This is the 2007 version. Click here for the 2017 chapter 16 table of contents.

Sex in Marriage

How does frequency of sex fall in a "typical" marriage? What is the biggest sex problem in many marriages? What remedy does Barbach propose?

Sexual frequency typically declines after the initial years of a marriage, although (as always) there are exceptions to this average trend, and no doubt this behavior depends partly on learning and expectations. In one study in the United States, the average number of sexual outlets during marriage dropped from a median of 17.5 times during the first month to 8.5/month a year later (James, 1981). In another study, those married 1 year averaged 15 sex acts per month, or once every other day. Those married 6 years averaged about 6 per month, or once every five days (Greenblat, 1983).

A good sex life in middle adulthood can, and usually does, continue into old age. Stein and Weiner (1981) interviewed 800 elderly adults and found that 8 of ten were still sexually active. A survey in 2007 found the same pattern. Those who were not sexually active usually lacked a partner. Most had virtually the same pattern of sexual behavior in their 70s as they did in their 40s ("Study: Seniors having more sex than you think" August 22, 2007).

Women sometimes report a drop in sexual desire after menopause. The absence of naturally occurring estrogen is correlated with a drop in sexual desire. But this does not always occur, and many couples report satisfying sexual activity in old age. With sex, as with any complex, coordinated activity, one must "use it or lose it." After decades of abstinence, it may be difficult for an older woman or an older man to desire or perform sex. But for those who have an ongoing relationship, a satisfying sex life is possible into old age.

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