How many times a week should we have intercourse?
We have been married for eight years, and have two small children; the youngest is one year old. When we were first married, we used to have sexual intercourse 1-2 times a week, but over time it became less and less frequent. Now we engage in sexual relations approximately twice a month, once on mikveh night and once more before I become niddah again – but even that much is not easy to orchestrate with the pressure of kids and work. I have a hard time reaching orgasm so I forgo the effort altogether. My husband is really bothered by the frequency – he thinks couples normally have intercourse at least four times a week, but I think he's exaggerating. This issue is creating a lot of tension between us. It would be helpful to know how many times a week most couples have intercourse, to understand what the norm is.
Many couples wonder about the desired frequency of sexual intercourse; some sex therapists say this is the most frequently asked question by their clients, so you are in good company.
Let's begin with the bottom line: The common response by professionals is "as frequently as the couple agree upon." While this answer is certainly accurate, I think it might be unhelpful. A couple is made up of two separate people, with two separate bodies with different and shifting needs. It's rare for two people to have the same needs, or want to have intercourse in the exact same frequency. I understand from your question that there may be a discrepancy with regard to the frequency of sexual relations. In order to provide a practical and useful response to your important question, I would like to raise a number of critical points.
How are 'sexual relations' defined?
The common perception is that sexual intercourse occurs in a sexual encounter that ends in orgasm for both partners; although some would suffice with defining intercourse as a sexual encounter in which ejaculation takes place. Even if a woman has not reached orgasm, many people would consider such an encounter as intercourse.
Ask yourselves: would you not consider a sexual encounter that includes intimate erotic play and emotional connection without orgasm or ejaculation 'intercourse?' Why, or why not? Let's leave this question aside for a moment, and move on to another point.
Sexual Release vs. Sexual Satisfaction
Many men who seek sexual counselling report that while they are sexually functional and will reach ejaculation, they do not feel sexually satisfied. Quick physiological release may be enjoyable in the moment, but still leaves one with a sense of emptiness after the fact. Putting halakhah aside for the moment, if we consider cultures that do not prohibit male masturbation, why would men engage in a relationship, or even hire the services of prostitutes, when they can self-indulge? The answer is that sexual release is not satisfactory, and the number of ejaculations cannot be a measure for a satisfying sex life.
How can a woman satisfy her husband?
Generally, when a man tells me "we don't have sexual relations frequently enough and I'm feeling frustrated," what he may be saying is "the quality of our sexual encounters does not satisfy me for very long, and sometimes the emptiness I feel after having relations makes me feel like I need more sexual release."
This may be analogous to our relationship with food. Take a man who has fasted for three days. His body is weak, tired, and depleted. If you feed him strong coffee with five spoons of sugar, his body will receive a jolt of basic energy that might satisfy him for the moment. But how long can such a jolt sustain him? Very soon he will need another source of energy, since he has not yet provided his body with what it needs. On the other hand, if he were to be served a healthy, well-balanced meal that includes all the food groups, and allow him to eat slowly with attention to his needs, he may be satisfied for several hours.
Orgasm for the Body, Orgasm for the Soul
The gap you describe between your perception and your husband's may be in what you perceive as 'sexual relations.' Long-term, fulfilling sexual satisfaction, which provides optimal sexual health for both spouses, and should be the aspiration in the context of the sanctified marriage bond, includes two types of orgasms: physical, and emotional-spiritual. A man usually achieves an orgasm on an emotional-spiritual plane only when his partner is satisfied and present. A man wants to feel that his spouse desires him, enjoys physical contact with him, is infatuated by his touch, and receptive to his love. His complete sexual satisfaction depends on the sense that his spouse is satisfied; and reciprocally, a woman who feels this way will want to return to the act of lovemaking over and over. This creates a magical dual effect: the husband is satisfied for longer, while his spouse seeks more and more sexual contact.
Men are like the Sun, Women are like the Moon.
Most women want to have the energy to enhance their sexual energy, even if due to life circumstances exhaustion and pressures get in the way. What can one do to 'get back in the mood,' when the desire is there in theory but not in practice? Like the moon, women go through cycles. Hormonal and emotional shifts (which are to be expected after childbirth, for example, as you recently experienced) directly impact sexual drive (in addition to external emotional factors, overload, unstable health, emotional insecurity in a relationship and more). All of these have an effect on a woman's sexual desire.
When there are gaps in sexual drive, it is important to avoid sex for the purpose of complacency ("giving him what he needs"). Even if your giving is loving, your body language will give you away, and may impact your future sexual relationship.
When a woman's sexual drive wanes, her spouse should understand that she is more sensitive to certain life circumstances. Instead of pressuring her, he should be more attentive to her needs, prioritizing emotional intimacy, and providing her with the space she needs to complete the cycle.
If women are like the moon, men are like the sun. When the sun is up it shines bright; there is no waxing and waning, no hormonal shifts, or biological factors in their emotional state. They are physically programmed to serve the primary evolutionary objective of survival of the species, and this is reflected in their sexual drive.
It's important for a woman to understand that a man is like the sun, spreading light and energy, continuity and a healthy life force. This energy should not be undermined or dismissed: it should be actively encouraged to be expressed in the context of the relationship.
Marriage is a Choice to be Together
Defining and nurturing individual needs is a critical stage in the development of a relationship, and in the cultivation of an intimate and emotional relationship. It is important that both spouses feel seen and heard. Couples who go through periods of sexual placation tend to transition to an extreme protective side of self-definition, where each spouse fights for the right to want or reject sex. This is not a good place to be for a real and beneficial change; active steps need to be taken to bridge the gaps while providing space for difference. Both spouses should listen and study the needs of their spouse, and sometimes go out of their comfort zone to fulfill the sexual needs of the other. This can be achieved through positive sexual communication. A man should not buy his wife flowers in order to court her because he thinks that's what's right, when what she really needs is help around the house or a foot massage. There are workshops that provide detailed instruction on pleasuring one's spouse in a modest setting. There is no reason that a man should not know how to satisfy his wife; if he was never taught, he should seek a professional and educate himself.
A woman should learn how to turn on the passion, even if by nature she is not in a place that is seeking eroticism because she is busy with other, more urgent matters. This is what couples learn in sex counselling. Men and women can undergo a process of personal growth with regard to sexuality alone; but this is far easier and more beneficial when seeking counsel as a couple.
Couples who choose a monogamous marriage must understand that proceeding effortlessly and naturally may be the easier choice in the moment, but in the long run keeping the passion alive demands investment and nurturing, choice, decision, leaving one's comfort zone, active work, dedication and persistence.
Planned is as spontaneous as it gets
One of the most effective ways to eliminate the tension relating to the frequency and maintenance of stable libido is to schedule sex. I recommend that couples schedule erotic dates 2-3 times a week; this is not a date that must end with anticipation of intercourse, orgasm, and ejaculation; it's a date that includes erotic physical contact of any kind. When the schedule demands 'Monday 8-10' 'Friday 9-11' and 'Shabbat 2-4' – there is no dark cloud questioning when we will have a chance to be together – the answer is on the calendar.
Planning allows the couple to arrive prepared physically and emotionally. Another article will be devoted to erotic dates.
Sexuality of the Egg, Sexuality of the Sperm
In light of the differences between men and women described above, it is also important to take note of the different types of sexuality symbolized by the egg and sperm; we can use their characteristics as a model.
The sperm is all about purpose and achievement. The egg is static, magnetizing, and passive. Despite this general division, both men and women can experience pleasure of both types. Moreover, overall sexual satisfaction is complete when different types of satisfaction are achieved at different times. A woman can experience immense satisfaction from an occasional "quickie" (a quick orgasm using a pleasure product, for example) just like a man can have a powerful erotic experience without ejaculation. An erotic relationship can and should include different types of sexual expressions, and a broad array of sexual experiences, to fulfill the needs of both partners. This type of fulfillment replaces the need for quantification, and emphasizes quality over quantity. When attention is given to broadening the sexual experience over time, harmonious intimacy can be preserved in the long term.
I hope this was helpful,
Wishing you a loving and passionate marriage,