By the request of one of my regular readers, I will attempt to (perhaps meagerly) tackle the difficult, multi-faceted issue of intimacy drought in the marriages of so many Western culture couples…
According to a whole host of statistics (just google “sexless marriage” and you’ll come up with more resources than you might even want to access), while the average married couple engages in sexual activity ~ 68 times per year (one to two times per week) 10-20% of married folks in our culture live in “sexless marriages.” So how do we define the term, “sexless marriage?”
Couples having sex no more than ten times per year.
Yep. TEN TIMES PER YEAR. Now, for some of you, that may improve your own personal outlook considerably. For others, you may find yourself compelled, more than ever, to read on.
Being in a sexless marriage is something that no one likes to admit to…causing this trend to be one of those unspoken, yet very common phenomenons. Think about it: if you have, say, ten adults in your child’s play group, or there are ten women in your monthly Bunko group…two out of those ten would statistically be experiencing a “sexless marriage.”
“Astounding,” you say? Not really.
So what plays into this significant drop in sensuality that, in so many cases, is drastically different from the early years of their marriage and/or courtship?
Obviously, this is a complicated matter. This website offers some reasonable advice on sexless marriages, however it fails to lend significant attention to the issue of children in the household. Never mind households in which both members of a couple are working long hours on top of their child-rearing duties, civic commitments, and attempting to maintain some element of a social life beyond those issues raised above.
As described in this the Atlantic 2003 article, while quoting Jane Greer, Redbook’s on-line sex therapist at the time, “Marriage has changed,”… “In the old days the husband was the breadwinner. The wife had the expectation of raising the children and pleasing him. Now they’re both working and both taking care of the children, and they’re too exhausted and resentful to have sex.” I asked Greer the obvious question: If a couple is not having sex because of job pressures and one partner quits working, does the couple have more sex? The answer was immediate and unequivocal: “Absolutely!“
While it’s easy for me to accept the idea that intimacy within a marriage has changed over time do to married couples’ work situations and expectations for each other, I have a harder time agreeing with the notion that once one member of the couple leaves the workforce for the work-inside-the-home life…that suddenly that couple’s sex life will improve by leaps and bounds!
Here’s the thing: of all the calls I receive from my childbirth education students after a baby is born, the most common questions revolve around breastfeeding or sleep issues. But the underlying issue is always the same: emotional and physical fatigue. And when a person, or persons are emotionally and physically fatigued, one of the first things to go is sex. After all, skipping sex at the end of the day might yield one more hour of sleep…who can argue with that? (Ok, ok…I know…”one hour” might be a bit optimistic here…but, work with me, will ya’?)
Here is a list of contributing factors that I believe significantly play into the “sexless marriage” phenomenon:
*more and more couples working longer and longer hours at work to either maintain or improve their financial and therefore “lifestyle” situation…resulting in greater levels of mental and physical fatigue upon returning home. It’s hard to be intimately creative and invested when you’re plain-old worn out from a long day of work!
* As our nation tries to recover from a generational gap in community service (let’s face it, on the whole, the baby boomer generation has spent MUCH less time on civic duties that the WWI generation)…more folks are adding philanthropic commitments to their already packed schedules…leaving little energy at the end of the day and/or week for investing in their at-home intimate relationship.
*when children enter the picture for a couple, a whole new set of issues crop up:
- fatigue from sleepless nights
- poor body image and/or self esteem on the woman’s behalf from physical changes associated with pregnancy, childbirth, breastfeeding, etc. that leads to a decreased interest in sex. Speaking strictly from a woman’s perspective, it’s hard to feel sexy when you perceive yourself as needing to lose fifteen pounds…when you’re self conscious about stretch marks, saggy breasts or a vagina that just never quite recovered after accommodating a passenger the size of a small watermelon!
~ women who are breastfeeding remain at a hormonally altered state, much like that of menopause, such that the vaginal tissue is dryer; making intercourse sometimes uncomfortable or even painful.
- some women can’t stand the thought of engaging in physical intimacy with their husband/partner, when their present life circumstances includes caring for an infant or young child(ren) because they feel like they’ve been touched, climbed on, pawed at, etc. all day long….and the LAST thing they’re interested in at the end of the day is having ONE MORE PERSON touch them!
- men are not immune from experiencing post-children decreased libidos, either. While many (smart) men will never admit to this, they may find their partners less attractive during pregnancy, after witnessing the birth of their child, or as their partner gradually works her way back “into shape” (I personally HATE using that term) after pregnancy and birth. Some men, also, once they witness their wife/partner in the new light of motherhood, have a hard time seeing that woman as a sexy, sassy, being anymore. Sometimes mothers OR fathers have a hard time seeing themselves as the sexy person who used to be willing to try new sexual positions and engage in all things erotica.
-some people, men or women, have a hard time initiating or engaging in sex for fear of awaking the children. Or of being walked in on.
- prenatal/postpartum mood disorders
* Of course, there are other issues: physical problems that make sex either impossible (physical or psychological impotence) or extremely difficult (various pain syndromes…especially in women…that render sex extremely uncomfortable)…previous physical/emotional trauma such as rape, incest, etc.
The truth of the matter is: we live in a society where stopping when our bodies (minds…spirits…) require rest; enjoying when our bodies (minds…spirits…) need pleasure; indulging when our bodies (minds…spirits…) need excitement that doesn’t revolve around stock markets, car pool schedules, after-work meetings and the like…results is a nation of emotionally, spiritually, and sexually deprived people.
Now, let me make an ENORMOUS DISCLAIMER, HERE: I AM NOT A SEX THERAPIST. My undergraduate degree was in creative writing. My post graduate degree was in Physician Assistant Sciences. I am a Lamaze Certified Childbirth Educator. I may know a thing or two about this topic (I do, after all, have three children) but not in any officially trained kinda’ way.
But, with the above disclaimer in mind, let me make a few suggestions, here:
1. Many therapists will tell you to set a “sex date night.” As opposed as many couples will initially feel about this terribly practical and extraordinarily unemotional approach, sometimes just putting sex on the weekly schedule is enough to get the ball rolling again. After all, in many relationships, intimacy begets intimacy.
2. Don’t forget the importance of intimacy in a relationship for it’s emotional attachment benefits. A “sexless marriage” is not only lacking sexual activity, it is lacking emotional intimacy. And it’s the emotional intimacy that can really make or break a couple when times get tough.
3. Take the steps to eradicate all of those little “what ifs” that can get in the way of sexual spontaneity:
- lock the bedroom door each night when you retire for the evening so that if the mood suddenly hits you, you’re not worried about unwelcome visitors to your bedroom
- make a pact that one night a week is “Mom and Dad (or, fill the blanks) Intimacy Night.” Plan to retire to your “intimate safe haven of choosing” right after the kid(s) go to bed so you’ve got plenty of time to enjoy each other’s company before a mid-night awakening ruins the moment.
- remind yourself of the emotional reasons why you chose to partner with your significant other: surely physical attributes were not the only reason. Time, children, sports injuries, accidents, sun exposure, gravity…ALL THESE THINGS change our bodies over time…be gracious with yourself and your partner and love them from the inside out…not the outside in.
- TALK WITH EACH OTHER. If there is a particular reason sex has become vacant in your relationship, discuss it openly and honestly with each other. Has your partner developed bad breath that’s a complete turn-off? Are you nervous about your sexual bravado? Are you less inclined to be sexually exploratory and more inclined to be a shy, quiet, spiritual sexual partner?
- If you have ANY concerns about physical (or even psychological) causes for a decline in your sexual relationship, see your health care provider. Not sure which kind of provider to see? Here are some ideas:
~ family practice doctor
~ naturopathic doctor
~ family nurse practitioner or PA
Believe me, the whole concept of a “sexless marriage” is not foreign to me. It’s really tough–especially after the birth of a baby–to get back into the swing of things. But, (speaking from experience) I firmly believe that taking that leap, re-opening yourself to the vulnerability and mutual trust that sexual intimacy requires of a couple, and investing in the physical relationship that surely can and ought to improve the emotional relationship of a couple is well worth the effort and investment.
Lastly, I can’t say enough about patience, understanding and being willing to talk, talk, talk about this issue. The more a couple talks about it and gets on the same page with each other as to WHY their frequency of sexual intimacy has declined to a dissatisfying level, the more likely they are to rectify the situation.
I would really, really like to hear more suggestions on getting a marriage back on sexual track. I’m sure others reading this blog entry will value from your comments/suggestions too. What thoughts or ideas do all of you have? Surely, I haven’t covered everything here. If there’s another idea out there that’s begging to be added to the lists above, please chime in!