Updated: Dec 22, 2020
Have you ever wondered how often people have sex?
(I purposely used the nebulously awkward euphemism “be intimate” in the title because generally people who ask this question in the framework of “supposed to” are uncomfortable with the more direct language of “have sex.” They may also say: “be together, do it, make love, have relations, etc.”)
In my line of work, I get this question a lot, because of the woeful lack of sex ed available to some communities.
It’s a legitimate curiosity, but the answer is unsatsifying.
Firstly: “supposed to” is not a great framework for healthy sex. It’s about desire, not obligation.
Second: Frequency is not something that is mandated. Not psychologically, not legally, not Biblically.
It’s determined by and customized to each couple.
There is a Medrash that describes this, and is quoted by Rashi in this week’s Torah portion (I’m writing this the week of VaYishlach.)
When Yaakov sent gifts of livestock to his brother Esav, the Torah lists in great detail, the numbers and species of all the animals in the caravan.
Why do we care how many he-goats and she-goats there were?
The answer offered is that the ratio of male to female animals was determined by how often they needed to mate, which was determined by how strenuously they worked. The Medrash extrapolates an analogy to human mating schedules. (The paradigm used by the Talmudic literature is phrased in terms of a husband’s requirement to be available for his wife, not the reverse, but sex should always be consensual both ways.)
The Medrash says that men of leisure can be available daily, laborers twice weekly, donkey drivers once a week, camel drivers ones a month, and sailors every six months.
Of course these are just some examples but Rashi goes on to explain: “From here we learn that this need is not equal to every person [or couple.]” It depends on the couple’s individual schedules, emotional, and physical limitations and needs.
I’ve heard many people say that they were under the impression that couples only have sex when they want to conceive a baby. They were genuinely shocked to learn otherwise. This is not so ludicrous, when you consider the fact that many young people are taught about sex only in the framework of “how babies are made” if that much.
It’s a legitimate query to ask how often couples have sex, but there isn’t a one size fits all answer.
Naturally there are some broad, cultural averages, but I know better than to publish them in a blog post.
The healthiest answer is “as often as works well for both of them at each stage of life.”
*If you were not offered adequate sexual education, and you’d like to re-educate yourself and/or learn how to do a better job teaching your own children, this might interest you.*