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Psychologists Define the New "Normal" in Intimate Relationships

Update Date: Jan 25, 2013 12:34 PM EST
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Are you in a "normal" relationship? Is the sex and love you're getting from your relationship "normal", below par or above average?  Relationship researchers on a quest to help couples build long-lasting, happy relationship are claiming that they have finally figured out the age old question of what is considered "normal" when it comes to sex and intimacy in a relationship.

Researchers have asked 100,000 people worldwide, including 23,000 people from the U.S., about what bothers then about their intimate relationships, what makes them happiest and what they want more of from their partner, according to the Daily Mail.

After questioning both heterosexual and homosexual couples over the age of 18, Pepper Schwartz, a sociologist at the University of Washington in Seattle found that 40 percent of the couples surveyed say that they have sex about three to four times a week.

The survey also revealed that 48 percent of men and 28 percent of women have fallen in love at first sight.

Surprisingly, men were found to want relationship romance more than women.  The survey revealed that 44 percent of men and 29 percent of women say that it bothers them "a lot" that their partner is not more romantic.

"'This 'normal' is different from most normals," said Schwartz, according to the Daily Mail.

"Most normals look at the average - if a big clump of people do it, they call it "normal." What we want to know is which normal is correlated with happiness," Schwartz, who has published his findings in a new book, The Normal Bar, added.

Co-author James Witte said that the researchers studied the behaviors or couples who said they were the happiest, according to the Daily Mail.

Witte, who directs the Center for Social Science Research at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, said that he hopes his findings will help other people become happier and have more fulfilling relationships.

Witte said that of all the participants in the U.S., 62 percent were in the "happiest" category, and 14 percent were in the "extremely happy" category.

However, researchers say that the findings indicate that some couples are "somewhat romance starved" and even among the happiest lovers, the findings revealed that about 27 percent were keeping a secret.

"We make a big deal of Valentine's Day because I think people are doing catch-up," she explained. "If you look at the happiest couples, they do have date nights. They hold hands. They do PDAs [public displays of affection]. That whole package of romance that some couples preserve - that shows how important it is."

The findings show that 44 percent of U.S. couples say that they "hardly ever" or "never" go out on a date compared to 53 percent in Italy, 54 percent in England and 55 percent in France.

After analyzing their findings, the authors suggest two ways to improve sexual satisfaction.  Researchers encourage couples to sleep naked and to kiss each other more often.  The survey found that in the U.S., 34 percent of women and 38 percent of men sleep naked with their partner.  Researchers also found that those who kiss for affection, outside of sexual intercourse, reported being more sexually satisfied.

Researchers also found that among U.S. participants, the happiest couples reported communication as the most fulfilling aspect of their relationship, followed by friendship, affection, sex and parenting.

Other experts say that they hope that the latest findings will be used as a conversation starter about intimacy rather than as a benchmark of sexual frequency.

"People do want to know if they're having sex as much as everyone else. If they're not, they may feel deficient in some way or that something's wrong," Psychologist David Buss of the University of Texas-Austin, who specializes in sex differences, said, according to the Daily Mail.  "But there are huge individual differences in sex drives and individual differences in sexual chemistry within relationships and all sorts of other things - job stress, kids - all sorts of things influence it."

"It would be alarming if people got too overly concerned with where they stack up in terms of frequency," he added.

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