If there’s one surefire barometer with which to measure the health of your relationship, it’s your sex life. Whether you’re in love in your early 20s, or you’ve been married for 30 years, if you’re not sharing time intimately, something has usually gone awry.
It’s a huge bone of contention for couples that now pass each other like ships in the night, mostly because it’s a problem you don’t want to admit to yourself, let alone to your partner. What’s more, it’s a really hard one to fix. Are you not having that much sex because you’re not happy? Or are you not happy because you’re not having that much sex? If, like us, you’re in possession of a pulse, it’s likely that you’ve been here.
Like most couples, you start out with the sexual appetite of rabbits; you would do it every which way in every opportune place as though the world might, at any moment, end. The Notebook‘s Noah and Allie ain’t got a patch on you. You’d sooner spend the evening staring into each other’s eyes than overdosing on Netflix. Nights turn into days and back into nights again without either of you even noticing. This dizzying honeymoon period eventually reduces from a boil to a simmer, but of course, this is entirely normal. As you both come down to Earth, falling deeply in love, your sex life may be less hectic, but it can often improve. Now you’re love-making. Ooh.
Then you move in, the excitement of a night alone together calms down as, well, you’ll have nothing but nights lying in bed together. You’re putting in long hours at the office whilst trying to maintain your independent social lives, your exercise regimens and even time for just yourself. Over time, moments of intimacy that used to punctuate your relationship are now reserved for times that suit, times when you’re not exhausted, not stressed and not interrupted by the banality of life. Carving out times for dates becomes something you have to consciously stay on top of. Lest we forget, we’re not just cohabiting, we’re in a loving relationship, aren’t we?
For many, sex takes a definite pause when kids come along. Again this is normal and nothing to beat yourself over the head for. You’re both exhausted, doing everything in your power to keep this little person alive, and time for just you becomes a distant memory. What replaces the crazy, movie-like sex that dominated your early days takes a sidestep as the love for your babies takes over. It’s often said that it’s only now you realise what it really means to love, so let us be clear, it’s not all bad.
A gif of a sleepy child, should be familiar if you’re a parent
But as the kids grow older, it’s expected that your sexual routine would find its balance again. Sometimes though, life gets in the way and it stays there. Psychotherapist M Gary Neuman explains what happens in relation to his recent research on happy couples’ sex lives: in the early days, couples think of interesting things to talk about when they’re on dates, they make an effort to engage each other. But when they marry, all of a sudden they start talking about their various obligations which does not a love-making atmosphere make. If you’re not lucky enough to have maintained your sexual connection and your individual sex drive, you may find yourself going through the motions because you feel that’s what you ought to do – otherwise you’re in trouble, you’ll think – or you barely do it at all, because you just don’t feel like it.
Whatever about any other obstacles over which your relationship might suffer, a downward spiral in your sex life is certainly one of them. It’s not your fault that life happened and sex was no longer a priority, but if you’re to remain in a happy, satisfying relationship, sex is a hugely integral part, and it’s going to take some effort.
Is there a rough number of times per week or month that you need to be hitting it in order to feel happy? Recent research concluded that happily married couples had sex approximately 11 times per month. Interestingly, Neuman (lead author on this study) explains how his findings show that it is not about satisfaction that made the women happy but frequency of sex. The unhappy woman had it only three to four times a month, while the happy woman had it 11 times a month.
So even though you might not feel all that satisfied, are we to believe that carving out the time for such intimacy this many times per month will inevitably lead to an increase in happiness? Possibly, provided your relationship isn’t in the throes of any other detrimental fractures.
Another interesting study from 2012 concluded that sex between cohabiting couples leads to reduced stress and anxiety on both parts, which in itself will lead to a sense of contentment. Two other studies, in 2013 and 2014 and respectively, concluded that regular sex was key for happily married couples.
Of the 2013 study, published in the Archives of Sexual Behaviour, 1000 married Americans reported that if they weren’t having as much sex as they had desired, they were having more fights and more thoughts about ending their marriage. Communication between couples had taken a definite hit. The 2014 study, published in the Journals of Gerontology found that sexual activity was the reason why most couples remained satisfied with marriage later in life.
For those who find themselves in a frustrating funk, all is not lost. What’s more, new research suggests that your sex life will rebound back to full health after fifty years of marriage. This is thanks to a renewed sense of trust and commitment, apparently. “Growing old as a couple, with the experience and knowledge that come with that, may play a part,” said researcher Samuel Stroope of Louisiana State University in a release (via Huffington Post).
What’s your take on this?