This piece originally appeared on VICE Netherlands.
Ask VICE is a series where readers ask VICE to solve their problems, from dealing with unrequited love to handling annoying flatmates. Today we’re trying to help a reader who has concerns about the amount of sex they’re having with their partner.
I’ve been with the love of my life for six years. We met in university, dated for a month and moved in together shortly after that. She’s got an intense job and used to go on a lot of business trips before the pandemic. We’d go whole weeks without seeing one another.
We’ve spent a lot of time together recently and I love it. We play sports together, binge-watch every TV show that’s on and because we’re not waking up horrendously hungover on Saturday mornings, we’ve got enough energy to really enjoy our weekends together. I’ve got to know her better and I like her more than ever.
After a lovely day, we get cozy in bed together, give one another a quick kiss, then turn away and go to sleep. We rarely have sex. We’re having it once a month on average but there have been times when we didn’t have sex for two months. This is markedly different from how things were when we started seeing each other. She’s always been a little kinkier than me, and I liked that. I’d visit her at work and we’d have a quickie in the toilet. When she was away from home for a while we’d masturbate together over FaceTime.
I’m not horny that often at the moment and when I am, I just masturbate quickly while she’s working at her computer. It has got to the point where having real sex just seems tiresome to me. I’m not actually sure how my partner feels but she definitely seems to be making less effort in this department, too. I don’t want us to break up and I am still very much attracted to her. So I’m wondering: is there’s something wrong with me? What can I do about this?
All around the world, people are having less and less sex every year. A survey conducted by researchers at London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and published in the British Medical Journal found that married and cohabiting couples are having less sex now than they did a decade ago. Their research also found that a lot of people in relationships have sex less frequently after the first six months they’re together. All of this means you are far from alone in your current situation.
You might be feeling insecure about your sex life because of what you hear or see in the media, but sexologist Yuri Ohlrichs tells us that there are no hard and fast rules about how much sex a couple should be having because this differs in every relationship. “There are couples out there who have sex three times a week but don’t really enjoy it,” he says. “And then there are couples who only have it once a month but are having the time of their lives when they do.”
It might seem obvious, but you can’t determine the quality of a relationship entirely based on the amount of sex that’s being had. “When I read your letter, I couldn’t see any reason why you should consider ending things,” Ohlrichs says. “You both seem to be having a great time together.”
The expert says that it is completely normal for a couple to gradually discover the actual dynamics of their relationship. Does sex feel like an integral part of it? Or is fulfilment found in the intimacy that comes with watching telly together after work?
“It might be the case that you’re discovering that the emphasis in your relationship is on doing other things together,” he says. While sex might have played a larger, more present role in other relationships you’ve had, it doesn’t mean that one was better than the other. “I notice, too, that you seem to be OK with having less sex,” Ohlrichs adds.
You’re right to wonder if your partner feels OK about all this, and according to Ohlrichs, there’s only one way to find out: ask her. He admits that this might be easier said than done. “People are often scared that when they bring up a topic like this, they’re looking for issues that might not exist for the other person.” Ohlrichs thinks these worries are largely unfounded. “It can be a huge relief to learn that your partner is also fine with how much sex you’re having together.”
If this doesn’t prove to be the case, however, and the pair of you realise you do actually miss your old sex life, Ohlrichs believes that there are a few things you can do about it.
The first is to really consider why you’re sleeping together less. Maybe it has something to do with the amount of time you’ve spent together in the past two years. “When you’re together constantly, it is normal for sexual tension to fade away,” he says. Couples can easily get used to the fact that they can have sex whenever, given they are always with one another. For some, this can lead to desire dissipating. The silver lining is that you’ve discovered there are other nice things to do together and, as a result, sex has become less of a priority.
Another thing to consider is the possibility that you’re not feeling yourself at the moment. Perhaps you’re stressed because of work or the pandemic or a million other things. If that is the case, Ohlrichs’ advice is simple – don’t put any additional pressure on yourself about your sex life.
The fact that you’re currently less interested in sex than you have been in the past doesn’t mean you’re doing anything wrong. If you manage to understand why you’re feeling like this and you want to do something about it, therapy could be an option, as it could help you renegotiate your relationship to sex.
“Your head and genitals work together, and your environment has an impact [on your libido], too. All of this can influence the way you experience sex,” Ohlrichs says. “For example, it could be the case that you associate sex and long-term relationships with having kids, and that you really don’t want that.”
There’s also the option of tackling things head on, as it were. If sex feels like a tiring thought, maybe just touch each other gently while kissing. You could even masturbate next to each other. “Sex can be experienced in different ways, and these might help you find some renewed pleasure in it,” Ohlrichs says.
“In any case it is still important to discover if you are unhappy with your sex life at all,” Olrichs concludes. Just because some couples cannot be happy without constantly orgasming together, it doesn’t mean that your evenings on the sofa are less valuable.