An acquaintance of mine is a Nostradamus of relationship discord, and her methodology is simple. “They’re not having sex,” she’ll mutter from the corner of her mouth, walking backwards from the closing door of the party, waving at the arms-linked hosts. “I give it six months.” More than once, she’s been right.
I don’t share her gift for secret bedroom intelligence, but I do know that women in general aren’t having enough sex. In fact, 53 percent of you, dear Chatelaine readers, wish you were having it more often, and only 57 percent are having regular orgasms. South of the border, a pastor in a town called Grapevine, Texas, recently told his evangelical parishioners it was time for a “sexperiment.” Ed Young bid his flock to engage in seven days of “congregational copulation,” telling young married couples “to move from whining about the economy to whoopee.”
For the pastor, a healthy marriage is a sexual marriage, and evangelicals like marriage; getting closer to your spouse means getting closer to God. Of course, he didn’t really have a satisfying answer to the question of how teens and singletons should work on their proximity to the divine, saying only: “Try eating chocolate cake, maybe?” Snap!
The Marie Antoinette reference was a little unfortunate, but the idea holds a germ of truth: It’s not the kids and the singles who need to be reminded to have sex; it’s the marrieds – civil, common-law, gay, straight. Somehow, this American evangelical pastor and my Jewish downtown-Toronto friend have ended up at the same sensible vantage point: Without sex, things fall apart. You know the trajectory: The long-committed friend has a lot of justifications for her sexless relationship: “We just don’t need it anymore! We connect on a different level! I have more time for reading now!” Then, after emerging from the wreckage of a relationship and stumbling into bed with a bona fide lov-uh, a shift in attitude: “Oops. Lost my mind for 10 years there. Sex is everything. Gotta go!”
We can talk ourselves into believing that intimacy doesn’t matter, but nothing matters more. How many broken couples were having sex at the end? It’s the foundation on which a home is built. Even for the secular – and maybe especially for the secular – sex is the closest thing to the holy: an act of pure optimism, a bid for human connection. Sex is the most profound, singular way to say to your partner, You matter; our life together matters.
It’s also better than a sleeping pill. And potentially slimming.
A small sub-industry in the self-help section has sprung up to capitalize on the sex dearth, and all offer a similar prescription. The Sex-Starved Marriage tells flailing couples to commit to “The Great American Sex Challenge”: basically, two weeks of unbridled sexy behaviour with their mate. In Just Do It, Douglas Brown finds himself, in his late thirties, fully focused on kids and career while a once-burning sex life has cooled to embers. He and his wife of 10 years make a pact to have sex every day for 101 days, dipping into porn, Viagra and bikini waxes along the way. Similarly, in 365 Nights, author Charla Muller gifts her husband with a year of sex, admitting that sometimes the legs go unshaven and the teeth unbrushed – and it’s still pretty damn good.
In both books, it was the woman who initiated the “sexperiment,” a nice kick to the prevalent idea that bad marital sex is a female problem. In fact, a recent glut of research has casually thrown about the contentious term “sexual problems,” as in a Washington Post story from last fall, with the headline “Almost half of women have sexual problems.” It reported that in a survey of 32,000 U.S. women, more than 40 percent reported “some kind of sexual problem.” The contentious term “sexual problems” (a drafty bedroom? a co-sleeping baby?) is as broad as the study itself, whose pool of subjects ranged from 18-year-olds to senior citizens, two groups that are likely having different sex lives. The study went on to note that women have problems with diminished desire, arousal and orgasm, all of which is good news for Boehringer Ingelheim International, developer of a new drug for “female sexual dysfunction.” P.S., it funded the research. Proctor and Gamble has also funded research on low libido in women to test the market for a testosterone patch.
Of course, it’s great when female sexuality is treated seriously, but why is drugging women the only response to sex problems? All women know that the breadth of one’s bedroom life is wrapped up in a variety of complex factors, including the day-to-dayness of a busy world, exhaustion and communicating what you need with a partner who listens. Drugs won’t help us work through this stuff, and, in fact, Viagra doesn’t create desire; it just moves blood to the groin. Instead of pills, I prefer the cheesy confessionals that bid readers to make sex a priority. I’m with the Reverend: Keep doing it, for God’s sake, or your own.
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