Married Sex: a fairy tale in three parts, a young couple sharing ice cream sodas

***Warning – this post may ruin your best friend threesome fantasy***

Part One: Once Upon a Time

Once upon a time, relationship experts encouraged long-term couples to ‘share everything’, from a strand of spaghetti to the grizzly details of the monthly cycle. This constant sharing, this living in each other’s pockets, was supposed to bring you closer together. And it does. You’ll be best-friend close.

The problem is, you don’t tend to want to shag your best mate.

Worse, your living arrangement most closely resembles that of a sibling. Again, not someone you want to shag.

Enter the world of Married Sex.

Not only does sexing your partner start to seem about as appealing as humping a manky dishcloth, you may find you’re not into sex at all.

This is what happened to me.

At the time I blamed the pill, not realising I was living with a constant libido suppressant called a husband. All I knew was that over time sex had stopped being something I couldn’t get enough of, and started becoming a chore — something I did out of a vague sense of obligation that would have to wait until after I’d finished the ironing and scrubbing the floor.

To be fair, my husband had also stopped beating down the door to rip my knickers off. So I decided (with some relief) that he didn’t really want it either.

During this time (which I consider some freakish aberration), not only did I rarely crave sex, not even to DIY, the thought of shagging my partner was a turn-off. I used to dread it.

The most satisfying sex we had during that long drought was on the rare occasions when my sleeping brain decided it had been long enough, thank you very much, and I would wake from a raunchy dream, desperate for a shag. In the dark, still half-asleep, I could jump my husband and not notice I was shagging him.

Part Two: The Drought

Married Sex: a fairytale in three parts, distant couple

Experts now realise the previously advocated ‘closeness’ and total entanglement of each other’s lives is the worst possible thing you can do if you want to avoid this deadening drought of Married Sex. They concede that by the time your husband has seen you in your pink fluffy slippers with mascara blubbing down your face, once you’ve experienced his regular after grog bogs, when you have no privacy left, no non-mutual friends, and no me-only time, your desire for one another doesn’t just start to wane, it plummets.

Add to this the theory that evolution is working against us, playing out its war on our libidos using the very chemicals that make us want to shag in the first place. Some scientists argue the cycle of romance, sex and love leads every long-term couple toward parenthood and virtual abstinence.

The theory goes something like this:

  • Romance produces the chemicals that lead to sex
  • Sex produces the chemicals that lead to love
  • Love suppresses the chemicals that lead to romance

Which traps us into a life of monogamy through virtual emasculation (testosterone being the chemical suppressed by ‘love’). With the desire for sex depleted, we are much less likely to stray, and much more likely to feel the ‘love’ bonds that encourage us to stay and raise offspring (1). Over time this has an inevitable impact on a couple’s desire for each other.

And this is just one of the ‘chemical’ theories of sex and love involving libido enhancers and suppressants.

Another known suppressant is the contraceptive pill. Like many women my age, I live with the ongoing pain of endometriosis. For years doctors prescribed high-dose hormones to control it. The hormones stopped my periods and so stopped the pain, but then stopped me feeling altogether. I had almost no drive at all. Not just for sex, but for anything. A friend of mine aptly described it as feeling like a ‘placid cow’.

In the end I decided I could live with the pain to feel again, and stopped taking it.


Married Sex: a fairytale in three parts, lady vixen

Like a teenage boy hitting puberty, my hormones went into overdrive. I had energy to burn, and as the first full moon approached, I was climbing the walls. Just about every man who walked past was a potential shag. I lost count of the poor unsuspecting guys I imagined dragging into the loo for some unbridled bouncing-off-the-walls passion. The cruel irony was that my husband was away at the time, and so for the first time in years I locked myself indoors and masturbated like crazy.

Eventually my husband arrived home. But then the weirdest thing happened. I didn’t want to shag him. It was like I’d been given a dose of instant libido suppressant.

It scared the hell out of me.

It was a while before I had a hormonal peak as extreme as the first, but I continued to notice the ups and downs of my cycle, and I was never sure who I might be tempted to crack on to. At one point I contemplated wearing a public safety waning: CAUTION: ON HEAT, just to prevent any embarrassing misadventures.

Having rediscovered the joys of DIY, for the next little while, it was all that kept me sane. I certainly got no pleasure from my unshaven, unwashed, bad-breathed husband, whose seduction technique consisted of sprawling across the marital bed in his ‘come hither’ pose. It was a far cry from the lets-do-it-in-every-room passion of the early days.

I could understand this sort of change occurring in couples who have children, who end up taking on the asexual role of parents, and become that to each other. But that wasn’t true for either of us. Nonetheless, my husband had slipped into the ‘brother’ part of my brain.

Not surprisingly, we separated less than twelve months later.

Part Three: Sexily Ever After

I sometimes wonder what would have happened if our relationship had come with a warning: DON’T TAKE YOUR MUTUAL ATTRACTION FOR GRANTED. What steps could we have taken to focus less on the ‘smoochie poochie’ part and more on the ‘red hot rampant sex’ part? The idea that you might need to work at keeping on wanting sex, on wanting each other, seemed absurd at the time.

Since then I’ve read theory after theory on the pitfalls of long-term relationships and how to counter hormonal inhibitors such as illness and the pill. Advice ranges from the basics of maintaining separate lives to forcing yourself to shag, even when you’d rather spend the evening repeatedly sticking a fork in your eye. Others advocate watching porn or even having an affair. These theories all come with warnings, of course (2).

After my divorce, I managed to sustain a relationship for two years. In that time we maintained very separate lives and shagged ourselves silly. We also weren’t particularly close, and never quite made it to the point where our lives became entangled.

Who is to say the two are related? I was in a difficult place, and we were two very different people. As for my husband, we probably just outgrew each other and ultimately liked different things in bed.

All I can say with certainty is that I will never have Married Sex again, no matter what it takes. Because good sex is part of what makes you feel alive. And I am a long, long way from dead.

(1) I suspect this is why some people run a mile after sex, as though they know in the moments after orgasm they are most vulnerable to a ‘bonding attack’
(2) Apparently affairs can also lead to a relationship’s demise
This post first appeared in Rhonda Perky’s Bits on Jul 4, 2010

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