Part II: A Healthy Sex Life. What You Need to Know

In my twenty years of being a therapist, a common theme that shows up in the therapy room, is the misinformation and a lack of solid knowledge about sexual health.

We are a culture saturated with messages about sex, especially in advertising and media, promoting arousal and sex, with a lot of people wondering: “What does a “normal” and healthy sex life look like?”

As mentioned in Part I: Sexual Desire-What You Need To Know, sexual desire makes up one part of the foundation for a healthy sex life. And, the number one reason couples seek therapy for sexual issues is for desire issues. When a couple has desire issues, whether low, high or out of sync with one another, there can be significant tension in the relationship, ultimately contributing to an unhealthy sex life. But it is important to note, there is no one “right” way to be sexual.

Dr. Barry McCarthy, a pioneer in sexual health and therapy for men and women, has written many self-help books for couples on sexual issues. In his book, Rekindling Sexual Desire, Dr. McCarthy provides four principles which promote healthy sexuality:

  1. Sex encompasses more than physical touching, intercourse and orgasm. A person’s sexuality also includes attitudes, feelings, and values. Being sexual is a natural part of human functioning. Many people have negative or guilty feelings about sex which can block the experience of healthy sex life.
  2. Sexuality is uniquely individual part of one’s personality. As Dr. McCarthy notes, “You deserve to feel good about your body and yourself as a sexual person.”
  3. intimacy is Both Physical and Emotional. At the core of sexuality is experiencing the pleasure of physical and emotional closeness through giving and receiving.
  4. Intimacy Improves a Couple’s Life. Healthy sexuality is the responsibility of both individuals in a relationship. Dr. McCarthy refers to sexual intimacy for a couple as a “team effort.” In other word, a healthy sex life not only enhances your life, but the strength and enjoyment of your intimate relationship.

There are many emotional, physical, and relationship benefits to having a healthy sex life. The list below is a summary of some of the known benefits of a healthy sex life:

  • Boosts Immune System
  • Improved Self-Esteem
  • Lower Blood Pressure
  • Reduced Risk of Mental Health Issues
  • Improves Sleep
  • Decreases Risk of Cardiac Issues
  • Reduces Stress
  • Increases Libido
  • Increases bonding, intimacy and satisfaction in the relationship

Many people wonder how many times sex needs to happen for a healthy sex life. There is no simple answer. Sexuality is a complex and individualistic. Think about how many personalities you have within your family and friend group. Now think about the myriad of preferences people have for food, books, movies, television, sports, exercise, and well, sex is no different.  Instead, there is a range of what is considered healthy.

Researchers have worked hard to answer the big question:

How often do couples need to have sex to have a healthy sex life?

The answer, according to expert sex therapist, Dr. McCarthy, at least 26 times a year.

fighting couple-sexIn his book, Rekindling Sexual Desire, Dr. McCarthy provides useful statistics and definitions on sexual functioning.

  • A healthy sex life is having sex one time every two weeks to up to three times every week.
  • On average, fifty percent of couples have sex one to two times a week.
  • no-sex marriage is not considered abstinence, rather, having sex less than ten times a year.
  • A low sex marriage is when couples have sex less than 25 times a year.
  • 20% of married couples have a no-sex marriage.
  • 15% of married couples have a low-sex marriage.
  • It is normal for 5-15% of sexual experiences to be average, unsatisfying or failures.
  • 50% of married couples and over 60% of unmarried couples experience sexual dysfunction or dissatisfaction at some point in the relationship.
  • Sexual dissatisfaction becomes a problem is if the unsatisfactory experiences are more of a persistent and continuing pattern.
  • A couples sexual functioning is a couple’s responsibility, not simply one person.

For many people, a healthy sex life starts not only with sexual desire, but also with emotional love, support and safety within a relationship. So to say one’s sex life is healthy based on how often a couple has sex is not entirely accurate. So be cautious to focus solely on how often sex occurs. Sex therapist and expert on human sexuality, Dr. Ruth Wesitheimer, also cautions not to focus on statistics/numbers too much. She provides a balanced perspective encouraging couples to be understanding and compassionate about the differences in libido within a relationship.

Dr. Westheimer recommends in spite of the varying levels of sexual desire; couples need “to work out how much sex is required to keep the relationship running smoothly.” Dr. Westheimer is most photodune-10121937-happy-smiling-middleaged-couple-outdoors-xsconcerned when couples stop having sex. She says, “If almost no sex is taking place, then the relationship is out of balance, which shows up not only in the couple’s sex life, but in other aspects of the relationship.”

Well respected sex therapists, do agree on one thing for sure, a couple’s sexual health is not simply the responsibility of one person, both the individuals are responsible for couples sexual health.

Please check back later in the week for Part III: Strategies to Improve Your Sex Life. In this post, I will provide skills and strategies couples to begin to address sexual concerns.

© Copyright Dr. Claire Nicogossian 2015

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