By William Hay
Sitting in my office I’ve often been asked questions about what is normal even in marriage. The most common question seems to have been about frequency.
I did have an elderly patient who was happily married. He complained after a car accident which had caused a mild TBI that he and his wife no longer had sex as frequently as before. He said, “I did it every day, sometimes seven times a day but now at most once a day and sometimes hardly ever.”
He’d been married over 40 years. After my report went out his wife came in with him to see me. English was their second language. He was more fluent and she made a point of saying, “tell him!” Somewhat sheepishly the little man admitted he’d mixed up his English, he’d meant to say week when he said day.
As it was his wife corroborated that they’d normally had sex daily and now it was never more than once a week and sometimes not for several weeks. They were both in their 70’s and very much in love holding hands in the office and being almost inseparable as they left.
Several couples I saw in practice had sex daily for 30 or more years.
Other married couples had stopped having sex for an equal number of years.
If I had to say what was normal frequency based on what I’ve learned in practice over 25 years as a family physician and psychiatrist, and taking thousands of sexual histories from couples and individuals , I’d say that married couples frequently changed the frequency of their sexual encounters because of children and work obligations and health , varying from daily to at least every month or two.
It did seem that when I asked couples and individuals who were married about their sexual frequency that problems of some sort or another seemed to be associated with sex less frequently than once every month or two.
On average most couples most years had sex once or twice a week and that they continued to have sex once every week or two well into their 60 years after 30, 40 or more years of marriage. Young couples could have sex many times in a day early in marriage in their 20’s but later most averaged out while some actually maintained the stamina of the early years with perhaps less vigor. Physical illness was the most disrupting of factors in sexual frequency along with marital conflict.
That was in the older generation. Pre Viagra, pre cialis, mostly pre or during sexual revolution and most with religious affiliation. That’s still a whole lot of sex. On average anywhere from a thousand to 10,000 times in a long term marriage.
Some of these people might see me for marriage therapy and would say, believing themselves, “I never loved him “ or “I never loved her.” I really would have liked to have been a Jerry Seinfeld or Monty Python bug on their bed room wall.
However, I know that anger and depression cause “ retrospective falsification.” It’s a form of “emotional reasoning”. If I couldn’t stand to make love with him/her today then I could’t have made love to them before. The mind ‘selectively’ forgets what doesn’t serve their present day ‘war’.
Dr. Jay Lifton demonstrated this process as necessary for war wherein the English focused on the most unsavoury aspects of the Germans and vice versa forgetting all their mutual history of friendship when they became enemies. Counsellors commonly lacking training and experience in marriage therapy are a principal cause for breaking up marriages as are the courts where the lawyers and judges accept ‘subjective’ truth and the fallacies of memories over the ‘objective truth’ evidenced in the actual lives of married couples. One might well ask the clever ones what ever happened to the ‘wisdom’ of Solomon.
Anecdotally when I reviewed the sexual experiences of patients having marital problems it was common that the first indication of marital difficulties was often when the sexual frequency reduced to less than once a month or at least seasonally. Routinely asking about sexual frequency it was overwhelmingly evident that those who had regular sex in marriage were happier and healthier individually and as a couple than those who did not. Of course there are horrendous biases in the reporting and in the selection in my practices but that was the overall impression based on asking the questions and hearing the responses. All the the sexual literature I reviewed was itself rife with it’s own set of biases and experimental flaws. Despite this we appeared to be in the same ball park even those out in left field.
It’s simply not an exact science. Given the inexactness of science in the area of sexual communication and the confounding variables of honesty, dishonesty, social acceptability values and memory, I really don’t think there’s anything out there much more authoritative on the whole regarding the normalcy of sexual frequency even in marriages than I’ve commented on here.
It’s fair to say that mostly I encountered men wanting greater frequency and women wanting less but the differences weren’t that dramatic if the couple had no other major problems. Women more commonly wanted it once a week and men in these situations twice a week. There wasn’t a whole lot of dissatisfaction about this either and commonly the desires switched with married men in their 40’s and 50’s wanting sex less than the older women. Physical health was most commonly the determining factor for those in their 70’s.
Interestingly, over the years these self reports changed with more commonly younger women complaining that their male partners were not willing to have sex more frequently. This indicates that the ‘research’ data is in ‘flux’ and again no one truly knows what is ‘normal’ even in marriage and what is common is a fairly broad range. Epidemiological data 10 years old for one region might not have any validity today or be skewed by region, age, race, religion, cultural bias or the times.
The only thing in the end that seemed more fixed than fact was predjudice and bias. This commonly was reflected in the notion of any individual that their ‘desire’ reflected the ‘norm’ and that whatever they wanted whether it was lots or none was somehow the ‘norm’. And of course, nothing could ever have been further from the norm.
And if that’s the ‘norm’ for marriage, the ‘norm’ for singles today is even more abnormal.