Frequency of Sex in Marriage

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People living in different cultures report widely different incidences of sexual activity between spouses. In part, the differences are related to cultural attitudes regarding how often individuals ought to engage in sexual intercourse.

In 17% of 70 cultures around the world, frequent sexual intercourse between spouses is viewed as highly desirable (Broude, 1976). Among the Lepcha, who typify this attitude, married couples claim to engage in sexual activity five, six, or more times a day when first married, although they acknowledge that a person would be tired afterward (Gorer, 1938).

By contrast, 9% of the same sample of 70 societies believe that too much sex, even between married couples, is a bad thing (Broude, 1976). The Konso of Ethiopia believe that sex makes men weak, and therefore only engage in sex in moderation (Hallpike, 1972). The Yapese of Oceania believe that too much sexual activity will make a man ill, and tell legends of men who have died from an overactive sex life (Hunt, Schneider, & Stevens, 1949). Therefore sexual activity perhaps two or three times a month is recommended. The Chiricahua say that too much sex is dangerous and sexual intercourse two or three times a week is about the limit. In the words of one Chiricahua male, "...after eleven years of married life, when I'm home, [I have sex] about once a week. Once a week won't hurt a man, I guess" (Opler, 1941).

In cultures that worry about the effects of too much sexual activity, total abstinence may nevertheless also be viewed as dangerous. Thus, for example, the Kaska of Alaska think that sexual moderation is important for a long life and good luck. But too little sex is also dangerous especially for males, since a man who is deprived of sexual intercourse will spend his time worrying about girls and may even lose his brains and go insane (Honigmann, 1949).

Fourteen percent of the sample of 70 societies not only view excessive sex as undesirable but also promote abstinence, even between spouses, as a positive virtue (Broude, 1976). The Navaho of North America say that an individual who engages in sexual intercourse too frequently may bleed from the genitals or be struck by lightning. Indeed, a person who has too much sex may actually go mad. This association of sex with dangers of a variety of kinds causes the Navaho to promote abstinence in a variety of circumstances (Leighton & Kluckhohn, 1969).

In the remaining 60% of the sample of 70 cultures, abstinence is seen as desirable in a limited number of circumstances, but in general frequent sex is viewed as desirable (Broude, 1976).

The modal incidence of sexual intercourse across cultures for which we have evidence is once per day, omitting days for which specific taboos are invoked (Broude, 1994). Across cultures, people also tend to engage in sex less often as they grow older. The Lepcha, who claim to engage in sexual intercourse many times over a 24-hour period, admit that by the time they are 30 years old married people typically engage in sex only once a day (Gorer, 1938). The incidence of sexual activity across cultures also levels off as a relationship matures (Broude, 1994).

Attitudes toward the desirability of frequent sexual intercourse between spouses are related to a number of other beliefs regarding sexual behavior. Thus, where frequent sexual activity between husband and wife is regarded as desirable, homosexuality is accepted, love magic is absent, and extramarital sex for wives is accepted, or else it is condemned for both sexes (Broude, 1975).

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  • Wondimagegn Angosa
    I learn it since I study social anthropolopy @ Bahir dar university of Ethiopia. I also like it, its very interesting topic.
    8 years ago

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