Does marriage kill off passion, or is it time that wears away the sparkle, the sizzle, the special satisfaction?
Psychology Today tells us that predictions of lost lust in the marital bedroom are not a given. In “Love and Lust,” not only does the writer contend that relationship heat can be maintained, but she touches on something even more appealing: the notion that we can never entirely know each other.
Ah, sweet mystery of life!
Cue the swell of sappy background music, please.
More to the point: Isn’t predictability a buzz kill in the boudoir? Why do we feel compelled to stick to the same routines? And why are we so likely to share every (dull) detail, daily dilemma, and stray thought in our heads?
TMI really is Too Much Information – even in marriage and committed relationships.
Frequency of Married Sex
Here is the statistic that many like to linger over, and no doubt I’ve used it myself a time or two in recent years. Married couples, depending on age (and other factors), have sex on average one to three times a week.
Dr. Virginia Rutter writes:
Contrary to conventional wisdom, married couples—and their cohabiting counterparts—have more sex than the nonmarried, a fact confirmed in a 2010 survey by the Kinsey Institute revealing who does not have sex.
Then again, let’s consider that these surveys use averages, which means there may be a handful of couples skewing the data on the high side! Okay, I’m exaggerating, but considering the long (dry) spells I’ve personally experienced in my life, the 2010 data isn’t such a surprise.
But here is what truly caught my interest:
… no matter how long you live together, two people always inhabit separate worlds. Some part of your partner is deeply unknowable.
Keeping the Mystery Alive
Isn’t sexual desire born of mystery, of wanting to know, of a potentially bottomless well of discoveries to be made about the other?
Sure, that’s a romanticized view. But think about it. When you can predict your partner’s every move, how interesting is that? When you can anticipate the response to any scenario, where’s the fun?
I am heartened by this statement:
Evidence has long existed that couples have lots of sex early in the relationship and the frequency of sex declines over time. Aging and the dramas of raising a family and earning money change when and how people do it, but long-married couples still have an advantage: They enjoy it more.
Midlife Sex: Uncharted Waters
However, this tidbit, given that I dwell chronologically in “midlife,” is anything but encouraging:
Very little research is dedicated to middle-age sex. “Not a lot of studies look at sex in established couples or sex in midlife,” says Carpenter. Even “experts” have little clue what sex looks like in contemporary marriages: who initiates it and how, who does what to whom, how long it lasts.
Why is there relatively little on the desires and desirability of those who are 45+? Any volunteers in the crowd? Given the vast numbers who fall into this demographic (and spurred by gray divorce and subsequent seeking of partners), what explains this apparent lack?
Dust vs. Lust: Passion is Fragile
I am pleased to see that Dr. Rutter explores more facets of our romantic lives than raw numbers. She includes a look at the role of domestic chores and at least a mention of factors like money worries, raising children, and holding down a job as dampening our concupiscent coupling.
Also part and parcel of her questioning are these considerations. Are we sizing up the importance (frequency, intensity) of lust in comparison to what it once was? In contrast to what we see on television and other media? Does desire seem (relatively) dwarfed because love itself has grown over the years?
I have no answers to these questions, but they do have me curious about data sets and study design, and more importantly, the subtleties involved in the slow unfolding of passion, or its demise.
I’m also pondering the preponderance of sexless marriages, the dwindling of affection that may take place during the child-raising years, and the role of familiarity in any relationship – with or without kids. For that matter, with or without the formalities of wedlock.
It happens gradually. Distance grows.
And don’t we become a little too comfy in the love nest? How arousing is it to lay next to a partner who noisily belches or passes wind? Who dispenses with elements of basic hygiene every weekend? Who is generally unconcerned about presenting a pleasing package to his or her partner?
And no, let’s not assume this is always a man!
Must we remind ourselves to work at keeping things fresh? Is that easier said than done? Too formulaic? What happens when his or her little quirks get the best of you – the socks on the floor, the wet towel on the back of the chair, the way she clears her throat, her constant fussing over an unlocked door?
How to Put the Sexy Back? Surprise. Romance. Try It.
Do resentments build until they form an impenetrable barrier? (Been there, done that.)
Don’t both partners need to be willing to engage, to explore, to let go?
What about the women who feel uncomfortable in their bodies as they begin to age? Who may put some of their “sexy” on the back burner, as they note Hubby’s furtive glance at their younger counterparts passing by?
Just how helpful could a little bit of romance be? A bubble bath (if that’s your thing), a glass of wine (perhaps more helpful), a thoughtful gesture (better still)… A small surprise like an afternoon off and a walk, and your partner displaying genuine interest in what you have to say, and vice versa.
Aren’t these activities worth a try? Doesn’t desire begin in the brain?
We would be foolish to set a single standard for what is “normal” when it comes to desire, frequency of sexual activity, and in particular, how sex lives evolve over a period of years. It is also my belief that we only have a problem when one partner wants something more or something different from the other, and he or she cannot provide it.
We would also be wise to consider that there are physiological contributors to diminished sexual interest — medications, hormonal changes — and for the latter, personally, I believe the impact of prolonged stress is not to be ignored.
Moreover, a candlelit dinner will not overcome deep-seeded relationship problems that require communication, a willingness to change habits, and the ability to say goodbye to petty grievances.
Still, setting aside our own preoccupations for an evening is another matter. Revving up foreplay for the brain first might offset the “ravages” of time. Then there is the option of taking ourselves back a decade or two, and remembering, as Psychology Today suggests, that we can never entirely know another person. And that can be very, very enticing.
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