In this article, we dive deep into the sex in marriage statistics – frequency, satisfaction levels, and how they compare to never-married couples. Read on:
There’s a famous scene from the 1977 Woody Allen classic Annie Hall. Woody Allen and his wife, the eponymous Annie Hall, played by Diane Keaton, discuss their troubled marriage with a marriage counselor.
“So, how often do you have sex?” The counselor asks.
“Hardly ever. 3 times a week!” Replies Woody Allen.
“All the time. 3 times a week!” Replies Diane Keaton.
That scene pretty much summed up the conflicting views men and women have held for ages on sex and marriage. But unfortunately, there exist as many opinions on the matter as there are experts.
We intend to clear the cobwebs on this contentious issue by presenting comprehensive data extracted from wide-ranging research on the topic.
Key Statistics at a Glance
- Only 13% of men think sex is not important to marriage, compared to 35% of women.
- About 85% of all American married couples have had sex at least a few times in the last month.
- The frequency of sex among married couples has been declining over the last two decades.
- Senior citizens have a LOT MORE sex than you think – 26% of Americans between 75 to 85 years of age reported having sex in the last year.
- Never-married couples are having sex more often – an average of 67.47 times a year – compared to married couples, who reported having sex 66.85 a year.
- 13.5% of married Americans haven’t had any sex in the last 5 years.
- The ideal sexual frequency for a happy married life is once per week.
How Important Is Sex to a Marriage?
Not surprisingly, the statistics here are in line with conventional wisdom and Woody Allen’s plight.
- 35% of the women surveyed reported sex being NOT important at all to marriage, compared to only 13% of the men. (New England Journal of Medicine, 2008)1
- Older people attached greater importance to the role of sex in a marriage.
- 59% of people aged between 50-92 attached at least some importance to sex. (Social Science Medicine, 2003)2
It seems our seniors know a secret or two about living a good life that the young ones would do well to listen to.
How Often Do Married Couples Have Sex?
Now for the burning question that has plagued popular imagination since Woody Allen and Diane Keaton found themselves on opposing sides – how often do married people have sex?
An overwhelming 85% of American couples surveyed said they had sex at least “few times” a month. “Few times” includes couples who reported having sex 2-3 times a week and 4+ times a week.
That’s a pretty broad basket. But here’s the breakdown:
- 46.5% said they had sex “A Few Times” per month
- 31.9% said they had sex 2-3 times a week
- 6.6% said they had 4 or more times a week
And what about the remaining 15%?
- 3.0% said they did not have any sex at all in the last 1 year
- 11.9% said “A Few Times” per year.
(University of Chicago, 1994)3
This sounds like a pretty healthy picture when you consider that only 3% of all married couples are not having any sex at all.
This means 97% of all American married couples have at least some sex per year.
But how reliable are these numbers, and can they be generalized to non-American populations?
A five-week follow-up study of African couples meant to confirm the findings of an earlier study found that:
- Couples reported an average of 3.3 sexual acts over the given period or 0.7 acts per week.
- More than 50% of the respondents reported three, four, or five acts during the five-week period.
(American Journal of Epidemiology, 1995)4
However, the amount of sex married couples has each year has shown a noticeable decline over the last 2 decades.
- Married men reported a decline in the sexual frequency of weekly or more from 71.1% to 57.7%.
- This decrease was steeper among married women – from 69.1% down to 60.9%.
(JAMA Network, 2020)5
Married women, in fact, seemed to be very active sexually.
- Between 50% – 90% of married women across 94 countries reported having sex at least once during the last 4 weeks. (Cambridge University Press, 2019)6
It looks like men have got some catching up to do.
Frequency of Sex By Age Among Married Couples
How does age affect the frequency with which married couples have sex?
In couples around 50 years old,
- 31% reported having sex several times a week.
- 28% had sex a couple of times a month.
- 8% had sex once a month.
- 33% said they rarely or never have sex.
(American Association of Retired Persons, 2013)7
As expected, though, the prevalence of sexual activity declined with age and varied with gender.
- 73% of the respondents between 57 to 64 years of age reported being sexually active.
- This number fell sharply to 53% among respondents 65 to 74 years of age, then further dropped by almost a half to 26% among respondents 75 to 85 years of age.
- Women were significantly less likely than men at all ages to be sexually active.
The same study concluded that:
- Almost 90% of younger men reported having sex in the past year
- 72% of older men report having sex in the past year
- 72% of younger women reported having sex in the past year
- 46% of older women were sexually active in the year before the survey.
(Journals of Gerontology: Series B, 2011)8
Yet another study on senior citizens reported very similar numbers.
- 53% of married persons 60 years of age and older report having had sexual relations at least once within the past month.
- This number dropped to 24% for respondents above 76 years of age.
- Persons who have been sexually active within the past month report having sex about four times during the month.
(Journal of Gerontology, 1991)9
How Often Is Sex in America?
So far, we’ve seen how often married couples have sex in America. But what about Americans in general? Does a different picture emerge when we include both married and non-married respondents in surveys?
The answer is yes.
A 2021 survey of 2157 Americans of eligible age who were asked how often they had sex in the last 12 months revealed some disappointing numbers.
- 29.35% (633) claimed not to have had any sex at all.
- 11.64% (251) claimed to have sex once or twice.
- 13.12% (283) claimed to have sex once a month.
- 16.27% (351) claimed to have sex 2 or 3 times a month.
- 13.31% (287) claimed to have sex about once a week.
- 12.42% (268) claimed to have sex about two or three times a week.
- 3.89% (84) claimed to have sex more than 3 times a week.
(GSS Data Explorer, 2021)10
Two figures stand out from among these numbers – the single largest section (29.35%) is that of Americans who claimed not to have sex at all.
The smallest section (3.89%) is of Americans having sex more than 3 times a week.
These numbers agree with older studies that confirm that sexual activity among Americans has been declining over the decades.
- Americans were having sex 64 times a year on average in 2002.
- By 2014, this number had declined to 53 – a 17.5% in a little over a decade.
(Archives of Sexual Behavior a, 2017)11
Never Married vs. Married
Now, to the age-old debate – who has more fun? Married or non-married couples. Does marriage take the spark out of a couple’s love life?
Here’s what the numbers say.
- Between 1989-1994, married couples had sex 67.31 times per year on average.
- Never Married couples had sex 57 times per year.
By 2000-2004, these numbers had begun to show a reversing trend.
- The frequency of lovemaking for married couples had dropped to 66.85 per year.
- In the same period, the frequency of having sex for never married couples had jumped up to 67.47 – an impressive leap of over 18%.
(Archives of Sexual Behavior a, 2017)11
So much so good. But how does marital status affect sexual activity? What about divorced and widowed individuals?
The same study gave a very detailed breakdown of sexual activity by marital status. Sexual activity among Americans of eligible age, arranged in decreasing order of average annual sexual frequency, was as follows:
- Never Married Americans had sex an estimated 60.81 times per year
- Married Americans reported having sex 55.96 times per year
- Divorced Americans had sex an estimated 46.24 times per year
- Widowed Americans had sex only 10.19 times per year.
This study emphasized that married couples have sex less often than never-married couples like the ones discussed earlier.
Marriage, in other words, seems to be throwing a spanner in the sexual works.
Conventional wisdom might say that children could be one reason. Could the act of giving birth and the presence of children in the house perhaps have an inhibitory effect on sexual activity among couples?
However, the numbers point only in one direction – a big, overwhelming NO.
- A whopping 89% of women reported resuming sexual activity within 6 months of giving birth. (BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, 2000)12
- Similarly, married couples reported having sex an impressive 69.54 times per year while having a child under 18 in the household. (Archives of Sexual Behavior a, 2017)11
These numbers, however, were subject to the same trend of declining sexual activity over the years outlined in the previous sections. In addition, the decade-wise numbers for sexual frequency among married couples with a child under 18 showed a steady declining trend in the same survey.
- Between 1989-1994 married couples with a child/children under 18 had sex an estimated 74.92 times per year.
- Between 1995-1999 this number decreased to 74.19 times per year.
- Between 2000-2004 there was a slight jump to 75.65 sex per year.
- Between 2005-2009 the minor upward tick continued, with married couples with children under 18 having sex an estimated 75.84 times per year.
- Between 2010-2014 there was a sudden crash, with married couples with children reporting having sex only 69.54 per year.
(Archives of Sexual Behavior a, 2017)11
Are You in a Sexless Marriage?
Findings indicate that the percentage of sexless marriages has increased significantly in the last two decades.
- 15.6% of married individuals haven’t had sex the previous year. Additionally, 13.5% of married individuals haven’t had any sex for 5 years. (Archives of Sexual Behavior b, 2017)13
- Only 2% of the married respondents (aged 18 to 59) reported no sexual intimacy in the past year. (US National Health and Social Life Survey, 1992)14
So, How Often Should Married Couples Have Sex?
Surprisingly, statistics show that more isn’t always better for sex and happiness.
- The optimum frequency of sexual intercourse for a happy married life was once a week.
- While having sex more often than this doesn’t harm your marriage, it didn’t appear to be correlated to any positive gains either.
(Social Psychological and Personality Science, 2015)15
Sexual Satisfaction Among Married Couples
How satisfied are married men and women with their sex lives? Unfortunately, the answers seem to align with popular stereotypes of men and women.
- Only 43% of the married men surveyed reported being satisfied with their sex life, compared to 55% of married women.
- Conversely, a whopping 41% of the married men surveyed said they were dissatisfied with their sex lives, compared to only 27% among women.
- 16% of men and 18% of women said they were neither satisfied nor dissatisfied with their sex lives.
(Chapman University, 2016)16
Also unsurprisingly, satisfaction with sex lives was the highest in the first six months of marriage, being 83% among both men and women – a rare point of convergence between men and women’s otherwise widely divergent sexual preferences.
The Different Sex Drives Among Couples
The same study by Chapman University mentioned earlier found that sex drive dropped to almost one-third by the third year of marriage. Again, however, the rates differed among men and women, with men predictably expressing less satisfaction.
- 38% of the women surveyed reported that their sex life was as passionate three years later as it was in the beginning, compared to only 32% of the men. (Chapman University, 2016)16
Factors That Affect Sex Life in a Marriage
- Age and Time: Age and time-related factors such as biological aging, getting habituated to sex, pregnancy, and the presence of small children in the household all led to a decrease in the frequency of sex. (Journal of Marriage and Family, 1988)17
- Lack of Communication: Lack of communication among partners was one of the most important factors in decreasing sexual frequency. Women reported being disproportionately more severely affected by a lack of communication than men.
More than half (55.4%) of women reported they had wanted to communicate with a partner regarding sex but decided not to. The most common reasons for this were:
- not wanting to hurt a partner’s feelings (42.4%)
- not feeling comfortable going into detail (40.2%)
- embarrassment (37.7%).
(Archives of Sexual Behavior, 2019)18
- Physical Health: Poor physical health, especially among men, was a major contributing factor to a decline in sexual activity. (Journals of Gerontology: Series B, 2011)8
- Work and Family Time: Americans work more hours and spend more time with children than in the past, possibly reducing the amount of time spent on sexual intimacy. (Archives of Sexual Behavior a, 2017)11
Statistics show that Americans are having a healthy amount of sex. However, the frequency of sexual activity has been declining over the last decades.
Men and women also seem to have widely diverging opinions on the importance of sex to marriage and the optimal frequency of having sex.
On the bright side, older people are having a lot more sex than one would imagine.
- New England Journal of Medicine, 2008. A survey of 3005 American adults aged 57 to 85.
- Social Science Medicine, 2003. A study conducted on 44 mixed gender participants in the UK by Merry Gott and Sharon Hinchliff.
- University of Chicago, 1994.The Social Organization of Sexuality: Sexual Practices in the United States authored by Edward O. Laumann, John H. Gagnon, Robert T. Michael, and Stuart Michaels.
- American Journal of Epidemiology, 1995. A Study of 62 African couples.
- JAMA Network, 2020. A study of 9504 American respondents conducted over 18 years, from 2000 to 2018.
- Cambridge University Press, 2019. A study of 282 surveys from over 94 countries covering sexual activity by marital status.
- American Association of Retired Persons, 2013. Data collected from over 8000 respondents.
- Journals of Gerontology: Series B, 2011. A study of 6437 American men and women aged between 44 to 72 years.
- Journal of Gerontology, 1991 A study of 13,007 American respondents 60 years and older. Demographic source here.
- GSS Data Explorer, 2021. Survey results of 2157 Americans of eligible age.
- Archives of Sexual Behavior a, 2017. A study of 26,620 American respondents conducted between 1989 to 2014.
- BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, 2000 A study of 484 British respondents.
- Archives of Sexual Behavior b, 2017. A study of 17,744 American adults.
- US National Health and Socal Life Survey, 1992. A survey of 3432 American men and women between the ages of 18 and 59.
- Social Psychological and Personality Science, 2015. A survey of 30,645 Americans across three studies.
- Chapman University, 2016. A survey of 38,747 American respondents who had been together for at least 3 years.
- Journal of Marriage and Family, 1988. A study of 7463 American adults.
- Archives of Sexual Behavior, 2019. A study of 1008 American women.