One of the most frequent questions I (Sexologist, Maha Nasrallah) get asked is: “How much sex should people be having?” My reply has always been the same: the only person who can tell you if your sex life is good is you! Sexual lifestyles and preferences differ across individuals and relationships. Nevertheless, people continuously seek benchmarks to evaluate whether their desires and experiences are “normal”. Some of the commonly-held beliefs about sex can, however, be very misleading.
Men and women’s interpretation of their sexual functioning is influenced not only by their personal beliefs, but also by messages learned from society. Regrettably, some stereotypes about sex are being reinforced in today’s culture, resulting in many men and women having certain fantasies about sexual activity, such as rock-hard large penises and intercourse lasting the whole night. It is no wonder then that some people experience a lot of pressure while trying to match up to such unrealistic standards! Reality is actually very different; contrary to this popular fantasy, good sexual intercourse lasts from 3 to 13 minutes, not hours. A large group of members of the Society for Sex Therapy and Research including psychologists, physicians, social workers, marriage/family therapists, and nurses, who have seen thousands of patients in total over many years rated the range of time for sexual intercourse (from penetration until ejaculation). According to their responses, “adequate” activity times ranged between 3 and 7 minutes, “desirable” amounts of time ranged from 7 to 13 minutes, a “too short” time was defined from 1 to 2 minutes, and “too long” intercourse ranged from 10 to 30 minutes. Past research has found that men and women who responded wanted sex to last 30 minutes or longer. Such idealistic expectations and illusions about sex inevitably set people up for failure and disappointment. By dispelling those myths and adopting a more realistic attitude, one can prevent sexual dissatisfaction and ultimately lead a more fulfilling sex life.
Sex seems to also get better with age – another potentially surprising and yet hopeful finding. Research around the sexual activity of older people tends to focus more on sexual dysfunction, but looking into their “normal” sexual behaviour, it appears that a growing number of 70 year olds are enjoying good and more frequent sex, according to a study published in the British Medical Journal website. Over one thousand and five hundred 70 year-old people in Sweden were interviewed regarding the different aspects of their sexual and marital lives. This was done over four intervals from 1971 until 2001. They found that the number of 70 year-olds from both sexes reporting sexual intercourse increased from 52% to 68% for married men, from 38% to 56% for married women, from 30% to 54% for unmarried men, and from 0.8% to 12% for unmarried women. Interestingly, the number of women having an orgasm during sex increased, whereas the number of women never experiencing an orgasm decreased. It seems that while women tend to report high sexual satisfaction more often, the proportion of men reporting low satisfaction increased, although this might just reflect the fact that it has become more acceptable for men to admit and share their sexual problems. Looking in more detail at the types of problems men experience, less men reported having erectile dysfunction, while the number of men reporting ejaculation dysfunction increased. One can conclude then that sexual experiences are in fact a natural and positive part of the lives of elderly people, contrary to what some would expect.
It seems that good sex is more attainable than one might think, and could even get better with age – all good news! The bad news is that evidently some of our beliefs about “normal” sexual activity could in fact be misguided. So instead of relying solely on societal messages, it might be more fruitful to look for more accurate information. When it comes to judging whether your sex life is good enough though, before you turn to any statistical number for answers or compare your sexual behavior with what goes on in other people’s bedrooms, you could start by asking yourself and your partner if you are happy.