Dear Patti,

I’m a male nurse in a hospital and work the late shift at a station which periodically can be very quiet. This sometimes leaves the nurses time to talk among themselves and it can get quite personal. A common theme is whether or not they are having frequent sex with their partners. Some complain or worry when they’re having sex only once a week and their concern escalates when it is up to one month free of any sex.

It was brought up in a teasing way that I often participate in these intimate conversations except for when we talk about “gettin’ some.”  It was said all in good fun, but it was also said with a degree of accuracy. There are cycles where my wife and I don’t have sex for a few months and then we’re more active again. We’re in a dry spell now. I’m uneasy to look at it myself, let alone admit this fact out loud to others.

I want to know what is considered “too little sex” to be categorized as no longer normal. If my wife and I are having less sex than most other couples, that can’t be good. How long is too long without sex? Does this necessarily affect our happiness? What are the chances that this is an indication our marriage is on a downward spiral? 

  — Richard

Dear Richard,

The Archives of Sexual Behavior published a study with over 26,000 participants that reported having sex that averages out to once a week. Another study published in The Journal of Social Psychological and Personality Science (with 30,000 participants) concluded that couples  having sex once a week were the happiest and couples having sex two or more times a week were no happier than those having sex once a week. This same study reflected that those who were having sex less than once a week reported lower levels of happiness than those having sex once a week or more. Another study shows that it’s actually beneficial to talk about sexual dry spells with close friends as it helps to normalize the idea as well as de-escalate the concern.

Having stated that, it’s more important to be able to recognize the reasons you and your wife aren’t having more sex rather than focus on how often you’re having it. If you’re having frequent fights with her or lacking passion and romance, then it could be a symptom of a much deeper-rooted problem. A lack of sexual intimacy in a marriage can be a major source of anxiety, frustration, trigger insecurities and have damaging effects on you or your wife’s self-confidence. It may be a good time to seek profession help to help you understand your issues and guide you to work it out together.

If, however, the decline in sex is a matter of circumstance rather than emotion and the normal flow of intimacy decreases and rises when one or both of you are extremely busy at work or overwhelmed with the tasks of parenthood, then it may be more circumstantial and nothing to be that concerned about. Work on the problem together. Ask yourself and your partner what is going on between you and in your life when you get to this place. Discuss your needs openly with each other and try to share your feelings.

Be careful to not just automatically blame your spouse for the situation. Ask yourself what your own role is in this. Talk to each other. Make sure that you spend alone time together. Don’t be afraid to share your fantasies and desires with each other. Remember the times you were passionate toward each other? Endeavor to bring those moments back. Make the commitment to each other to take the time to fix your intimacy issues. Focus on your connection with one another and be open with your feelings.

Remember that good, satisfying sex (even if it’s once a month or less) may be preferable to having sex once a week when it’s not eliciting sexual pleasure, satisfaction and feelings of intimacy and closeness — the physical and emotional bond which partners build with one another over time — achieved in healthy relationships.


Patti Carmalt-Vener, a faculty member with the Southern California Society for Intensive Short Term Psychotherapy, is a psychotherapist in private practice with offices in Pasadena, Santa Monica and Canoga Park. Contact her at (626) 584-8582 or email pcarmalt@aol.com. Visit her website, patticarmalt-vener.com.