January 17, 2008

Are you one of the 40 million Americans who live in a sexless marriage?

According to experts, your marriage is "sexless" if you have sex 10 times a year or less. So please, people, make the effort. That 11th time is crucial. Or are you choosing celibacy? Click on the link if you want to delve into all the details. Me, I didn't read much of the linked article. I'm not married and haven't been since the 1980s. It's not my question, but maybe it's yours. You have total access to a sexual partner, yet you don't bother most of the time. Is it a mystery, or is it obvious?

64 comments:

rhhardin said...

Bernard McGuirk joke from the old Imus show :

When does a Jewish man stop masturbating?

When his wife dies.

Stanley Cavell has modern marriage starting in Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra, where the woman theatricalizes herself to show the man she's satisfied with him ; the idea being to return the world to the man against the threat of modern skepticism.

Which of course can fail to happen.

Simon said...

"You have total access to a sexual partner, yet you don't bother most of the time."

I don't know that "total access" is accurate, at least to the extent it addresses married men - in most marriages, one hopes that the wife has a good deal of say in the matter, which may well mean the absence of sex in any given night isn't a question of being bothered vel non.

Joe said...

So if a priest has sex 10 or fewer times each year, is he still considered celibate? Do altar boys count double?

(sorry, guys; someone had to say it.)

Meade said...

I have a buddy who was in love with his wife for 24 years. They raised a couple of kids and enjoyed sex on a regular basis 3 or 4 times a week. Then he learned she'd been having an affair. He stopped having sex altogether, divorced her, and finally, after two years, let go of his disappointment and started dating again. He goes out with what seems like an infinite number of extremely attractive middle-aged divorced women but says the friendships are all entirely platonic - they never go beyond cuddling and hugging - and he intends to keep them that way. Says he's happier and is having more fun without sex. On one hand I feel sorry for him but on the other I sort of envy him.

Jennifer said...

Ten times a year!? Forty MILLION Americans!? And we wonder where civility is gone. Obviously, everybody is just cranky.

Jennifer said...

uh...make that has gone.

dbp said...

I just wonder if the "the" is redundant or if there is a missing "'s" after 1980?

LOL Joe. Maybe there is some kind of technical distinction between celibate and sexless?

Simon said...

DBP - "celibate" has a connotation of choice in ordinary usage, while "sexless" is broader.

Simon said...

On reflection on the article as a whole, most of these guys just need a good midlife crisis to get over it. ;)

Revenant said...

This feeds in to what I was saying earlier about the root cause of male mid-life crises.

The kids are grown and out of the house, and your wife fews sex as a chore to be engaged in only as a last resort. Is it any wonder that many men in this situation start looking outside the home to get their needs met? Sure, it is immoral; sure, it breaks their marriage vows. But these are ordinary human beings we're talking about, and they signed on for a marriage, not a vow of chastity. It is small wonder that they fall from the straight and narrow.

This is just my personal perception of things as an outsider to the world of marriage, but it seems to me that the understanding that you need to respect your partner's interests even if you don't personally share them is very seldom extended to sex. I.e., if the wife wants to (for example) attend a wedding and the husband has no interest in doing so, he is still expected to acquiesce and accompany his wife -- but on the other hand, if the husband wants to have sex and his wife is uninterested in doing so, he is expected to masturbate or, better yet, do nothing at all.

At the risk of sounding like an evil pig of a male -- ladies, you owe your husbands sex. If you aren't into it, fake it.

Windbag said...

Revenant, you might want to take this chance and run. I think you might need the head start. Yikes.

I'm amazed at the details I hear of other couples' sex lives. The infrequency of it, specifically. One couple kept track of it on the calendar on the fridge. I used to pity the guy, seeing only one or two "X"-es per month. Another couple hadn't had sex in over two years. She finally gave in, only after getting drunk as can be. They were both good looking people, in shape, not gross.

Human sexuality is a queer thing, is it not?

Simon said...

Revenant said...
"[Y]our wife [vi]ews sex as a chore to be engaged in only as a last resort. Is it any wonder that many men in this situation start looking outside the home to get their needs met? Sure, it is immoral; sure, it breaks their marriage vows. But these are ordinary human beings we're talking about, and they signed on for a marriage, not a vow of chastity. It is small wonder that they fall from the straight and narrow."

Well, the really interesting thing about this article / book excerpt is that it frames itself as "isn't it awful that all these men don't want to have sex with their wives," and frankly I have a hard time imagining such circumstances arising except in extraordinarily rare circumstances. The situation they invoke, where the wife is willing, able - desirous, even - and unfulfilled because of a choice made by the husband is, to say the least, counterintuitive.

The whole concept of the book just seems like dustless black pepper to me.

Meade said...

"Human sexuality is a queer thing, is it not?"

Nnno, I can't say I've ever found it all that queer. It's always seemed pretty straightforward in fact: Look - Listen - Smell - Like - Smile - Talk - Hunt - Bring meat - Dim lights - Play music - Let Her Have Her Way - Rinse - Repeat.

Meade said...

Ooops, I left out Dance. In between Talk and Hunt.

Hmm... maybe THAT'S why I haven't been getting any.

SGT Ted said...

10 times a year is STILL sex. Sexless means one thing. All to often, experts change the meaning of something to achieve....what is it? Make it sound more dramatic?

I came of age well before the hook up and as a single guy, I had less sex than I have in marriage. So, win/win here. I'd elaborate but that wouldn't be gentlemanly.

Middle Class Guy said...

Revenant said...
At the risk of sounding like an evil pig of a male -- ladies, you owe your husbands sex. If you aren't into it, fake it.

Revenant, have you lost your mind! You will be pilloried by every woman and some men who read this. This is the year 2008, not Victorian England. I realize we all have opinions, but out of a sense of self preservation, some opinions are best left not expressed.

TMink said...

Thanks Sgt. Ted. If 10 times a year means sexless, what is their definition of a virgin?

Trey

John Kindley said...

Simon says... "The situation they invoke, where the wife is willing, able - desirous, even - and unfulfilled because of a choice made by the husband is, to say the least, counterintuitive."

LOL. Spoken like a true 27-year-old redblooded social conservative who (I assume) has not been married and is blissfully ignorant of "the Coolidge effect" [from Wikipedia]:

The term comes from an old joke according to which President Calvin Coolidge and his wife allegedly visited a poultry farm one day. During the tour, Mrs. Coolidge inquired of the farmer how his farm managed to produce so many fertile eggs with such a small number of roosters. The farmer proudly explained that his roosters performed their duty dozens of times each day.

"Perhaps you could point that out to Mr. Coolidge," replied the First Lady in a pointedly loud voice.

The President, overhearing the remark, asked the farmer, "Does each rooster service the same hen each time?"

"No," replied the farmer, "there are many hens for each rooster."

"Perhaps you could point that out to Mrs. Coolidge," replied the President.

Simon said...

John - actually, been married four and a half years.

Blake said...

More than that, Rev, if she's really so disinterested, maybe the point at which the couple stops having sex is the point at which he can't buy her faking it.

Early on, hormones can be very persuasive, but when that wears off, maybe it seems like a charade.

And tying in with yesterday, maybe that's why hookers' clients are primarily married men. Hookers are better at faking it?

This is all rather dark....Sheesh. Reminds me why I don't read the news....

Revenant said...

Revenant, have you lost your mind! You will be pilloried by every woman and some men who read this. This is the year 2008, not Victorian England. I realize we all have opinions, but out of a sense of self preservation, some opinions are best left not expressed.

If what I said is shocking it is just because people have gotten used to the modern image of husbands as neutered puppies looked after by a wiser and more sensible wife.

"Ladies, you owe your husbands sex" is no more outrageous than "husbands, you are obligated to show your wife love and affection". It seems shocking because we've sort of drifted into a world where men's role in a marriage is to put money in a bank account and shut up.

Sheldon said...

No. You? Is it a mystery, or it it obvious?

Revenant said...

And tying in with yesterday, maybe that's why hookers' clients are primarily married men. Hookers are better at faking it?

Or maybe the guy just figures that if he's going to see nothing but boredom when he looks into his partner's eyes, the eyes might as well be attached to a 20-year-old with nice boobs. :)

Meade said...

Speaking of counterintuitive, somehow the concepts of owing sex and having obligations to show love and affection just don't strike me as being winning strategies. Where's the play? The fun? The laughter?

Not that I would know what a winning strategy would be. Even over the course of many decades, I've only persuaded a handful of ladies to find me romantically desirable.

So my experience is probably somewhat out of the mainstream. Still, sex as a legal and contractual exchange strikes me as about as sexy as one of titus's one-night-whatevers.

Revenant said...

Where's the play? The fun? The laughter?

In a sexless marriage? The best answer would probably be "absent". :)

In any case there is hardly anything unusual about the idea of marriage involving obligations. To name an obvious one, men are obligated to refrain from sex with other women.

Synova said...

On the other hand, if the sex *is* boring?

Personally, I can't really comprehend not enjoying sex, and the one time I should have said, "If she always has a headache, dude, you must be doing it wrong," I let good manners prevent me from doing so.

It's not gentlemanly to talk about and it's not ladylike to talk about either.

The point in the article about surveys that always return "two times a week" as an average probably not including anyone who'd honestly answer "two times a month" or less is a good one. Who's going to take a survey and confess they don't have a good, or at least frequent, sex life?

John Kindley said...

I'm with Revenant on this one. I think the obligation to be sexually available to your spouse goes both ways. Ideally, things will be spontaneous and mutual, but if in a given situation only one feels inspired, the other should still "put out," at least most of the time. As Ann said in her original post, "please, people, make the effort."

Meade said...

I agree, marriage has many obligations. But I just don't think sex or even love and affection count as marital obligations. Inside marriage or out, it's been my limited experience that women become softer, prettier, warmer, and sweeter when they feel that what they're offering can be freely given.

As Ann said in her original post, "please, people, make the effort."

Not that I haven't misjudged her subtle humor before, but I think she was being ironic.

John Kindley said...

Meade,

lol, yeah, I think you're right. But what she said, ironically or no, still has some truth to it.

Meade said...

John Kindley said...
"... But what she said, ironically or no, still has some truth to it."

Yeah. Usually does.

Middle Class Guy said...

Revenant said...
...we've sort of drifted into a world where men's role in a marriage is to put money in a bank account and shut up.

Man that made me laugh! I am not even going there. As a single, middle aged man, I may never get a date again.

Joe said...

While we're on the subject:

The health benefits of sex.

I particularly like this one:
Better teeth: Seminal plasma contains zinc, calcium and other minerals shown to retard tooth decay. Since this is a family Web site, we will omit discussion of the mineral delivery system. Suffice it to say that it could be a far richer, more complex and more satisfying experience than squeezing a tube of Crest--even Tartar Control Crest. Researchers have noted, parenthetically, that sexual etiquette usually demands the brushing of one's teeth before and/or after intimacy, which, by itself, would help promote better oral hygiene.

Meade said...

"Seminal plasma contains zinc, calcium and other minerals..." said the President to the Intern.

Can also contain organisms that cause chancres and other ulcerous sores.

Synova said...

On the other hand, the reliable baby booms following separations (sort of a running joke for military sorts who normally have TDY's and unaccompanied tours even in peacetime) would suggest that letting steam build up a bit has benefits as well.

Maybe the people who have sex less often actually have better sex than those who assume the position with greater frequency.

Meade said...

Best "I'm voting Republican Badge" Ever

Joe said...

Meade: "Seminal plasma contains zinc, calcium and other minerals..." said the President to the Intern.

Hah! Good call.

Mr. Forward said...

"You have total access to a sexual partner."

Is that a legal opinion?

Jason said...

I have to agree with Revenant... you owe your spouse love, affection, and yes, sex.

That goes for men and women alike. No one should have to go to sleep night after night feeling rejected.

I can get that from cruising bars.

You do that to your partner, and all you're doing is slowly poisoning him or her. It is slow and gradual, but that's a poison that builds to toxic levels eventually.

I'm not the first person to point that out. There's a new testament passage as well, that reads, "The wife's body does not belong to her, but to her husband. Likewise the husband's body does not belong to him, but to his wife. Do not deprive one another except with consent for a time, in order to devote yourselves to fasting and prayer.?

The apostle Paul was no dummy.

I can't imagine depriving the woman I love of anything like that. And I wouldn't poison someone like that.

Blake said...

"If she always has a headache, dude, you must be doing it wrong,"

That's a very "Donahue" attitude. All sexual problems are the male's. He's doing it wrong, he's too fat or he's such a pig, he has the gall to think she's too fat.

(Leastwise that's what I recall from his show when I was too young to get what they were talking about. :-))

Meade,

Obligations don't have to be bad. They simply have to be met. I think it's the Talmud that mandates a husband have sex with his wife at least twice a week.

People get busy. And because something is nice, pleasurable, even wanted, it can be neglected simply because it's not seen as an obligation.

I mean, at one point, these were couples who couldn't keep their hands off each other. At some later point, children, careers and other distractions, made it easy to overlook, precisely because the viewpoint is that "of course we both want to".

If the article is to be believed, that transition results in a lot of hurt feelings.

Of course, if the article is to be believed, twice a week wouldn't necessarily cut the mustard either. So, oy.

Meade said...

I didn't say obligations are bad, Blake. I said they're not sexy.

save_the_rustbelt said...

No!

There is one severe impediment to marital sex - called teenagers.

Good news is that they eventually grow up and hopefully move away.

As the Rabbi said...

"Life begins when the last kid goes to college and the dog dies."

Life has begun!!!

Revenant said...

But I just don't think sex or even love and affection count as marital obligations.

I'm not talking about love, I'm talking about evidence of love.

Picture, if you will, a husband who almost never (a) tells his wife he loves her, (b) does anything spontaneous or romantic, or (c) puts forth the effort to remember to get her a present on special occasions like Valentine's Day. What would your opinion of such a husband be? I don't think I'm far off in guessing that most women would think the guy was a real asshole -- even if he really did love his wife and simply didn't show it. The reason is that his refusal to show the outward signs of love sends a message that there's no love to show.

A woman who ignores her husband's sexual needs is guilty of exactly the same kind of behavior. She is saying to him "I don't find you desirable -- you're just a paycheck and a sperm donor to the kids". We're sexual creatures. Sending a man the message that you don't care about him as a sexual being is one of the best ways to destroy your marriage. You know the old horny high school guy line about how "if you really loved me, you'd have sex with me"? We really do think that way.

Meade said...

You know the old horny high school guy line about how "if you really loved me, you'd have sex with me"? We really do think that way.

Well then grow up.

Meade said...

And if there is no love to show or none being shown then take steps to find out why that is so. Suck it up. Do the manly thing - get help.

But if you are tempted and determined to break your marital vows of trust and faith, do the honorable thing instead - get a divorce. Have it mediated if you can. That way you'll have more say over how to equitably share your assets and obligations and the lawyers and magistrates will have less say.

Marriage is about sharing. Everything. The good and the bad; the sex and the sexlessness.

Divorce is also about sharing. So either way, learn to share.

Revenant said...

Well then grow up.

So you've got no intelligent argument, then.

Sex is important to men, ergo a wife who claims to love her husband should see to his sexual needs. A woman who doesn't do this for her husband either doesn't love the guy or is simply a self-centered bitch. As I noted before, she is as bad as a husband who refuses to do all the little romantic things that so many women appreciate.

And if there is no love to show or none being shown then take steps to find out why that is so. Suck it up. Do the manly thing - get help.

The "manly thing" to do, historically speaking, has been to cheat on your wife. So as I see it you have three choices: (a) don't complain when men cheat, (b) accept that sex is a part of marriage and act accordingly, or (c), be honest and tell your spouse up-front BEFORE the marriage that you're planning to put an end to this sex business once the kids are born. Lots of luck getting them to take those marriage vows after THAT revelation...

But if you are tempted and determined to break your marital vows of trust and faith

Denial of physical affection is also a violation of marriage vows, although many people conveniently that.

The good and the bad; the sex and the sexlessness.

What kind of empty-headed nonsense is "share the sexlessness"? You might as well suggest that they "share the faithlessness" and both cheat, or "share the lovelessness" and treat each other with contempt.

As for divorce, that isn't necessarily an attractive option for a man who loves his wife but is just not properly loved in return.

Synova said...

"That's a very "Donahue" attitude. All sexual problems are the male's."

I know that some women use sex as a control and I think that's vile. It certainly is the opposite of love.

I *do* think that very often if she is "not in the mood" that he's doing it wrong. Doing it wrong may be a failure to make sure she enjoys it and gets enough of that dratted foreplay and cuddling. OR it may be a failure to make sure she's in a physical state of having enough rest and energy. Which he may not have any control over, and that may well be unfair but guys... if you want nookie when you're partner has been chasing toddlers all day and hasn't slept the night through in 5 years... maybe she's *tired*. Timing is everything.

That goes for men, too, actually. Though it seems we're all pretending that the quoted article and the researchers were wrong to suggest that men, even more often than women, are the ones avoiding the sex that their partner would like to have.

"Life begins when the last kid goes to college and the dog dies."

Every time I look at the dogs I mentally calculate their expected life spans. It's like this sub-routine that's always running...

It's almost (but not quite) more guilt than I can handle.

Blake said...

Also, if one side is not interested in sex and the other is, sexlessness is a sacrifice for one and not the other; there's no equity there.

Meade,

With all due respect, fulfilling obligations certainly can be romantic. And it really behooves a couple (particularly a couple with children) to make it that way.

Blake said...

Synova,

Fair enough. There are sexual louts out there just as there are disinterested women. I do like to believe that couples are interested in making each other happy, but perhaps can't communicate well enough or get around whatever baggage they've brought to the relationship.

I thought the most important thing they said in that article was that the tendency was to shift responsibility away, and I think it's obvious that that is a serious impediment to solving such problems.

John Stodder said...

And if there is no love to show or none being shown then take steps to find out why that is so. Suck it up.

Darn good advice.

goesh said...

Can't we blame it on laptops bombarding the genitals with mysterious rays?

Pogo said...

After a friend of mine got married and they'd had a couple kids, he started to ask, "I wonder what they call this monastery?"

He would have wondered, "Isn't 'sexless marriage' redundant?

Hoosier Daddy said...

"Ladies, you owe your husbands sex" is no more outrageous than "husbands, you are obligated to show your wife love and affection". It seems shocking because we've sort of drifted into a world where men's role in a marriage is to put money in a bank account and shut up.

Rev, if Thompson doesn't get the nomination, I think I'll write your name in for my vote in November.

Joe said...

Synova: Every time I look at the dogs I mentally calculate their expected life spans. It's like this sub-routine that's always running...

It's almost (but not quite) more guilt than I can handle.


Hah!

Joan said...

What kind of empty-headed nonsense is "share the sexlessness"?

It's not nonsense at all. It varies from person to person, of course, but every couple who has had children has been through periods where intercourse was disallowed for medical reasons. That's not to say the couple can't do other things, but if you're looking for the bang, you're not going to be getting it from a wife who just delivered a baby.

Every couple will endure some period of sexlessness -- think about our married service men and women, on long deployments. They go months and months without seeing their spouses, and I'd bet that the majority of them remain faithful. It's part of the sacrifice they make; somehow they manage. For couples who live together, babies and chronic illness are two common reasons why the sexual relationship may dwindle to non-existant.

The thing is, though, in healthy marriages, these droughts, imposed as they are by outside circumstances, usually come to an end. This discussion reminds me of all the talk about the percentage of the population living in poverty. Most people don't stay there; there's a lot of mobility. Most couples who are in a drought are moving through a phase that will end some day -- when the baby starts sleeping through the night, when the chemotherapy is over, when the current deployment ends.

Dedicated spouses do what they can to manage through these periods, and put in the effort to recover from them as quickly as possible. If no one's making the effort, that speaks to larger problems in the marriage than just a lack of sex.

Pogo said...

Nicley put, Joan.

I would add that aging used to offer a way for men to get that monkey of their backs. The drive to copulate is insistant and constant as a teenager, and makes a young man feel a little crazy. There is a natural decline in libido with aging that should be welcomed rather than treated.

I rarely have older women ask me if their husband have some Cialis, and men never say "yes" when I ask if they have discussed this drug with their wives.

There can be something transformative about sexlessness, whether from having babies, illnesses, or aging. And there has to be more to human life than endlessly sating sexual desire.

Sex has a place on the relationship bus. It shouldn't be driving.

George said...

This problem is exactly why President Bush is introducing his stimulus package.

From Inwood said...

Prof A

Enough with these Clinton posts, please.

Guacamommy said...

I'm a married woman, and Rev is right. I know too many women who have decided that sex isn't important to them anymore, either because they're too tired, too busy, too interested in other things, or just too damn selfish to give that part of themselves to their husbands. (Which doesn't mean I don't know men who have issues of their own, but by and large, they're not saying "No, thanks" to sex with their wives.)

When you marry, you're promising a whole host of things, not the least of which is to nurture and grow your physical intimacy, thus nurturing and growing your emotional intimacy. Often we must exhibit loving behavior when we're not feeling oh-so-loving. Amazingly, when we do, the feelings often follow the behavior.

Obviously, there are times in our lives when we don't give the proper amount of attention to our sex lives. However, whatever interrupting life event exists (barring illness) often becomes an excuse and not a reason. Loving your spouse means kicking aside that selfishness and the fatigue and understanding that making love to your spouse is way more important than getting that extra 30 minutes of sleep (or more - heh) or tending to the dirty dishes or working late at the office or watching your fav TV show.

John Kindley said...

What Pogo said AND what Guacamommy said.

Joan said...

I recommend lunch dates.

Middle Class Guy said...

Pogo said:
Sex has a place on the relationship bus. It shouldn't be driving.


Ah, but does a sexual relationship have a place in the bus.

Synova said...

"I recommend lunch dates."

I second this recommendation.

Revenant said...

It's not nonsense at all. It varies from person to person, of course, but every couple who has had children has been through periods where intercourse was disallowed for medical reasons.

I don't think that's really germane to the situation being discussed here, though. Obviously there are times when the wife can't have sex, or when sex is physically painful for her, or when both partners simply aren't in the mood. I guess you could call that "sharing the sexlessness" if you wanted to, but that seems like an odd way to put it.

But Meade cited a duty of husbands to "share the sexlessness" in situations where their wives simply refused to show them physical affection. Calling that sort of thing "sharing" is retarded. When you'd like a person to do something with you and that person refuses, you aren't "sharing" something with them -- not in the English use of the term.

Revenant said...

There is a natural decline in libido with aging that should be welcomed rather than treated.

It is by no means universal, though. :)