The average adult has sex 54 times a year (once a week, basically, with a few extras thrown in), according to a study published in Archives of Sexual Behavior in 2017. If your personal average is a lot higher, you might be wondering, how much sex is too much—and what are the repercussions of having too much sex, anyway?
Let us put your mind at ease, with help from Rebecca C. Brightman, MD, assistant clinical professor of obstetrics, gynecology, and reproductive medicine at The Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai Health System in New York City. “The definition of frequent sex is variable and if it feels good and doesn’t hurt, then sex at any frequency is okay,” Dr. Brightman tells Health. In other words, get your freak on to your heart’s content as long as you’re not experiencing any adverse effects.
However, it does help to know some signs that you should maybe give your body some respite from sex—your own personal “too much” warnings, if you like.
The main physical hazard of having a lot of sex is excessive swelling of the vagina and labia, Sherry A. Ross, ob-gyn and women’s health expert in Santa Monica, California and author of she-ology and she-ology. the she-quel, tells Health. “With a lot of sexual stimulation, the vagina and labia become engorged with blood, and this can lead to excessive swelling and pain with sexual contact,” she explains.
A long sex session can also cause the natural lubrication of the vagina to dry up, which can lead to friction and pain. “If you haven’t had the right amount of foreplay to become sexually aroused and get wet, the vagina will be dry—making sex painful when the penis or fingers enter the vagina,” Dr. Ross says.
She points out that vaginal dryness can also occur in menopausal women, resulting in a burning sensation inside the vagina during sexual contact and penetration.
If you end up with a swollen and/or sore vagina after sexual contact, back off until you feel okay, Dr. Brightman says. If the swelling seems excessive, try an ice pack for some relief.
Next time you do it, consider using a vaginal lubricant or extra virgin coconut oil to create extra wetness in the vagina for a prolonged sex session. For chafing, aquaphor or a similar product can help to soothe affected areas, Dr. Ross says.
Men can also experience similar discomfort when they overdo it, Dr. Ross points out. “The penis can experience soreness, swelling, and chafing, and [a man may have] difficulty urinating.”
Speaking of penises, bigger isn’t always better—especially if you’re having a lot of sex. While a thicker penis makes the vagina feel more full, being overly stretched can be painful and uncomfortable, and it might even cause vaginal tears.
The more sex you have, the greater the risk of bladder and vaginal infections. This is due to disruption to the natural pH balance of the vagina, Dr. Ross explains, when bacteria from the vagina and anus find their way into the bladder. To help prevent this, get into the habit of emptying your bladder after having sexual penetration with your partner
In some cases, the side effect of having a lot of sex might call for medical attention. If you have any abnormal discharge, unusual or persistent bleeding, evidence or tearing, pain with urination, or persistent vulvar pain, get it checked out by your health care provider.
But if the only thing all that sex has left you with is a feeling of satisfaction (and perhaps a little fatigue), there’s no reason why you can’t keep going. “As long as there is proper lubrication and consensual breaks in between going under the sheets, you’re not in any danger,” Dr. Ross says.
“Communication is vital in a relationship—especially during intimacy. Being honest and comfortable with your partner ensures a healthy and satisfying sexual relationship.”
Listen to your body at all times, Dr. Brightman adds. If something doesn’t feel good—whether it’s the first time you’ve had sex for a week, or your third round in 24 hours—stop and discuss it with your partner. And if you feel like you’re overdoing it, take a break for a day or two
Now that coronavirus COVID-19 has been officially confirmed as a pandemic by the World Health Organization, even those who were insisting “it’s no worse that the flu” are starting to fill up the vegetable drawer with fresh greens and stockpile hand sanitizer.
So what else can boost your immune system? Is the rumor that masturbation helps to ward off infection simply too good to be true?
If you’re hoping that all you need to do to keep the new coronavirus at bay is get handsy under the sheets, you’ll be interested in a study carried out by the Department of Medical Psychology at the University Clinic of Essen, Germany, which was published in the journal Neuroimmunomodulation in 2004.
Using a group of 11 male participants, the study looked at the effects of orgasm through masturbation on while blood cell count and immune system. Each participant’s white blood cell count was recorded five minutes before and 45 minutes after reaching solo orgasm, and the post-orgasm count was higher.
Does this small study mean that people should start indulging in solo pleasure to stay healthy? Not so fast.
“There have been a couple of very small studies suggesting that chemicals related to the body’s immune system are impacted by sexual stimulation,” Gail Saltz, MD, an associate professor of psychiatry at the New York-Presbyterian Hospital Weill-Cornell School of Medicine, tells Health.
However, she points out that the studies are very small and haven’t been replicated. “To my knowledge, no study says specifically that masturbation boosts the immune system in a way that prevents or helps fight off infection,” says Dr. Saltz.
But that doesn’t mean masturbation doesn’t come with a whole host of mental and physical health benefits. Although few studies focus specifically on the perks of solo sex, orgasms in general are believed to reduce stress, reduce blood pressure, increase self-esteem, and relieve pain.
While there aren’t scientifically solid major studies that show a clear link between masturbation and the release of endorphins (stress and pain-relieving chemicals) in the brain, it’s understood that physical activity in general helps to increase those feel-good chemicals.
According to the Mayo Clinic, virtually any form of exercise can act as a stress-buster. And masturbation counts as physical activity, right?
Beyond health benefits, masturbation might even help your relationship. One study, published in the Journal of Sex Education and Therapy, found that women who masturbated had happier marriages compared to those who didn’t give themselves sexual pleasure.
Will masturbating stop you from getting sick? In a word, no. To boost your immune system, you need to start with diet and exercise. “The most important way to keep your immune system functioning normally is the old-fashioned way that nobody likes to talk about: diet and exercise,” Timothy Mainardi, MD, an allergist and immunologist based in New York City, previously told Health.
Other immunity-boosting tips from Mainardi include getting plenty of sleep, washing your hands with soap and water, and using hand sanitizer when you’re out in public. Masturbating may not be on the list, but we can think of worse things to be doing if you end up self-isolating.
The information in this story is accurate as of press time. However, as the situation surrounding COVID-19 continues to evolve, it’s possible that some data have changed since publication.
While Health is trying to keep our stories as up-to-date as possible, we also encourage readers to stay informed on news and recommendations for their own communities by using the CDC, WHO, and their local public health
department as resources.
When it comes to sex, people tend to fudge the numbers. Penis size gets inflated, the number of lifetime partners is edited up or down, and how long a sex session lasts can be way exaggerated. (Six hours, really?)
But when it comes to how often couples have sex, science actually has an accurate idea. The average adult gets some action 54 times a year—or about once a week, according to a 2017 study published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior. Another study published in 2015 linked the frequency of sex to happiness.
Researchers writing in Social Psychological and Personality Science found that couples who have sex at least once a week are happier with their relationship than those who get it on less often.
That second study also found that having sex one or more times a week does not affect your well-being any further, so it’s not like hitting the sheets all the time is going to make you OD on happy hormones. “Couples often make the mistake of shooting for some number in order to feel okay about their sex life,”
Raffi Bilek, a couples counselor and the director of the Baltimore Therapy Center, tells Health. “The truth is that whatever is comfortable for you and your partner is your normal. You don’t need to be having sex any more or less than you’d like.”
Whew. So if you’re not having sex with the frequency of, say, Claire and Jamie in Outlander circa seasons one and two, it’s NBD.
When you stop focusing on the numbers, you realize that a lot of factors affect how often a couple gets it on, Brian Jory, PhD, a professor and the director of family studies at Berry College in Georgia, tells Health: your ages, values, lifestyle, innate sex drive, health, and, most of all, the quality of your relationship.
“In almost all long-term relationships, something called ‘sexual satiation’ sets in around year two or three,” says Jory. “Sexual satiation is the been there/done that element of coupledom. It’s the human tendency to become bored; it’s not a fault, and it’s nothing to be creeped out about or ashamed of.”
For what it’s worth, a third study broke down sexual frequency by age. People under 30 have sex 112 times a year on average (over twice a week), but that frequency declines to 86 times a year among 30-39 year-olds, 69 times annually for those aged 40-49, and roughly 52 times yearly for couples in their fifties and beyond, according to research conducted at the Kinsey Institute in Indiana.
The way you address that satiation is critical for long-term happiness, though. “For some couples, satiation means comfort, security, and predictability,” says Jory. “Others experience satiation as boredom, a letdown, or a sign that they’re incompatible and need to break up.”
Unfortunately, you can end up in a place where you and your partner don’t agree on what’s comfortable in terms of frequency, says Bilek. “You’re not the only ones. Talking about it, perhaps with the help of a professional counselor, is an important part of getting on the same page on the issue. Comparing yourself to statistics,” he adds, “is not.”
And before you freak out about a few weeks of missed opportunities between the sheets, remember: The goal of a relationship is happiness, not sex. “Sex is important to the degree that it makes a couple happy,” says Jory. “And researchers would agree that relationship happiness leads to better sex, not vice versa.”
So if you and your partner aren’t in sync when it comes to how often you rock the mattress, the first line of assessment and treatment is to focus on your relationship. Talk about what’s going on, open up about your needs and fantasies, and don’t judge each other. “Couples need verbal and psychological intimacy before they can have sexual intimacy,” says Jory
Let’s talk about sex, specifically how long it lasts. Sometimes it’s way too short, and you’re thinking, Did he seriously just finish? In 30 seconds? Other times it’s way too long, and you feel like your vagina might break at any moment. And then there are those sessions that hit the sweet spot. Not too short, not too long, but just right.
Okay, that’s a lot of nonstop bumping and grinding. Holly Richmond, PhD, a certified sex therapist, tells Health that number seems very high (*lets out sigh of relief*). She says nine to 12 minutes is probably more accurate for how long intercourse lasts, on average.
That being said, Richmond also points out that surveys like this one can be tricky because everyone has their own definition of sex. Some people who replied could have included foreplay in their response, while others might have thought the question meant strictly penetration. (A rep for SKYN Condoms tells Health the question was focused on penetration.)
A previous survey by sex toy company Lovehoney came up with a time span much closer to Richmond’s. The company surveyed 4,400 customers and found that for most heterosexual couples, sex lasts 19 minutes on average, and it consisted of 10 minutes of foreplay and nine minutes of actual intercourse.
But before you start worrying about whether your sex life lives up to the average, Richmond says to consider a few things. “In sex, there’s not really a normal,” she says. “Sexuality is so diverse, and every individual is different. I urge people to think about how unique their own sexuality is. It doesn’t make sense to put ourselves in a box with a survey.”
Also, don’t let porn fool you. Richmond calls porn stars the “Olympic athletes of sex.” They might look like they can go on forever, but it’s just not realistic.
The important thing is that you’re satisfied with your sex life. If you and your partner end each session feeling relaxed and connected, then it doesn’t matter how long it lasted at all.
But if you already think your time in the sack is too short and you’re not satisfied, change your routine a little. “I’m such a huge fan of quickies, especially for parents of young children or couples who are just overworked and exhausted,” says Richmond.
There’s also a time and place for drawing out the action. “When you do get a day or a few hours to yourselves, just try to be really sensual in how you think about sex,” she says. “Bring sexuality and eroticism into it, not just penetration.”
Bottom line: Sex is different for everyone. Your enjoyment is what matters, not trying to compete with some so-called average. But hey, a little experimentation never hurt anybody. Who knows, maybe you’ll find you and your partner love to slow things down…or speed them up.