Pop culture might lead us to believe that single people are having all the good sex and us married folks are lucky to get anything at all. But, for a lot of couples, sex gets better after a walk down the aisle.
I'll put it like this: The escapades I had before my husband were a lot like fast food—quick and unsatisfying. On the other hand, married sex is like having a five-star, live-in chef. So, why is it so hard to sell the idea married people are having the best sex of their lives?
"The belief that singles are having better, hotter sex than those of us in long-term relationships is largely because of some pretty outdated—but pervasive—cliches about marriage," says Sarah Hunter Murray, sex researcher and relationship therapist. With a doctorate in human sexuality and years of professional experience, Hunter Murray says it baffles her how many false assumptions about sex in marriage persist.
"It always leaves me feeling pretty perplexed, because most people today marry someone they are deeply in love with, someone who is their best friend, and someone they eagerly and enthusiastically want to share their life with," she says. "Still though, those negative ideas about marriage exist and they naturally extend to our views about sex in that context."
The popular idea of singles being more sexually satisfied is also influenced by ideas that have little to do with sex, Hunter Murray explains.
According to her, single people are thought of as being more carefree and younger than married people, while long-term partnerships are associated with responsibility, aging and other "unsexy" concepts, such as child rearing. As she puts it, "Those things just don't lend themselves to thinking about great, frequent or passionate sex."
Why we need to reconsider married sex
Despite the less sexy reputation of marriage, Hunter Murray says chances are good that the best sex a person will have in their life will be with a long-term partner. Statistically speaking, the odds are in your favor. (Lots of years together means lots of sex.) Plus, the person sleeping on your left likely knows you better than one who just swipes left.
"Single sex can be super fun sex. It's usually passionate and exciting and novel. But it's also likely to be a bit awkward, emotionally uncertain and, sometimes, filled with regret," says Hunter Murray.
In contrast, the deeper level of comfort and intimacy that comes along with marriage is good for your sex life. Just think about all the opportunities to discover what you and your partner like in bed. (After all, women are more likely to orgasm from sex with a long-term partner than a casual hook-up.)
"You can experiment. Switch it up. Do better," says Hunter Murray. "Trial and error is key for growth in our sexual knowledge of ourselves and our sexual skills. And that's something that a longer-term relationship can offer."
Also, who is going to be more understanding of how kids affect your mojo than the person you created them with? As certified life coach Kate Mason says, the key to keeping your post-baby sex life hot (and it can be!) is communication... and designated date nights.
"Date nights, even if they happen just once a month, are so important for couples," she said. "I tell my husband we have to go on a date at least once a month so that I can remember how funny and cute he is."
Married sex isn't just about pleasure
Intimacy within a marriage plays a role in the quality of a couple's sex life. Studies show that intimacy, affection and closeness have unavoidable effects in the bedroom.
Specifically, the science shows our relationship dynamics outside the bedroom impact what goes on inside it—and vice versa. But sexual health researchers and experts offer different perspectives on whether the intimate nature of marriage kills or ignites sexual desire.
"On one hand, being overly familiar with our partner can make them less desirable," Hunter Murray explains, adding that walking in on someone in the bathroom or seeing them in stained pajamas aren't exactly sexy moments.
"On the other hand, the increased bond, trust and intimacy that occurs in healthy relationships is often the fuel that couples need to feel safe, to experiment sexually and to talk more openly about their sexual likes with someone they love and feel loved by," she says. "From my experience as a researcher and therapist, I definitely align more with the second camp."
Your best sex may be yet to come
If you're married but don't think you're living your best sex life, don't give up. Your best sex could be just a date night away. (This is your cue to book a babysitter now.)
"Too many people get frustrated with their sex lives and assume things are just doomed to stay the way they are. Or they believe that their less-than-satisfactory sex life is an indication that their relationship is going south," says Hunter Murray.
She says people experiencing boring or sparkless married sex sometimes wonder if that means they aren't meant to be with their spouse. But, more often it means that the couple needs to talk more about what they like and don't like—and make an appointment with each other.
"Those who make time and effort to schedule sex with one another have much better and much more satisfying sex than those that don't," Hunter Murray explains. "So simply holding the belief that your sex life will ebb and flow over time, and that you can work through sexual slumps, is the biggest step towards making sex more exciting and passionate again."
Or, as Sarah Forbes, curator of the Museum of Sex, puts it the beauty of married sex is realizing it's about so much more than intercourse. "Shortly after I got engaged my grandmother felt it was her duty to call me and say: 'Sex is very important in a marriage,'" she said. "Only now, two kids later, more stressed and exhausted than I've ever been do I really understand how on point her statement was."
If you're experiencing a slump, don't compare your sex life to that of some imaginary, sexually satisfied single (in my experience, solo pizza nights as a single were more satisfying and more common than sex). Instead, talk with your partner about what's going on in the bedroom.
And if you are married and enjoying your best sex life, congratulations. You have to share your pizza, but you also have a best friend to share the most intimate part of your life with.