Married Sex versus Single Sex. Which is Better?

Popular belief suggests that single people have more interesting, passionate and frequent sex than married people. Is this true? Sex surveys consistently indicate that married people have more sex than single people. One could conclude that, this fact alone, settles the question.  Presumably, if you are having more sex, it must be because you are finding sex more satisfying. Therefore, the belief that sex deteriorates after marriage is a myth.

If only reality were as simple as this. For better or worse, reality is much more complex. For starters, “married sex” could be akin to sex in any long-term relationship with or without marriage. That is, while it is easier for researchers to have dichotomous categories (i.e., married versus single), people more typically fall along a continuum that includes “one night stands”, dating, living together, common law arrangements and marriage. Two important factors underlie this relationship continuum – intimacy and novelty. Without our conscious involvement these two factors naturally vary inversely to one another. In other words, novelty naturally occurs at the beginning of a relationship and diminishes with time, while intimacy begins at low levels and increases with time.

The novelty that accompanies the early stages of any relationship can bring excitement to our sexual lives. This sexual novelty parallels the novelty felt throughout all aspects of a new relationship. However, with the passage of time, novelty wears and a more intimate knowledge of your partner develops.

As the relationship moves forward, maintaining excitement and novelty requires conscious effort. It is no longer inherent in the situation itself. On the other hand, time also provides you with the opportunity to know your partner and develop deeper levels of intimacy – something that is not available to the same degree for those who have just met.

With this in mind, let’s return to our original query. Is married sex or single sex better? That depends. Have the single people been with their partner for several years? What about the married people, did they met three months ago and get married last week? The real question is, what stage is the relationship at now and how is that reflected in this couples’ sex life? In an earlier episode of Family Anatomy, Dr. Brian and I talked about the various stages of intimacy. These stages exist regardless of the static categories of “married” versus “single”.  The important thing to keep in mind is that people who are in the early stages of their relationship need to work on intimacy while people in later stages need to work at keeping novelty and excitement in their sex lives.

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