First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes conflicting schedules, changing priorities and a laundry list of other reasons (including actual laundry) that just seem to get in the way of having sex.
What really happens between the sheets for couples who are 5, 10, 15, 20 or more years past the initial hot-and-heavy phase of a relationship?
They say you don’t know what really happens between two people until you share a bed with them, so we hopped right in. And it turns out, even though kids and life can get in the way, in many cases there is plenty to look forward to when it comes to sex in the long term.
We chatted with 11 couples about how often they get down, how sex has changed and how to keep the romance alive.
Bobbi and Chris, married five years
“Since we’ve had our second child, who is 4 months old and still sleeps in our room, it’s maybe every couple of months? Definitely missing the connection sex brings to our marriage. Not happy with the amount at the moment but hoping it improves once baby two moves into her new room and our toddler stays in her toddler bed more often than she is currently.
“We’ve had one miscarriage and two babies since we’ve been married. Trying for babies was a lot of sex. It even took the fun out of it for a bit. Keeping the romance alive is a work in progress with our new normal, for sure. I don’t think it will ever be as wild as it once was. But hopefully, we can at least get back to once a week! Take advantage of your freedom while you can!” [Laughs] — Bobbi
Marantina and Ro, married five years
“Once a week. We do it when the kiddo’s asleep and in a different room (we co-sleep). We’re planning to make the kid sleep in his own room next year. Cross your fingers for more sexy time for us.
“When I was still working, we rarely had sex, maybe a few times a month. I used to refuse politely and said that I was tired of working. Then I got pregnant, so less sex. And we didn’t have sex until the kiddo turned 6 months because I didn’t have the desire. When we moved to Medan from Jakarta, my husband was so involved taking care of our kid and doing house chores, I started to feel the need to have sex again.” — Marantina
Jenna and Eric, married 8½ years
“Three or four times a week. I’m happy with that amount because I’m too exhausted to do anything more. We always choose each other first. A lot of people put their kids in front of their partners, and we really choose each other first.” — Jenna
“Having two kids back to back was pretty intense for us, and I ended up taking work out of town to keep up with everything, so we didn’t see each other as often as we’d wanted. Now we’re in a place where I’m back home, our kids are getting older, we’ve decided on no more, so I got snipped. This has been exciting for us since we’ve finally been connecting more often. I feel like we can experiment more than ever, even though I think I’m a bit boring in that department.” — Eric
Tom and his partner, together for nine years
“I enjoy Tom’s creativity, and it’s fun to try new things together and both be open to new ideas. A lot has come up around Tom’s transition that has also been fun, but it’s a very personal subject for Tom, so I’ll let him speak to that.” ― Tom’s partner
“I think 5 to 10 times per month. A lot has changed, especially with transitioning ― I am a transgender man. About four years in, our sex life really dropped off, and we had to figure out how to adjust to having busy schedules and making more effort to have sex. All of a sudden the romantic first couple years dropped off, and we were like, ‘Oh, my God, where did our sex life go?’
“I always had these discomforts, this dysphoria with my body that made it really difficult to have sex. When I started to explore what was kind of going on in my mind, basically most of my fantasies were about being a man while having sex, which made it really difficult.
“I ended up going to therapy and was talking about this idea, and the idea got shared that it was totally OK to want to have sex as a man, and the man that I am. So I started to bring this up with my partner and asked if we could try these things, and he was like, ‘Yeah, absolutely.’ Very quickly from there it opened up this whole other realm of sex that I had never had with him. This sexual revolution was a big source of empowerment that allowed me to come out as trans in other areas of my life, too.” — Tom
Alyssa and Justin, married 10 years
“It’s probably around three or four times a week. Sometimes a bit more often, sometimes less. We were both each other’s first real sexual partners, and we didn’t have sex until after we were married. So things evolved slowly for us in terms of what we were comfortable with.
“My advice for newlyweds might seem intuitive for most people, but where I was always scared or ashamed of my body, it was really helpful to get a vibrator. Sexual enjoyment seems to come more easily for men, and if you’re a woman who doesn’t feel very satisfied, it can be the missing ingredient to great sex life. Make sure your needs are taken care of first!” — Alyssa
Kate and John, married 11 years
“We average two to three times a week. With trying to manage both of us working full time and his swing overnight shifts and having two kids, I think we do pretty well.
“There’s not a whole lot of spontaneity at this point, but you have to make it a priority. There’s no shame in doing that.” — Kate
Andrea and Dan, married 15 years
“We average about two times a week, but that’s the lowest it’s been in our 15 years. Of course, we have four kids, so there are periods of time when we won’t be having sex very often, but it seems to ebb and flow in a way that works.” — Andrea
“It seems we’ve synced up with our frequency and out habits in a healthy way. We feel like we may be an anomaly, and we’re each kind of surprised ourselves.” — Dan
“There’s six of us, and we have a teen who is up later than we are, so how are we gonna sprinkle rose petals in the living room when she’s in there doing her homework? [Laughs] But we get away from the children whenever possible. It’s easy to fall into the habit of ‘We’re just co-coordinators’ or ‘We’re just co-babysitters,’ so it’s like, no, we have to get away from them. I wish I could say we’ve been to Mexico for a week without them, but that’s not the case, but literally even saying we’re going to Costco and they’re not going with us ― just turning that into a date.” — Andrea
Julie and Martin, married 22 years
“We average about once a week. We have been married for 22 years and have been swingers for almost 17. So, as far as libido goes, we score pretty high. Right now we have some pressure from work, which has always had an impact on my husband’s libido, so I’m not worried about our happiness but prefer when that number goes up to maybe two times a week.
“At first it was strictly swinging, but in the past seven or eight years, we’ve also had solo flights. Sometimes I’ll have a hookup or he will, and we’ll both be fine with that. We only engage in swinging activities when we are both at ease with our relationship and frequency, not as a way to seek pleasure elsewhere. Just as you don’t have a child to strengthen your relationship, you don’t engage in swinging in order to strengthen your sex life. If your relationship isn’t strong and healthy, the swinging will likely drive the wedge further than make the relationship stronger.
“Swinging has also shaped the way we engage with each other. You don’t engage with a body you haven’t known for years the same way you engage with a body who you haven’t known for years. It’s refreshing at the moment, but when you come to the body you know, you will have a tendency to bring that excitement into the way you engage with it.” — Julie
Trudie, married 26 years
“Not enough, to be frank. Maybe once a month. And I think there’s a stigma that it’s always the female, but that’s not the case. My husband is older, and I think that has a lot to do with it.
“It’s really frustrating for me. I have a lot of empathy toward him because I’ve known him so long, but as a female, it doesn’t make me feel attractive or womanly. I’ve explained that to him, and he assures me it has nothing to do with me. I’ve even asked if he wants to have sex with someone else, and he assures me it’s nothing like that. I just feel neutral, like I’m just one of the guys.
“I think that’s why a lot of couples split up. You hear their kids go to college and they have time together, and so many people split up. I was always like, ’That’s so weird. I’ll never do that. But I kind of get it now. Now, in this situation, I kind of get it.” ― Trudie
Lara and Clark, married 30 years
“We met when I was 16 and he was 17, got married a week and a half after my 18th birthday and I got pregnant with our first child about a month later [laughs]. We have a great sex life when we can have sex. I would say we probably only have sex about five times a month. If it’s a particularly good month, we’ll have it a few times a week.
“We’re less inhibited now than I’d say even when we were a good 10-15 years into our marriage. I think we were both pretty insecure with ourselves and even somewhat within our relationship. Since we had kids so quickly after we got married, we didn’t really have that time to get to know each other. So I think for a lot of years we were still very insecure. Then there was a time a few years ago where we both were like, ‘You know what? Enough.’ We’ve been married a long time at this point; we can be open. So we started sharing a lot more of our desires and maybe our fantasies and that sort of stuff. I think it’s made our sex life much more comfortable.” — Lara
Michael and Randall, together 41 years, married five
“Sexual activity is at least twice a week. Randy would prefer more; our joke is that Michael would prefer Christmas and birthdays. I think there is always one who wants sex more than the other. It can’t be a deterring factor, and since retirement, it’s more often now. We personally think we still have incredible sex, as good or better as in the beginning.
“We do little things for each other. We live in a lush floral area in Portugal, so a simple flower from the garden, a little odd or end when out shopping. At a certain age, one realizes we have all we need. Just a little love and affection toward each other is the greatest gift.
“If you truly love someone, you work it out. Randy had a terrible auto accident, took several years to recuperate, and with all the drugs, sex was pretty far and few between for Randy. But you work through it. Then a father with Parkinson’s, now a mother with dementia, building a new house, life’s stresses, work, life, family, you thank one of the 5,000 gods for the gift of finding each other. You support and love through thick and thin.” — Michael