Couple with happy sex life

Better sex: what you need to know

There’s a lot of information out there about sex, but we’ve broken it down into the essential facts and figures. Here’s what you need to know to improve your sex life

Written by Charlotte Haigh on March 25, 2019 Reviewed by Leila Collins on March 29, 2019

Wondering whether your sex life is normal? Want some easy tips for making things more fun? These simple facts and figures can help you uncover the truth about sex, and give your sex life a boost.

How often do people have sex?

Fewer than five times a month. And that number is dropping – in 2000, we had sex six times a month on average, according to the National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles.1 Older people tend to have less sex and those aged 18 to 29 have the most – on average, twice a week. This number halves by the time you reach your 40s.2 But remember that everyone’s sexual appetite varies; if you’re happy with how often you have sex, that’s totally fine.

Why are we having less sex than before?

Researchers are still trying to understand why we’re having less sex, and the widespread availability of pornography, smartphone addiction and stress have all been implicated.3

Another theory is that the rise in anxiety and depression are causing a corresponding decline in our sex lives.4 A 2012 Australian review found depression can reduce sexual desire and increase the risk of sexual problems.5 However, sex can also help to reduce anxiety so don’t rule it out if you’re looking for natural remedies!

How important is good communication when it comes to good sex?

Good communication is key to feeling satisfied in your relationship, but poor communication can lead to problems in the relationship, which then cause sexual problems. Talking to your partner, especially about sex, can bring you closer together.

Researchers from Cleveland State University found that couples who are more comfortable talking about sex with each other are more likely to be sexually satisfied,6 while a 2014 study in the Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy reported that sharing your sexual likes and dislikes can increase relationship satisfaction and closeness.7

At what age do we feel most comfortable with our bodies?

In the UK, it’s 60 – in fact, 68% of people aged 60 and over like their bodies.8 However, self-confidence and a positive body image is a helpful attitude towards sex at any time of life.

When do you have your best sex?

Women reach peak orgasm frequency in their 30s,9 but it’s not all downhill after that. In a 2012 US study of women aged 40 and above, researchers found that half of women were sexually active well into their old age, with 67% experiencing orgasms most of the time.10 The key is to feel positive about ageing. According to the Kinsey Institute, people with negative stereotypes about getting older also have the sharpest drop in the quality of their sex lives as they age.11

What do we fantasise about?

Having sex in public, being tied up, role play and dressing up are among the most popular fantasies in the UK – with 81% of women and 77% of men reporting to have acted out one of these with a partner.12 It’s good to share your sexual fantasies with your partner, but only if you’re both happy and comfortable doing so.

How common is erectile dysfunction?

Erectile dysfunction affects 50% of men between the ages of 40 and 70 to some degree.13 If you only experience the odd episode, it’s usually nothing to worry about. But if it keeps affecting you, see your GP – sometimes impotence can indicate an underlying heart condition such as high blood pressure that may be affecting blood flow to the penis.14

What about vaginal dryness during sex?

Around 17% of women aged 18 to 50 are affected by vaginal dryness. After the menopause, this number rises – half of all women aged between 51 and 60 experience vaginal dryness during sex.15 Vaginal dryness can be caused by not being sexually aroused enough, or the effects of medication. Post-menopause, it’s often linked to a drop in the hormone oestrogen.16 Make sure you spend long enough on foreplay, while lubricants can also help. If you’re prone to thrush, avoid using any lubricants that might be irritating – opt for a natural, unscented one.17 You can talk to your GP about hormone replacement therapy, too.

Do pelvic floor exercises really help sex?

They can, but you need to work up to three sets of 10-15 pelvic floor squeezes each day. Building up the pelvic floor muscles can lead to stronger orgasms for women and reduce symptoms of erectile dysfunction in men.18

Be aware that not everyone finds pelvic floor exercises helpful, so see your doctor if you want to find a way to improve your sex life.

Which supplements and herbs can help?

Many people swear by these supplements to support their sex lives, although it’s important you find one that works for you:

  • vitamin D – low levels of the sunshine vitamin have been linked with sexual dysfunction in both men and women, according to a 2018 Polish study19

  • horny goat weed – this herb has been traditionally used in Asian medicine for boosting male libido, and one small study seems to confirm it may have a role, though more research is needed20

  • maca – has a reputation for boosting female desire, and a pilot study found 3g a day could significantly enhance libido in women, particularly when sex drive is low due to anti-depressants21

  • omega-3 fatty acids – a 2005 French study found these essential fats may be important to boost libido and overall mood22
Shop Vitamins & Supplements Advice is for information only and should not replace medical care. Please check with your GP before trying any remedies.

Sources 

1. NHS. Results of sex survey published 2. Medical Daily. Average sex per week linked to age 3. Simon Copland. BBC Future. The many reasons people are having less sex

4. As above

5. Atlantis E, Sullivan T. Bidirectional association between depression and sexual dysfunction 6. Babin E. An examination of predictors of nonverbal and verbal communication of pleasure during sex and sexual satisfaction 7. Coffelt TA, Hess JA. Sexual Disclosures: Connections to Relational Satisfaction and Closeness 8. Ben Tobin. YouGov. Over a third of Brits are unhappy with their bodies 9. Sathyanarana Rao TS, Najaraj AKM. Female sexuality 10. Trompeter SE, Bettencourt R, Barrett-Connor E. Sexual Activity and Satisfaction in Healthy Community-dwelling Older Women 11. Dr Justine Lehmiller. Kinsey Institute. How “Feeling Old” Can Affect The Quality of Your Sex Life 12. Kashmira Gander. The Independent. Most women have lived out their sexual fantasies 13. Sexual Advice Association. Erectile dysfunction 14. NHS. Erectile dysfunction 15. Women’s Health Concern. Vaginal dryness

16. As above

17. Dr Roger Henderson. Netdoctor. Candida: 5 signs you have vaginal thrush 18. Mayo Clinic. Kegel exercises: A how-to guide for women 19. Krysiak R, Szwajkosz A, Okopien B. The effect of low vitamin D status on sexual functioning and depressive symptoms in apparently healthy men: a pilot study 20. University of Michigan. Horny Goat Weed 21. Dording CM, et al. A double-blind, randomized, pilot dose-finding study of maca root (L. meyenii) for the management of SSRI-induced sexual dysfunction 22. Bourre JM. Dietary omega-3 Fatty acids and psychiatry: mood, behaviour, stress, depression, dementia and aging

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