According to everything I’ve read, married people don’t have a lot of sex. The classic story describes a couple falling in love who can’t keep their hands off of each other. They have sex all the time, say 4-5 times a week. Maybe more. As they continue dating, this tapers off a bit to, say, 2-3 times a week. Then they get married. Then maybe a kid or two later, it’s down to once a week. Then less. A few years in, and, in many cases, the sex stops altogether.
Even if we put aside factors like natural aging, health issues, or changes in body weight, it seems impossible to maintain desire for a partner of more than a few years. That 7-year itch concept actually correlates with modern research. Apparently the normal “hot and heavy” period a couple experiences is around 4 years. It takes about that time to conceive and rear a child to toddlerhood. But most families have two kids, so after 7 years, people get the “itch.” For non-hetero couples and non-cis couples, the same principles apply. Time together can be a sex-killer. Research suggests there is a 3-4 year “itch.”
What are they itching for? It’s more than sex. Well, it’s mostly sex, but it’s also the things that lead to sex. Feeling desired, a sense of mystery and discovery, the anticipation of something new and exciting, and perhaps most importantly, the feeling of being valued and recognized. These are all things that are difficult to maintain, even in the best of partnerships. Add to this, more recent research that tells us that the longer a couple stays together, the more familial they become. A “normal, healthy” person has a natural aversion to sex with a family member. It takes some effort to overcome all of these factors if a long-term couple wants to have an active, vibrant, fulfilling sex life. It takes a creative, fearless wild, and willing mind. Two of them, actually.
It is the observation of this cis-male writer that one significant weak link in this dire scenario is men. Men and their weak-ass, fragile egos. Something in the way we raise boys to men in America makes them unwilling to talk openly about sex with their partners. It can be any man from a macho dude who objectifies women with his frat-boy friends or the quiet and sensitive progressive feminist ally. Men, generally, have a tough time talking about sex and desire with the partners in their lives. Of course there are women who don’t like to talk about sex, particularly religious women. We’ll come back to that one in future posts. This introduction to the subject on this blog is about me.
Because Geri and I have never had to struggle with sex, we’ve become the couple that people talk to. We’ve always talked openly and honestly about sex. And though we’ve experienced the same drop in intensity that all couples face, we’ve maintained a healthy balance between life and sex. Great sex. Mind-blowing sex. After 22 years of marriage, it’s still good. It’s sometimes ridiculously amazing. Apparently, this is not normal. Our biggest obstacles to sex are the same as other couples: work stress, kids, a presidential election straight out of our worst dystopian nightmares. But for us it’s about balance. Maybe it’s good to have obstacles. It makes the anticipation that much greater.
Now, I’m no sex expert. I’ve read great books. Sex at Dawn, by Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jetha is a great read for the intrepid couple. What Do Women Want: Adventures in the Science of Female Desire, by Daniel Bergner is a fascinating read about recent research. I feel like everyone should read this book. And Vagina: A Cultural History by Naomi Wolf is a good read. She is fast and loose with science, but the cultural observations and history make the book worth reading. And of course, I’m married to Geri. I’ll leave it at that.
I would love to hear from anyone who has read any of the books above, or anyone with more suggested reading. Also, I will consider fielding any questions people have. Keep in mind, this is a scary thing to be writing about. Our society is of two minds when it comes to sex-positivity. It accepts sexual imagery in advertising and movies. But it still criminalizes overt sexuality and anything deemed “too much” or too outside of the norm. But, as with many other topics like race, religion, and politics, I want to push back against society and talk openly and honestly.
Final thought for today: I was talking with a friend, a woman, about sex. This was a while ago. I think Ethan was a baby, so maybe 15 years ago. As we finished talking, she said something to the effect of, “Well, once your kids get older, you won’t be able to be so open about all this sex stuff.” At the time, I was pretty sure she was wrong. I grew up afraid of all things sexual because I was raised as a conservative evangelical. Of course I was drawn to it like anyone, but fear of hell and sin made me afraid, even after I was married. It took a long time to grow past all that, and there are days I still feel the effects. But, I always knew I wanted my kids to grow up without the fear or guilt placed upon me by the church. “You won’t feel that way if you have a daughter,” said another friend.
Bullshit. I hope all my kids grow up to have amazing sex lives. I hope it enriches their lives and connects them to their partners on any of many levels. I hope it makes them feel alive, and it reinforces all that is great about them. This is what sex has been for me and Geri. Obviously, I’m coming from the privileged place of heterosexual marriage, so that is both the sweet spot of my experience and knowledge and a great limitation of experience and knowledge. But, I do hope to find common ground in discussing sex and sexuality in all contexts.
OK. Let’s talk.