.

This is something you may know early on, especially as dating apps allow users to share more about themselves in advance. Or if you’re already in a committed relationship and your partner has become comfortable enough to come out as identifying as one of these categories, it may come as an adjustment to your personal life.

These are legitimate sexual identities. While even asexual people may engage in sex at points, know that asexual and demisexual people express love and intimacy in other ways. As in any relationship situation, respect their boundaries and don’t make assumptions.

If a person doesn’t enjoy sex, it’s not necessarily because they had a negative experience in past, or just haven’t met someone who knows how to physically please them. Don’t expect to change a fundamental part of who a person is.

When You Can’t Find Compromise

It’s possible there isn’t room to meet in the middle. There’s more discussion to be had, and it needs to be had with sensitivity, but unmet needs can cause friction in a relationship. If there are physical limitations or anxiety comes into play, a medical doctor may be able to help you decide what to do next.

But if it’s a genuine differing of opinion, this is an excellent time to contact a relationship counselor, who is an expert in helping couples through exactly these types of issues. You may feel embarrassed asking friends for recommendations, but there’s a good chance at least a few of them have seen counselors too. Still, if it feels too sensitive to discuss, you can get great recommendations online or from your own doctor.

One of the other reasons to consider a relationship counselor is to consider if the possibility of an open relationship may help if one of you has a more robust sex drive or has tastes or kinks that one of you can’t fulfill. If the concept is interesting to one (or both) of you, it’s a great idea to get a counselor involved to help you both see the pros and cons of such an arrangement, and to help you develop a roadmap of what that might look like.

It’s not something to be entered into lightly, and not taking steps to be open, honest, and respectful from the start is a surefire way to cause real damage to the relationship.

Sex is just one way to express love. For the majority of people, it’s a very enjoyable way to express love. But it’s not about quantity. It’s about quality, and sometimes quality takes into account the fact that physical intimacy their primary way of expressing love. The absolute best thing you can do is keep lines of communication open with your partner and find ways of showing love that make you both happy.