Sexual Shifts

sexual shifts: a look at sex frequency changes and relationship satisfaction

A lot of things can happen a year into a relationship. You might meet each other’s families, move in together, or even wonder if he or she could be “the one.” And for some, you may even start to lose interest in sex.

Losing interest in sex may even be more taboo than having sex in public or even inviting a third person into bed – but for many couples around the world, the frequency of sex can change as the relationship progresses.

Why? To find out, we surveyed 1,000 European and American men and women to learn how often they had sex, the average length of their relationships, and what caused their abbreviated sexual escapades. Want to know how important most people think sex is regarding relationship satisfaction? Read on to see what we uncovered.

Longing For Lust

the percentage of people who've experienced sex frequency changes by demographic

According to respondents regarding the frequency of their sexual antics, it may not take a full year into a relationship to see a dip in the time spent between the sheets.

More than half of participants said they started to see a decline in the amount of sex they had after six months into their relationship – and that might be normal. According to relationship experts, sex may be easier at the beginning of a relationship because the chemicals that get us turned on take a front-seat approach. Passion and lust can keep a couple energised at first, helping them to explore each other and their new relationship thoroughly.

However, over time, that lustful energy can wane. Even though 59 percent of women wanted more sex than their partners, in general, 61 percent told us the amount of intercourse they were having with their partner declined over time. Bad experiences with sex, such as contracting an STI, were also explanations given by women in the survey for their aversion. We also found gay and straight respondents saw more of a decline in their sex rate than people who identified as bisexual.

The Heart of The Matter

how sex frequency changes affect sexual and relationship satisfaction levels

Even though a decline in sex over time was pretty consistent among all respondents, in some cases, it could be a sign of something more complicated.

Even at a rudimentary level, sex is good for more than just pleasure. The average person achieves the same heart rate during an orgasm as they do after a round of light exercise – reaping some of the same benefits regardless of what you choose to participate in. Sex can also keep stress levels down, boost immune systems, and make people feel better physically.

But when it comes to what makes sex important in a relationship, we have to dig a little deeper. One expert suggests the answer might not be in the physical act of making love, but rather in the intimacy two people share that makes sex so pivotal in a happy, healthy connection. Being more open, honest, and vulnerable with our partners can bring us much closer than sex alone.

According to our survey, respondents who saw an increase in the amount of sex they had saw benefits in other parts of their relationships as well. Affection, communication, happiness, and trust all increased. For couples who had less sex, these attributes declined, particularly regarding quality time and the new experiences they shared.

Quality Over Quantity

the average sexual satisfaction ratings by perceived sexual importance

The importance of sex could be more connected to the frequency of intimacy couples experience and how satisfied they are with it.

While Americans were slightly more likely to rate the importance of sex a four or five (with five being extremely important), even Europeans who didn’t think intercourse was as relevant to their relationships were overall more satisfied with both their sexual frequency and quality.While Europeans may be having less sex today compared to a few decades ago, the average couple still finds time to get intimate three times a month, and as with Americans,sex tends to be more common among older generations than younger. As with the importance of sex, the issue can boil down to intimacy for millennials, who may struggle to build more meaningful connections than the generations who came before them.

Americans who rated the importance of sex the lowest also had the lowest satisfaction ratings with their sexual frequency. Perhaps more importantly, they also didn’t think sex was very good. Europeans who thought sex was equally unimportant still rated their frequency satisfaction over a 3 and enjoyed it more. On average, as Americans and Europeans place a higher importance on sex, their frequency and quality of sex also improve.

Carnal Commitments

the top reasons that prevent couples from having sex

So what’s getting between Europeans and Americans and the best sex of their relationships? For nearly 3 in 4 people, the answer was being too tired. While the pressures of balancing work and home life (and the commute back and forth) alone may be leaving little opportunity for Europeans to do much else, making time for a romp in the sheets may not be as arduous as anticipated. Recent studies have indicated the average sex session lasts anywhere from three to seven minutes.

More than half of respondents gave similar reasoning for forgoing fornication. Over 50 percent cited work and being too busy as the reasons why their sex life had declined, followed by their children (31 percent). Considering how common these complaints can be, experts recommend a simple fix: Schedule sex in. It may sound awkward at first, but planning out your sexcapades might not make the act feel any less natural, and it can help ensure life’s other obligations don’t get in the way of your relationship.

While less common, nearly 13 percent of people cited pain as preventing sex. For nearly 1 in 10 British women, sex isn’t always painless which could be an indication that medical attention is needed. More likely to occur among women between the ages of 55 and 64, vaginal dryness or poor health can be some reasons for the discomfort.

The Blame Game

the person deemed more responsible for sex frequency

More than half of people acknowledged that when sexual frequency declined, both partners were to blame, although we found women were more likely to single themselves out than men. Nearly 2 in 3 women believed the lack of intercourse in their relationship was their fault compared to around 35 percent of men.

One study found British women tended to have the lowest body confidence nearly anywhere in the world. This may be especially true of women in their 50s, but younger generations (including millennials) are often subjected to similar feelings of low self-esteem. More than just affecting the quality of your sex life, these feelings can also have a negative impact on your relationship. One study found nearly 1 in 5 believed their partners no longer found them attractive.

Married respondents were also more likely to blame themselves for lack of intimacy, while 64 percent of unmarried individuals in a relationship believed no one was to blame. Research suggests the act of getting married won’t instantly increase your sex drive; however, increased communication can be key to finding sexual satisfaction in a long-term relationship.

Emotional Escapades

the percentage of respondents that talk about their sexual frequency and the top 3 emotions that result

Talking about your sex life isn’t just important when things don’t seem to be going well.

There are many reasons why sex in a long-term relationship can be more satisfying than intercourse with a new partner. You might even start experimenting with new sexual experiences once you’ve been with someone long enough to establish the right amount of trust. Introducing dirty talk into your sexual exploits or even exploring sexual fantasies can help take the quality of your sex to a new level.

Participants whose sex frequency increased talked about sex the most often. For people who saw a decrease, 61 percent said they were at least talking about their sexual habits, compared to 53 percent of people who saw no change. One survey respondent summed up changes in their sex frequency, “This happens in relationships. There’s an ebb and flow, life gets in the way, especially for two stressed workers. As long as there’s communication and understanding about the reasons why, you shouldn’t worry about it, but that’s integral.”

We found men and women had conflicting emotions based on whether they had more or less sex – and it could be important to take those differences into account when approaching your partner about your sexual frequency.

While men and women who saw a decrease in sex felt both frustrated and sad, only women identified feeling guilty about the irregularity of their intercourse. One study found more than 2 in 5 women consider themselves to blame for their partner’s erectile dysfunction, a condition that impacts more than half of men between the ages of 40 and 70. Women are also more likely to lose interest in sex over time, which could be a product of stress, schedules, or health rather than a simple loss of libido. While women who experienced no change in their sex lives felt both nervous and content, men said an unaltered sex schedule made them feel both love and excitement.

Keep The Fire Burning

While it’s true your libido can decrease naturally over time, the sex you’re having in a long-term relationship can still be some of the best sex of your life. With enough time to get to know each other’s bodies, what makes each other tick, or even experiment occasionally, sex can get better. As our survey found, couples who had more sex over the course of their relationships communicated better, were more affectionate, and felt happier with their partners.

At ZAVA, we believe your sexual health should never stand between you and a happy relationship. With no appointment necessary and discreet delivery direct to your home, ZAVA is your online resource for safer, easier, and faster regulated care from U.K. doctors. Regardless of your concerns, ZAVA has the care and resources you need today.

If you have private medical insurance and feel you might need to see a specialist, ZAVA can also quickly provide a GP referral letter for you.

Visit us at ZAVA online to learn more.


We surveyed 500 Europeans and 500 Americans about changes in their sex frequency and sexual satisfaction to see what caused people to experience a decrease in sex.

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