Hey, Goldilocks: Is There Such a Thing As Too Much Sex?

Photo: Getty Images/Witthaya Prasongsin
Based on many a brunch conversation I've had, it seems many people crave a Goldilocks-esque rule for romps. Unfortunately—or, depending on how you you look at it, perhaps fortunately—no expert-sanctioned guideline exists for that magic number. “There is no right or wrong or just-right amount of sex to want or have," says sex educator Stella Harris, intimacy coach for the online platform Juicebox and author. Still, it has to be possible to have too much of a good thing…right? Well, it depends on the person's relationship with sex itself.

First things first, there's no officially recognized clinical sex addiction, which is perhaps the most mainstream understanding of having a portion-control issue with sex. “It's a myth that gets perpetuated in order to shame and pathologize people," says Harris. Seriously, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) doesn't even recognize sex addiction or disorder, and the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors, and Therapists (ASSECT) seconds that decision. “The ASSECT does not find sufficient empirical evidence to support the classification of sex addiction or porn addiction as a mental health disorder,” the agency notes in a statement.

While sex addiction may not be an official classification, many people certainly struggle to strike a balance with their high sexual appetite. "There is no doubt that there are people who have a less-than-balanced relationship to their sexuality and sex", says sexologist Carol Queen, PhD. The terms AASECT and most therapists use for this situation is sexual compulsion or hypersexuality.

"Whether you want to call it hypersexuality or not, the bottom line is that people suffer when they become obsessive about anything, and sex is no different."—Dr. Sadie

According to sex educator Sadie Allison PhD, founder of sex-toy boutique Tickle Kitty and author, sexual compulsion is an excessive, obsessive preoccupation with sexual fantasies, urges, and behaviors that are difficult to control and negatively affect the rest of your life (like your job, health, and relationships). "Whether you want to call it hypersexuality or not, the bottom line is that people suffer when they become obsessive about anything, and sex is no different," she says.

But still, experts worry that the terms "hypersexuality" and "sexual compulsion" can be shame-inducing, and they reiterate that what's excessive/obsessive is different for all of us. "This idea suggests that there's a normative, healthy way to be a sexual person. But nobody gets to define what's normal or too much. We don't all want and need the same things, and we all have diverse desires," says Dr. Queen. Some folks may not actually be hypersexual, she says, but instead just frequent masturbators, interested in non-monogamous coupling, or exploring their sexual identity. Still, "people who want to get their urges or behaviors under control might find these labels valuable."

How can you know if time spent thinking about or doing the dirty is occupying too much of your time or headspace? Simple: If you, yourself, think it might be true, that's likely the case. “If you think you have a sex addiction or sexual compulsion, then the amount of sex you’re having is probably negatively impacting your life,” clinical sex counselor and author Eric M. Garrison tells me. "[Sex is] negatively impacting your life if it's leading you to neglect the other parts of your life, and/or it's negatively impacting the other people in your life." Basically, if sex and thinking about it—no matter how much or little you're having—is becoming a negative force that's keeping you from brushing your teeth, going to work, or anything else that you can and should do, it's probably time to exercise mental and physical portion control.

If sex and thinking about it is keeping you from brushing your teeth, going to work, or anything else that you can and should do, it's probably time to exercise mental and physical portion control.

In these instances, the next step is introspection and self-analysis, says Garrison. Think about what you depend on sex for. Do you use it to make you feel better? Is it the only time you feel connected to your partner? Is it the only thing that makes you feel in control of your sexual narrative? What are you trying to affirm? Answering these questions, he says, can help you get to the root of the issue. Dr. Sadie notes that for some, experimenting with tantric sex can be a healthy way to re-channel those urges and that energy into a more positive, spiritual direction.

It's also problematic if you're causing yourself bodily damage by having sex too frequently. “Sometimes all that friction can become a problem and results in chafing or microtears in the body’s tissue,” says Harris. “The tissues of the genitals, just like any tissues, can also become bruised. And the cervix can also become bruised from very deep penetration.” Note: If these symptoms sound familiar, be sure to head to your doctor, as they could be point to something larger like menopause or vaginal dryness.

But if you’re having what feels like a lot of sex to you, and it's not negatively impacting your life, and you get the sense that your partner(s) reciprocate that satisfaction, that, my friends, is not too much sex. (Just make sure to bring use extra lube, listen to your body, and switch up positions if one specific activity gets uncomfortable.)

And BTW, your partner thinking/saying that you want sex too often doesn’t mean you necessarily really do want sex too often. Rather, it’s probably either a case of mismatched libidos or a larger issue in the relationship, says Garrison. Good news: If it’s the former, there are ways to deal. And if it's the latter, Garrison recommends you seek treatment from a therapist.

But otherwise, enjoy your romp-a-thons, shame-free. “Just like some people love to create art, play music, cook, exercise, more than others…some people love to have sex,” says sex expert Andrea Barrica of educational sex-positive online platform O.school. “And there’s nothing wrong with people expressing it by themselves through masturbation, or sharing it with partners—as long as it’s consensual and doesn’t affect general wellness, employment, obligations, and relationships.”

If you’re curious about the equal and opposite issue, check out sexpert-approved ways to rev up your libido. And here’s how to build intimacy with your partner—no sex necessary.

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