But even if you’re somehow evolved enough to create a healthy dialogue around sex, it still doesn’t answer the essential question: How often should you bang? What are the magical Goldilocks numbers that tell us when to panic, feel smug, or check into rehab?
To answer this once and for all, I turned to my friend Dr. Zhana Vrangalova, sex researcher and professor of human sexuality at NYU. Zhana told me, “In my mind, the only way to answer that question is to ask yourself: How often do you want to have sex? Sex matters differently to different people. Some people are happy having it once a year. Some couples want sex several times a week, even after 20 years. Both can be healthy.”
It sounds obvious: Just fuck as much as you want, duh! But it’s not so easy. Often—for women, in particular—desiring sex is so linked to being desired, that it can be difficult to separate the two. Sometimes I can’t tell whether I actually want sex, or if I just want to want it, or if I feel guilty for not wanting it, or if I just want my boyfriend to want it so I don’t have to melt my brain trying to answer these questions.
According to Zhana, healthy desire is a combination of “how often you’re spontaneously horny, and how often you want to have sex for other reasons that are in line with your values—for instance, because you’re single and want to explore your sexuality, or because you love your partner and know that sex brings you closer.” Basically, pushing yourself to have sex doesn’t have to be bad, so long as it’s authentic. It’s like working out—sometimes you’d rather die than go to the gym, but once you’re there you’re glad you bought a smoothie and went home.
Zhana continued, “Anxiety is an unhealthy incentive to have sex. Autonomy is extremely important to our wellbeing, so feeling pressure—whether it’s internal or external—is antithetical to desire, because it feels inauthentic. Basically, if the reason you’re having it is that ‘I think everybody else is having more sex than me,’ then that’s a problem.” (Sounds like someone’s not having enough sex tbh.)
Of course, fixating on numbers fails to address whether the sex is actually, ya know, good. Looking back, it’s creepy to think how marginal enjoyment was in the equation. For instance, in my mid-20s I was in a relationship where we had tons of sex—it was rapid, joyless, and yielded more UTIs than orgasms. Success!
Essentially, when evaluating your sex life, ask yourself: Does being sexually successful mean zombie fucking your life away to fulfill an arbitrary quota, or does it mean being honest with yourself about your desires, and getting a Xanax prescription? Choose your own adventure.