Less isn’t more when it comes to sex. But how should a dissatisfied partner address the issue of disproportionate pleasure?
Not tonight, darling. “I feel gross”. “Too sweaty.” “Tired.” “Watching my TV show”. “Might be getting sick.” Miffed with these and more reasons that his wife offered for declining to have sex, a man hit the news last week when he sent her a spreadsheet with columns titled, Date, Sex and Excuse before she left for a business trip. It seems he made 27 ‘attempts’ over seven weeks, and the couple had sex only thrice.
She, a Reddit user (throwwwwaway29) posted it on the site, making it go viral.
Imaginative? Sure. A sign of meticulous organisation? Yes. But using an Excel sheet to discuss private matters, and worse, sharing it on social networking sites, isn’t the solution, say experts, all the while highlighting the importance of intimacy in a marriage.
In The Sex-Starved Marriage: A Couple’s Guide to Boosting Their Marital Libido, relationship expert Michele Weiner-Davis writes: Sex is an extremely important part of marriage. When it’s good, it offers couples opportunities to give and receive physical pleasure, to connect emotionally and spiritually. It builds closeness, intimacy and a sense of partnership. In short, sex is a powerful tie that binds.”
The number game
When it comes to marriage and sex, the most common question is: how much is normal? But there can be no normal. The deciding factors differ for every couple and depend on the quality of the relationship, their age, lifestyle, health and sex drive.
A research paper submitted at the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender and Reproduction at Indiana University, Bloomington, Illinois, concluded that 18-29-year olds have sex about 112 times a year. The 30-39-year-old lot clock an average of 86 times, and 40-49-year olds make it 69 times a year. How do married people fare? The General Social Survey conducted in the US revealed that married couples have sex approx. 58 times a year.
Most therapists agree that couples who have sex less than 10 times a year are in a ‘sexless’ relationship. Couples choose to believe that the lack of sex doesn’t necessarily mean their relationship is doomed, provided both partners are okay with the it.
However, Robert Weiss, a sexual addiction and intimacy disorders specialist, in an article, writes that numerous studies “have shown that lack of sex corresponds directly with marital instability and thoughts of leaving a relationship”.
Dr Laura Berman puts in succinctly. “When sex works in a relationship, it’s one small part. When it doesn’t, it takes on a life of its own, affecting everything,” she says. The threshold for anger is lower and the disconnect can lead to the breakdown of a couple’s physical and emotional connection, she says in an e-mail interview to Mirror.
Weiner-Davis feels the same way. When one spouse isn’t interested in intimacy, touching, kissing, other forms of physical affection drop out too. Spouses distance from each other emotionally. The marriage becomes mechanical. Friendship can evaporate, and anger bubbles under. Misunderstandings are many and emotional divorce becomes inevitable.
The problem is grave, but discussing it is an even bigger challenge. How does one discuss the issue of disproportionate sex with a partner? Here’s some advice from our above panel of experts.
ACKNOWLEDGE THE PROBLEM
Sexual libidos differ and it is estimated that one out of three couples struggles with problems associated with low sexual desire. Berman says the most common sexual complaint in committed relationships is uneven desire. Couples need to know that it’s essential to compromise and agree to a middle ground. “And though it’s tough to deal with advances being rebuffed repeatedly, remind yourself that the rejection may not just be about you,” says Ashima Sinha, consulting psychologist.
TIME THE TALK
In Talking to Your Partner About Sex, Berman writes that couples should start the conversation “outside the bedroom” when they “aren’t feeling tense”.
Marriage therapist Corey Allan makes another suggestion in How To Talk About Sex With Your Spouse: “Don’t talk about needs and desires during or right after sex.”
BREAK THE ICE
Therapists believe the best place to discuss sex is out of the bedroom — it could be while having coffee at the neighbourhood cafe or while having dinner. Experts recommend opening with a gentle one-liner like, “I love you, and I’d like to feel more connected to you.” Agree to keep the conversation short and try not to monopolise it. If you feel uncomfortable, initiate it over the phone but do move to face-to-face eventually.
Dr Stanley Ducharme, a Bostonbased sex therapist, suggests that couples be clear, open and honest. “Express your needs from a personal perspective. Pay close attention to verbal and nonverbal responses, take your partner’s feelings into consideration, and be open to any questions,” he writes on his blog. Verbalising what you are feeling in bed could help too.
TUNE IN TO EACH OTHER
Men are from Mars and women are from Venus, but they must survive on Earth. “Women must understand that men achieve a sense of emotional closeness and romantic connection through the physical act of sex. So, the more sexually connected and available you are, the more emotionally tuned in he will be. And men must understand that women typically achieve a sense of emotional closeness through romance, talking, kissing, cuddling…without it always being a preamble to sex. When she feels emotionally close, she is significantly more inspired to want sexual contact,” Berman says.
DON’T KEEP COUNT
Stop keeping score. Remember that sex does not mean only intercourse. Other activities, be it oral sex or touching, and affectionate behaviour such as kissing, cuddling and caressing are also associated with higher sexual satisfaction for both, men and women. “Work on compromises that can lead to a more satisfying sex life — longer foreplay, more affectionate behaviour or a weekly dinner date,” Sinha says.
DITCH THE BLAME GAME
Don’t accuse. It makes your partner feel inadequate, and slip into defensive mode. Use “I”, not “you”. So say, “I feel insecure when we don’t have sex” rather than “You don’t seem to be interested in me”. Focus on what can be done to improve things.
MAKE THINGS FUN
It may be a serious issue, but that’s no reason to be stern. Keep things enjoyable and entertaining. “Share fantasies, discuss new positions or explore porn together,” Sinha advises.
GIVE IT TIME
Rome wasn’t built in a day. So give your partner time to think and respond. Don’t mind read and never assume that you know it all. Remember that this may take more than one conversation — don’t try to ‘solve’ it immediately.
Therapists suggest that talks need to be followed up with a plan, much like at work. Act on your promises.
Sparking off a debate
A fortnight ago, a woman put up a post on Reddit, sharing a three-column spreadsheet that her husband had shared with her. The spreadsheet was a log of all the times he initiated sex with her over the course of seven weeks. In column A, he recorded the date (June 3 to July 16); in column B, he included the response (yes or no) and in column C, he wrote down the excuse his wife used against having sex on a particular night. The woman, who received the email on her way to the airport for a 10-day work trip, described it as “sarcastic diatribe basically saying he won’t miss me for the 10 days I’m gone”.
The post in which neither the woman nor the man are identified in any manner, went viral receiving over 750 comments at last count, in both support of the man and the woman.
WHAT DO YOU THINK?
It’s easy to be flippant about an issue like this, but it’s traumatic for the one enduring it. This is when, rather that discussing your problems on social media, the couple should speak to a counselor who can evaluate each case individually – Filmmaker and writer Fahad Samar
The absence of physical intimacy is nothing but a sign of a larger problem. Having an honest conversation could resolve the issue either way – Shoma Narayanan, romance writer