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Americans Are Having Less Sex, So Experts Say It’s Time to Shift Our Focus From Quantity to Quality

Michael Houtz; Getty Images

Everyone, apparently, is having less sex.

Over the past few years, a mountain of research has emerged to confirm that millennials and Gen Z aren’t getting busy nearly as often as their parents’ and grandparents’ generations. According to The University of Chicago’s biannual General Social Survey, 20 percent of men and 19 percent of women between the ages of 18 and 34 did not engage in sexual intercourse in 2021—up from 8 and 7 percent, respectively, in 2008. What’s more, A 2017 study published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior found that American adults had sex about nine fewer times per year in the early 2010s than they did in the late 1990s.

All of this, experts say, makes sense. When you’re dealing with a miles-long to-do list, opposing schedules, or kids who can’t seem to grasp the concept of parents needing alone time, intimacy tends to be the first thing to go. Add to that the screens that are constantly begging for attention, work is just a tap away, and the state of the world at large, and it’s no wonder most of us are too tired or overwhelmed to get down and dirty on a Wednesday night.

Thankfully, it’s not all bad news. There’s also plenty of research out there to confirm that having more sex doesn’t translate into higher relationship satisfaction—the sweet spot, apparently, is once a week—which is why experts want couples to start thinking about their sex life in terms of “quality” over “quantity.”

What is “quality” sex?

“Good” sex is often characterized by how long it lasted, how freaky it got, or how many mind-blowing orgasms it ended with. While all of these elements can make sex feel gratifying, they don’t necessarily translate into quality.

“Quality sex feels like being present in your own body and what you’re experiencing, connecting with another person or yourself, and being in the moment instead of thinking about your to-do list—it’s really a wholeness of the moment that should be the goal,” says Kate Levine, LMHC, a licensed therapist. “The depth, connection, or meaning we put into it is more important than just [doing it] all the time.”

There’s no “one size fits all” for what this looks like in practice, which is why it’s crucial to have open lines of communication with your partner around your individual sexual needs and desires. “Each partner probably has a different idea of what quality sex looks like—whether that’s an hour of foreplay, five minutes of penetration, or a quickie in the car,” says Lindsey Schaffer, LMSW, a licensed mental health, couples, relationship and sex therapist. “Being able to negotiate and trade-off how you can meet each other’s needs at different times is totally okay. The best sex comes from when you’re able to let go of expectations of what it’s supposed to look like.”

To be clear, this doesn’t mean that every hookup needs to involve long, deep lovemaking—sometimes you’ve only got five minutes for some sudsy shower sex before work where only one person finishes, and that’s fine. “People think that if you’re not having this lengthy, amazing sex every time that they don’t have a good sex life, but that expectation can really hurt you,” says Schaffer. “It’s really important to manage expectations and know that it’s not going to be amazing every time—sometimes it’s good for one or both of you, sometimes it sucks for one or both of you—but that doesn’t mean you’re not having enough sex or that the quality of your sex isn’t good.” What is important, though, is that you prioritize being present and connected in those moments.

How to enhance the quality of your sex life

The first thing you need to do to up the quality of your sex life is figure out what, exactly, that looks like for you and your partner. “I really like to encourage couples to find a version of sex and intimacy that works for them,” says Schaffer. “And that comes from knowing what you enjoy and taking that pressure off.”

For some, quality sex may not involve any actual penetrative sex at all—there are other ways to foster a connection. “I think we need to move beyond the idea that sex is penetration and expand our understanding of what it means to be sexual with a partner,” says Nikita Fernandes, MHC-LP, a New York City-based sex therapist. “For some people, sex is using a vibrator and watching your partner masturbate and finishing together; for others, it’s talking about your fantasies—it can be whatever we want it to be, and I think we need to work on expanding our sexual menus [to enhance what quality sex looks like].”

Additionally, introducing non-sexual touch outside of the bedroom can breed the sort of closeness that improves the quality of your sex sessions, says Fernandes. “A huge reason why people don’t have as much sex is because physical touch is only happening within the context of sex,” she says. “Some people want to be touched platonically by their partner and not feel like it’s going to lead into sex, and increasing that platonic intimacy is really crucial in having better quality—and quantity—sex.”

While you may not be able to find time in your schedule to squeeze in an extra weekly sex session, shifting your focus toward connection will help make the moments you do have really count.

Originally Appeared on GQ