How Often Are Millennial Couples Having Sex? (Part One)
Earlier this year I published an article in response to something I’d read on The Atlantic which claimed that millennials are in the midst of a “sex recession”. Their research showed that not only are we withdrawing from physical intimacy in adulthood, but we’re also launching our sex lives much later. Within the space of a generation, sex has gone from something most high-school students have experienced to something most haven’t. And it’s not because students have swapped it for oral sex either – those statistics haven’t moved much between generations.
But what about those who are having sex regularly? What about the men and women in long-term relationships, be it heterosexual or same-sex couples? What is sex like for them? How often are they having it? And are they happy?
When I first thought about how I would collect this data, I was originally going to lump the long-term couples together with the married couples. But as one of my married friends pointed out, there are factors that influence a married couple’s sex life that are distinctly different from those who have just “been together a really long time”. I also wasn’t expecting to get So. Much. Feedback. So in the interest of efficiency (not boring you with a six page essay), this will be a two-parter.
If we were just to look at the numbers, both groups are predominantly having sex once a week or less: 68.6% of married millennial couples and 54.8% of long-term, un-married millennial couples. But statistics can only reveal so much, I wanted to know how these couples actually felt. The first area in which the two groups started to diverge was in their attitude towards and satisfaction with their current sex lives. There was a lot more dissatisfaction among un-married couples, like Jane, who said she has sex about once a week or fortnight, “We’d like to be having more, but we usually don’t feel up to it by the time we get into bed. It’s like going for a run – I can never be bothered, but once it’s over I’m glad I did it.” Natalie (29) and her partner also have sex once a week, “His frustration stems from feeling like it doesn’t happen enough, and mine stems from the fact that it’s not a switch that can be turned on in five seconds! Luckily we’re both good communicators and acknowledge that sometimes a quick rough and tumble is all both parties need – it doesn’t have to be a mammoth lovemaking session.” Other un-married couples weren’t necessarily satisfied but were at least realistic, “I had an almost third-degree tear delivering my first child – I’m tired, I feel gross and I just can’t do it. But we’ve been together for six years and I know this is just a season.” Whereas the married couples were notably more satisfied with having sex once a week or less. Ashley and her husband (both 34) have sex roughly three times a month and said, “Our sex life is really good! We have a baby and both work demanding jobs so while we’re having sex less often the intimacy and connection is so much deeper. It’s so easy to get caught up in the “should” trap based on what other couples are doing, but you need to find a rhythm that works for you.”
Another common theme among those having less sex was the impact of technology, as Caitlyn (26) admitted, “If I had more self-control I’d set a rule that bans phones in the bedroom, but honestly between having a baby, renovating our home and running our own business, we’re both completely exhausted and it’s nice to lie down for an hour and scroll through Instagram.” Annabel (30) is concerned with how readily-available porn is, “The expectations porn can put on a partner are extremely unrealistic. I’m not a prude but my husband can get a bit carried away and it messes with my self-esteem and performance.” And then of course, there’s Netflix. The term “Netflix” featured more in readers answers than I care to tell you. Platforms like Netflix have made it so easy to gratify basic social (and sometimes sexual) needs that there’s far less incentive for couples to engage in real life. It’s not that Netflix gives people more satisfaction than sex, but it gives people just enough to develop dependent relationships and routines out of it. Ask yourself, if Netflix didn’t exist, would we be having more sex?
But by far the most alarming trend I saw was the physiological and mental impact of the Pill on the sex lives of long-term couples. To be frank, it was devastating to hear how many girls draw a direct correlation between their sex life and the Pill, in particular the negative impact on their libido, physical body and mood. Lily (25) admits, “I’d love to want to have more sex, but I just don’t. I don’t feel as confident in my body as I used to and I’ve lost my libido from being on the Pill. I feel like there is something wrong with me because we aren’t having as much sex as the media portrays.” She raises an important point about body image. A review of 57 studies examining the relationship between women’s body image and sexual behaviour found that positive body image is linked to having better sex. Conversely, not feeling comfortable in your own skin complicates sex. Basically: if you don’t want your partner to see you getting out of the shower, how is oral sex ever going to work? Caroline (28) and her partner have sex two or three times a week and say it’s a work-in-progress, “The Pill almost completely depleted my libido which put a major strain on our relationship because we both wanted to be intimate but couldn’t. It was especially hard on Ben as he thought I wasn’t sexually attracted to him anymore. After talking it over, I decided I was sick of feeling this way and chose to stop taking the Pill. We’re now re-acquainting ourselves with each other and the sex is improving.”
As with all relationships, romantic or otherwise, communication is crucial. Alice and her partner (26) have sex once a week and said it took them a year of searching to reach a place of contentment, “Once we stopped looking at sex as the end goal and instead saw it as simply foundational to our relationship it worked a lot better. Sexually desiring your partner is only one aspect of loving them, you can be deeply in love with someone without having the desire to sleep with them every day. Grief and stress are also inevitable in a long-term relationship, therefore communication throughout those seasons is vital to ensuring both people feel seen and sexually fulfilled. Oh, and masturbation is still super important when you’re in a relationship. There has to be room for you to both explore your individual sexual identities without the other person there.”
In Part Two, I’ll explore the couples residing at the other end of the spectrum – those having sex upwards of four times a week and often once a day. What’s their secret sauce? Are they happier than those having sex once a month? And how the hell do they find the time?