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Katherine Ryan does it ‘exactly twice a month’. How often should we be having sex with our partners?

Katherine Ryan logs her sexual shenanigans with husband Bobby Kootstra (Getty)
Katherine Ryan logs her sexual shenanigans with husband Bobby Kootstra (Getty)

Ah, honey, not tonight – I’m not in the mood.” These are words you won’t be hearing from Katherine Ryan or her husband, Bobby Kootstra, on their twice-monthly sex dates. The Canadian comedian and actor revealed in an interview with The Times that getting down and dirty is something they do “exactly twice a month” – it’s all part of the schedule, alongside, presumably, playdates and children’s birthday parties.

Not only does she have a quota, the 40-year-old star of Netflix show The Duchess keeps track of every time they do the deed. “I log it just in case I do get pregnant,” she says. (Ryan also said we should all be rimming, according to her gay friends – but she’s not quite ready for that yet.)

Meanwhile, the septuagenarian siren and actor Jane Seymour wrote in a recent essay for Cosmo that she’s currently having the most “wonderful and passionate” sex of her life with boyfriend John Zambetti. It’s brought the question of how often couples in long-term relationships “should” be doing it to the fore again – as well as, in Ryan’s case, whether taking an admin-based approach to bedroom antics could be key to maintaining a healthy sex life. And, pushing it a step further: should we even be popping physical encounters with our partners in the diary?

To many, the thought of passion being something that is “booked in” is the ultimate turn-off. (I once had a partner who was so against it that even making reference in the morning to possibly getting intimate later that day would guarantee nooky was off the menu.) Popular culture often tells us that it should happen organically. From the aching, non-verbal desire of Normal People and the kink-fuelled horniness of Saltburn to the can’t-keep-their-hands-off-each-other hyper-sexual cringe of reality show Too Hot to Handle, it can feel like the world is simply screaming at us that we ought to be gagging for it. All. The. Time.

The reality is starkly different. A multiyear study of more than 34,000 Brits from 2019, conducted by NatSal and published in the BMJ, found that around half of those in serious relationships aren’t even having sex once a week. YouGov tracker data has previously revealed that, on average, only around 27 per cent of the British population have sex in any given seven-day period.

But you shouldn’t be comparing your sex life to anyone else’s, according to Jo Coker, a counselling psychologist and professional standards manager for the College of Sexual and Relationship Therapists (COSRT). “Some couples will be happy with less frequent sex than the norm,” she says. “And we also only have a sketchy idea of what ‘the norm’ is, as people often do not give accurate rates.”

The main thing is that “both partners are happy with the amount” of sex, rather than striving for a specific frequency. “There is not an ideal number; all couples are different,” says Coker.

Is your sex life as good as Jane Seymour’s? Unlikely (Getty)
Is your sex life as good as Jane Seymour’s? Unlikely (Getty)

Psychosexual and relationship specialist Lottie Passell-Syms agrees. “It is less about the specific number and more about the satisfaction and comfort levels of both partners,” she tells me. She believes in “quality over quantity, as to desire sex it must be worth desiring”.

Frequency of sex is a “really poor marker of sexual satisfaction”, adds Dr Karen Gurney, a clinical psychologist and psychosexologist at the Havelock Clinic, and author of Mind the Gap: The Truth About Desire and How to Futureproof your Sex Life. “Instead it is better to ask the question: ‘Are we both happy with the amount of sex that we have?’ A cause for concern may be if one person feels often unhappy or dissatisfied with the amount of sex, and here more talking might be useful.”

There is not an ideal number; all couples are different

Jo Coker, counselling psychologist

Although experts are hesitant to prescribe a “perfect” amount of sex we should be having, couples who managed to get some action once a week were found to be happiest in a 2015 study published in Social Psychological and Personality Science. Happiness declined as that number went down, while having sex more frequently didn’t particularly affect people’s satisfaction levels.

The benefits of maintaining a healthy sex life are myriad but can be divided into two main camps, says Passell-Syms. “The first one is that the relationship can have a more emotional and energetic feel to it, where partners are connected and vulnerable enough to share and communicate freely. The other part is that regular sexual activity has various health benefits, including stress and anxiety reduction, improving your mood, which activates endorphins, dopamine and adrenaline.”

Nearly every scene of controversial film ‘Saltburn’ drips with sexual desire (Prime Video)
Nearly every scene of controversial film ‘Saltburn’ drips with sexual desire (Prime Video)

It’s not regularity that matters most but sexual satisfaction, which “is associated with relationship satisfaction, and so for most (but not all) couples, having a good sex life is good for your relationship long term”, says Dr Gurney. “Interestingly, this only works in one direction – which is that having a great relationship does not always lead to having great sex but having a great sex life usually leads to a great relationship.”

But long-term studies have also shown that the amount we have sex is on the decline – particularly among those who are coupled up. The NatSal study found that partners were having less sex now than they did 10 years ago; the decrease in sexual activity over time was “significantly greater” for those in relationships than for single people. These findings were echoed by a 2017 study published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior, which suggested that married couples had sex, on average, nine fewer times a year in the early 2010s compared to the late 1990s.

Dr Gurney agrees that she’s noticed this decline in the therapy room, and highlights busier lives with a blurring of boundaries between work and home life, plus the use of smartphones, as the main culprits. “The average UK adult spends hours a day on their relationship with their phone, which takes away from the relationship with their partner. Relationships with phones also impact on our ability to pay attention without distraction to the present moment, and being able to be in the moment is something we know to be essential for good sex.”

This echoes researchers’ theories on why the frequency of sexual activity has declined compared to previous generations: we’re just too damn busy to get down to business, as well as being chronically online. “Most compelling among the explanations, perhaps, given the age and marital status of the people most affected, relates to the stress and ‘busyness’ of modern life, such that work, family life, and leisure are constantly juggled,” said the NatSal study authors. “Life in the digital age is considerably more complex than in previous eras, the boundary between the private space of home and the public world outside is blurred, and the internet offers considerable scope for diversion.”

The idea that you are on a conveyor belt with one distinct outcome (sex) at the end of it often creates too much pressure

Dr Karen Gurney

The change in roles could also have had an impact, muses Jo Coker. “Almost all women now work, even when raising children,” she says. “The demands of these two roles can leave the couple exhausted just from getting through the days, with less time to take time for themselves.”

So could Ms Ryan – herself a busy working mother of three kids aged 14, two and one – be onto something? Is aiming for a specific number of regular trysts a month – and even scheduling them – a genius formula for ensuring you don’t go completely off the boil?

While diarising time together as a couple is good, specifying you have to have sex could pile on the pressure, say some experts.

“If you enjoy good, quality time together, then good sex will follow if that is what you both want,” says Coker. “Scheduling sex on its own can be very cold and kill any passion before you start, which is why couples who live with infertility can experience difficulty. Create a space to be together and do not put pressure on this.”

Gurney agrees that it’s earmarking one-on-one time, rather than time for sex, that’s important. “I never suggest scheduling sex to my clients and the reason for this is because the idea that you are on a conveyor belt with one distinct outcome (sex) at the end of it often creates too much pressure for people’s desire to emerge. Instead, I suggest scheduling some type of physical intimacy alongside increasing sexual currency generally in a relationship so that desire has the opportunity to emerge more frequently.”

Too hot to handle? Sexual frequency among couples in on the decline (Tom Dymond/Netflix)
Too hot to handle? Sexual frequency among couples in on the decline (Tom Dymond/Netflix)

That said, “if people are waiting for their desire to emerge spontaneously they are likely to be waiting a very long time” when in a long-term relationship. “Because of this, it is important to consider keeping a sexual relationship good by nurturing it intentionally,” adds Gurney.

While many of her clients choose to schedule sex to fit it into busy lifestyles, Passell-Syms says she prefers to use the word “ritual”. “Creating a sacred ritual allows both the opportunity and intention to spend quality time together, being intimate or just reconnecting. Couples notice how nice it feels being with each other post-coitus, which is a result of the chemicals being released after sex, lasting for up to 14 days after.”

If you do decide to lean into a “sex schedule”, what’s the most important element for ensuring success? The intention behind it. “If it becomes part of your long list of things that need to be ‘done’, no pun intended, then of course, who is going to want to be a part of that ritual every Wednesday evening?” Passell-Syms says. “However, if there is the intention of spending quality time – touching, kissing, caressing, being one with each other – then it will feel pleasurable. It is what you make it.”