Here’s How Much Sex Everybody Is Having

Illustration by Jim Cooke

We’re kicking off Sex Ed for Grown-Ups with a reality check on what’s normal, sex-wise. Take a minute to think about when you had sex for the first time, how much sex you have, and whether you think other people are doing it more or less than you. Chances are, you’re more normal than you think.

First of all, before you start to feel self conscious, however much you have sex is fine. We’re not here to judge. And to the young folks reading this: you’re not a bad person if you’ve done it already, and you’re not a prude or somehow cursed if you keep your pants on until another stage in your life. We’re about to see that there’s a huge range in what’s normal.

That said, if you’re having a lot of unprotected sex and you’re at risk of STDs or pregnancy, then the issue is the lack of protection, not the amount of sex. And if you’re not happy with the relationship you’re in, the amount of sex you’re having might be a factor, but don’t judge yourself (or your partner) based solely on that one thing. You need to look at that relationship in a big-picture way. Are you happy? Why or why not?

Where Does This Data Come From?

Anyway. Back to comparing ourselves to others. This is tricky to do, because you can ask people in surveys, but how do you know they’re telling the truth? One of our best sources of information is the National Survey of Family Growth, administered by the US government’s National Center for Health Statistics to get a handle on all kinds of issues related to sex and reproductive health. They divide up the country into units based on census blocks, choose households within those blocks, and interview one person from each household (so long as they are between the ages of 15 and 44 and agree to be interviewed), and ask them tons of personal questions.


You can see the questionnaire here. A survey worker comes to the person’s house and asks them questions for the first part of the interview; then they hand over their laptop and leave the room while the respondent answers all the personal questions. Those include when they first started having sex, whether they’ve been raped, how many pregnancies they’ve really had, and more. These answers will never be read by a human; the computer locks them away so the interviewer can’t see. This is where we get the answers to the first few questions we’re asking today. You can check out a more complete report here.

When Do People Start Having Sex?

About half of us have had sex (penis in vagina sex, specifically) by age 17 or so. Here’s the age breakdown:

So, by age 15, 13 percent of females and 18 percent of males have had vaginal intercourse. By age 19, those figures stand at 68 and 69 percent. That means if you lost your virginity in your teens, you’re in good company; but if you didn’t, a good 30 percent of Americans are right there with you.

How Many Sex Partners Do Adults Have?

Once we hit adulthood, most people are having some kind of sex. For 20 to 24-year-olds, the number not having sex is just 16 percent of women and 18 percent of men. (For teenagers, it’s about half, which makes sense given the virginity statistics above.)


Since we’re looking at grown-ups today, let’s take a closer look at the 25 to 44 age group. People were asked who their sex partners were in the past year. This counts any type of sexual experience. Here’s what they said:

  • No recent sex partners: 7 percent
  • Any number of same-sex partners: 5 percent of men, 11 percent of women
  • One opposite-sex partner (and no same-sex partners): 73 percent
  • Multiple opposite-sex partners (and no same-sex partners): 14 percent of men, 6 percent of women

There wasn’t a direct question for people who had both opposite and same sex partners, but about 2 percent didn’t answer yes to any of the above.



The survey also asked about lifetime opposite-sex partners, and here it makes the most sense to look at the oldest age group: the 40 to 44 year olds. (Think about it: 25 year olds should have fewer lifetime partners than 40 year olds, just because they haven’t had as long a lifetime so far.) The median number of opposite-sex partners is 3.4 for women, and 6.4 for men. That means half of the respondents had more partners, and half had less. Here’s the full breakdown:

  • No opposite-sex partners: women, 0.4 percent; men, 1.3 percent
  • One opposite-sex partner: women, 22 percent; men, 10 percent
  • Three to six opposite-sex partners: women, 40 percent; men, 30 percent
  • Fifteen or more: women, 8 percent; men, 30 percent

If we look at what kinds of sex people say they have had, going back to that larger 25-44 age group, the numbers look like this:

  • Any same-sex experience: women, 12 percent; men, 6 percent.
  • Any opposite-sex experience: women and men, both 98 percent.
  • Vaginal intercourse: women, 98 percent; men, 97 percent
  • Oral sex with an opposite-sex partner: women, 89 percent; men, 90 percent
  • Anal sex with an opposite-sex partner: women, 36 percent; men, 44 percent

How Often Do People Have Sex?

According to the General Social Survey, the average American adult has sex about 60 times per year, so a little more than once a week. (This survey is done with face-to-face interviews.) If that’s not you, don’t despair: people in this study who didn’t have sex in the past year were just as happy as people who had.


Frequency of sex changes over a person’s lifetime. As we saw, teenagers and young adults aren’t all having sex, but once they reach their twenties and thirties, they do it plenty.

Despite a lot of buzz about “hookup culture,” young people in 2004-2012 didn’t have any more sex than their counterparts in 1988-1996. They were, however, less likely to be in a steady relationship with the people they slept with.

In old age, people have less sex. Some of this is because older people lose their partners and don’t necessarily start dating again. But being in poor health, or on certain medications, can also make people less interested in sex. Here’s how a Journals of Gerontology study summarized the situation, using data from two other surveys, the National Health and Social Life Survey and the National Social Life, Health, and Aging Project.



Age 44-59:

  • Sexually active: men, 88 percent; women, 72 percent.
  • Sex per month (if more than zero): men, 7 times; women, 6.5 times.

Age 57-72:

  • Sexually active: men, 72 percent; women, 45 percent.
  • Sex per month (if more than zero): men, 4.3 times; women, 3.8 times.

For a different way of looking at the question, the National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior asked people what sex acts they had done in the past month, past year, and ever in their lifetime. This study was done over the internet, but they selected a sample before approaching anybody with the link to the study. (That makes this different than lazy internet polls where you never know who’s clicking through.) Here’s a summary of the past-year data:

If we want to know how often people are doing it, the past-month data will give us better insights. You can check out the full results here. Let’s take a look at what the 25 to 29 year olds said they did:


  • Masturbation: 69 percent of men, 52 percent of women
  • Vaginal intercourse: 74 percent of both men and women
  • Received oral from a female: 46 percent of men, 5 percent of women
  • Gave oral to a female: 40 percent of men, 1.1 percent of women
  • Received oral from a male: 1.2 percent of men, 36 percent of women
  • Gave oral to a male: 2.7 percent of men, 50 percent of women
  • Received anal sex: 0.9 percent of men, 5.3 percent of women
  • Inserted their penis into someone else’s anus: 10 percent of men

For any of these acts, there are plenty of people who do the thing and plenty who don’t do the thing; so no shame in being in either category.

How Do We Know If People Are Telling the Truth?

You would probably reveal different things about your sexual history to a close friend than a casual one. You might be more willing to be honest on an anonymous web survey—but then again, you might also be more likely to make shit up for fun.



The National Survey of Family Growth is clever with their confidential self-surveying portion, but a British study found that people were more likely to admit to certain things—large numbers of sexual partners, use of drugs—on a web survey than on a survey done privately on an interviewer’s laptop.

If people are lying on these surveys, it’s going to be difficult to find a more accurate source of information. Seth Stephens-Davidowitz sees a different picture of sexuality when he looks at Google search data: for example, he found that “sexless marriage” is one of the more popular marriage-related searches. There are plenty of caveats with his data: we don’t know who is doing the searches, or why. We have no clue how they compare to people who don’t search for these terms. But they’re a good reminder to take data about sexual behavior with a large grain of salt.

I ended up searching for a lot of sex-related statistics as I researched this piece, and discovered something unsettling about the results. When I looked for information about how often people have sex, I found plenty of articles assuming I wanted to know how often people should have sex.


You should have sex whenever you please. There’s no shame in doing it a lot or a little! People in unhappy relationships are more likely to have sex less than once a week; but among happy couples, more sex won’t make you happier. And if you’re having sex less often but you’re totally fine with it, that’s between you and your partner(s)—it’s none of anybody else’s business.

from Lifehacker