Core questions about sex

Here are the answers to the most frequently asked questions about sex.

Last updated on July 28, 2022, and last reviewed by an expert on February 10, 2022.

Why do people have sex?

People have sex for a variety of reasons, beyond procreation and expressing love.

Recent large-scale research highlighted 13 core reasons for having sex ranging from tension relief, pure pleasure, seeking new experiences and sexual attraction to improving social status or seeking an advantage in a particular domain of life, to boosting self-esteem, feeling an obligation to a partner or attempting to make sure a partner doesn’t stray.

How much sex is normal?

Are you having enough sex? The General Social Survey, which has tracked sexual activity in the U.S. since the 1970s, reports that married couples, on average, have sex 58 times a year, and that couples in their 20s have sex an average of 111 times a year, with that number declining about 20 percent with each additional decade of life.

But some researchers find those numbers suspect because they are based on self-reports.

Either way, there is no one standard for a satisfying sex life, and if someone is happy with their sexual frequency, they should have no insecurity about it. People experiencing an unwelcome lack of sexual desire for at least six months, however, could consider seeing a therapist.

How long should sex last?

Sex therapists report that “How long should sex last?” is one of the most common questions they field.

Research finds that, in most sexual encounters, penetration lasts three to five minutes; in surveys, people report feeling that one or two minutes is too short and that 10 minutes or more is too long.

However, therapists say the only valid answer to this question is that sex should last as long as both partners are enjoying it and that couples should not worry about meeting any further standard.

Would people be happier if they had more sex?

Does more sex make people happier? Not necessarily.

In studies, when partners were asked to double their usual sexual frequency, most could not follow through with it, and those who did didn’t report an increase in their sexual satisfaction.

In other words, when it comes to sex, for most people quality trumps quantity.

Is sex good for you?

Some research suggests that more frequent sex is correlated with a longer life span.

In one study, middle-aged people who reported having sex once a month were found a decade later to be twice as likely to have died than those who reported having had sex twice a week.

More frequent sex typically suggests having an intimate relationship, which has been found to extend one’s longevity.

Sex is also exercise, which benefits health. Sex also has been found to improve immune function and ease stress.

What can sex do for my mental health?

Research on partners’ emotional well-being before and after sex has found that people felt a greater sense of well-being, and a more profound sense of meaning in life the day after having sex.

But they were not any more likely to have sex the day after a day when they felt especially happy or enthusiastic.

The results were similar for both men and women, and did not depend on how an individual felt about their partner.

In other words, it appears that having sex generally does provide a real boost to mood, outlook, and well-being.

Can sex help me at work?

The spillover effects of sex extend beyond enhanced mood and improved health.

Research has found that, the day after having sex with a spouse, individuals reported feeling more positive at work, more satisfied with their job, and more engaged and productive.

However, work-related stress has also been found to negatively affect one’s sex life; specifically, people are less likely to have sex at night after a bad day at work.

What makes people experience sexual disgust?

People have different approaches to sex and different tastes in sexual activity—some embrace promiscuity, others practice BDSM; some support the use of porn, others seek out group sex.

But when it comes to sex, many individuals feel a strong disgust for practices that they find unacceptable.

Women generally express stronger and more wide-ranging sexual disgust than men, and religious people feel more aversion for a range of sexual practices than those who are not.

People higher in the personality trait of openness tend to feel lower levels of sexual disgust.

Are people’s first sexual experiences usually positive or negative?

Having sex for the first time, or giving up virginity, is an important milestone for many people.

But research into people’s “sexual debut” finds both emotional benefits and risks. After having sex, young adults in general report lower anxiety and less depression.

However, earlier sexual debuts—defined as before age 15—is correlated with greater use of alcohol and drugs afterward as well as lower feelings of self-worth.

Do people need to have sex?

People do not need to have sex, and many people report having fulfilling lives with little or no sex. But research does find that an active, satisfying sex life correlates with both a more positive outlook and feeling greater meaning in life.

Sex, however, may not be the source of these feelings; it’s also possible that people who are more positive and more fulfilled tend to have more sex.

Can people live without sex?

Approximately one percent of the population claims to be asexual—feeling no desire to have sex, and no sexual attraction to others, of any gender.

Asexuality was once considered a mental disorder but no longer, and many researchers now suggest it should be viewed as its own sexual orientation.

Some asexuals are in committed relationships, and may have sex to make their partners happy, and others are in fulfilling nonsexual relationships.

Most report that their greatest challenge is the stigma that asexuality carries with other people.

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