What happens if you get “too much of a good thing?” Doctors weigh in.
There are some things guys just can’t get enough of—quoting old movies, for example, or football. Then there are other things that they can most definitely do without, like the most popular song of the summer that’s played over and over and won’t go away.
When it comes to sex, however, a lot of guys like to think their horizons are unlimited. You can never have too much sex, Mr. Champion Sex-Haver will say, giving you a lecherous wink while Walk the Moon’s “Shut Up and Dance” plays somewhere off in the distance.
But are guys really telling the truth about the amount of sex they can handle (or even how much they want to have)? “You can’t handle the truth,” Jack Nicholson’s character in A Few Good Men would say (movie quote!) but we think you can handle the truth.
“This needs to be answered like all the other ‘too much of a good thing’ questions,” says Ursula Ofman, Psy.D., a clinical psychologist and sex therapist in private practice in New York City. “If sex begins to take over your day and your thoughts, starts interfering with your relationships, work, and family life, then you have reached the area of ‘too much.’”
Some facts: 18- to 29-year-olds have sex 112 times per year, on average, according to the Kinsey Institute. It’s 86 times per year for 30- to 39-year-olds, and 69 times per year for those ages 40 ro 49. So if you’re having more than the average amount of sex per year for your age, are you having too much sex? Or are you just doing what people do?
“Frankly, asking how much sex is too much sex is a little bit like asking how many drinks makes a person an alcoholic,” says Robert Weiss, L.C.S.W., C.S.A.T.-S., a senior vice president of clinical development at Elements Behavioral Health and the author of Always Turned On: Sex Addiction in the Digital Age. “This approach fails to recognize that with booze, it’s not a matter of how much you drink, it’s a question of how it affects your life. If alcohol is consistently creating problems for you, then you might want to look at your drinking. Sex is the same way.”
Medically speaking, “there’s no such thing as too much sex,” says Lauren F. Streicher, M.D., associate clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University and the author of Sex Rx: Hormones, Health and Your Best Sex Ever. “Obviously, listen to your body. If you’re sore or tired, then don’t have sex.”
We can’t overstate that last piece of advice. Couples in long-distance relationships often overdo it sexually when they’re finally reunited, especially if they know their time together is limited, says Jonthan D. Schiff, M.D., assistant clinical professor of urology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City.
“When people ejaculate 8 to 10 times over the weekend from Friday to Sunday, it’s going to cause some pain and discomfort when you go to that extreme amount,” Schiff says. The key in this scenario, he says, is that the amount of sex being had by the couple is so much more than either person usually has week-in and week-out. “It’s like anything else. If you’re doing an activity steadily, your body will be able to tolerate it when you push it more.”
Schiff also says that an extremely high frequency of sexual intercourse may damage the skin of the penis and vagina, which can lead to disease transmissions through open cuts or wounds and increase your chances of certain illnesses.
As long as people do it safely, having a lot of pyschologically and physically healthy sex can be a wonderful thing, says Stephen Snyder, M.D., a sex therapist based in New York City. “That is, if it’s taking you someplace special and making you feel good about yourself,” Snyder says. “But if it’s not doing anything special for you and not making you feel good about yourself, then it’s not likely to have much of a positive impact on your life, and may have a negative impact. Again, it’s the quality, not the quantity, that’s important.”
Or, as Weiss says: “If the amount of sex you’re having works for you and is not causing you (or anyone else) any problems or distress, then your sexual frequency is just fine—and don’t let anyone tell you differently.”