Have you ever heard the “Bean Jar” theory of married sex?
Before you get married, go out and buy a big glass jar and a big bag of beans.
On your wedding night, during your honeymoon, and every time you have sex thereafter, put one of the beans in the jar.
Keep doing this until you’ve been married for one year.
Now, in your second year of marriage and in every subsequent year: each time that you and your spouse have sex, you are to remove one bean from the jar.
The jar will never be empty in your lifetime.
Aside from the dubious mathematics and outdated exclusion of sex-out-of-wedlock, it was “theories” like this that scared the h*ll out of me before I got married. They still do, to some extent. Sexual attraction, after all, was a large reason behind why I started dating my partner in the first place. I’d heard stories (true life ones) about people who felt like their marriage had progressed to “just friends” or was more akin to that of siblings or business partners than lovers. That really alarmed me. Is it possible to sustain the spark of sexual chemistry over years, over decades?
I’m here to tell you that… I don’t know.
What I do know: my partner and I have been together for six years and we’re still doing our best to empty that jar—and having a good time doing it. In other words, we have sex once a day on average. Granted, we are still in our late twenties and we do not have kids, so perhaps that will change with age and time. But for six years and counting ::whispers:: we’ve had a rockin’ sex life, and for once in my life, I’m going to (anonymously!) own it.
I suppose my reticence might seem puzzling. But I’ve never, ever mentioned this to anyone—and not simply because I’m a private person. The average amount of sex married couples are having, as reported recently in the New York Times, is estimated around 58 encounters per year (though it’s closer to 111 times a year for couples under 30, while another 15% of married couples have likely not had sex for 6 months to 1 year). Who wants to hear about the couples who are quadrupling or… sextupling (really, is there no other word?) those numbers? So forgive me if this is a sensitive issue. I’m not trying to boast about my prowess, I swear. It’s just that… married sex gets an awfully bad rap. And that saddens me. Maybe it’s deserved, given the statistics. But it seems like there is no one — no one — out there saying: long-term, committed, monogamous sex ROCKS! In our culture, each of those adjectives is viewed as the ultimate buzz-kill.
I’m not sure why I’m telling you this now. I have no aspirations of writing a “15 Ways to Please Your Lover” C*smo article. If you and/or your partner are unhappy with the amount of sex you’re having, well, there can be as many possible solutions as there are reasons why, but I’m hardly qualified to diagnose. It can be psychological, it can be physiological (I’m looking at you, hormonal birth control). Figuring that out can be quite a challenge (unfortunately, doctors and researchers are still very clueless about sexual arousal and pleasure, particularly when it comes to women). But, if sex is important to your relationship, I think it is definitely worth the time, effort, and money.
If you’re both happy with the amount of sex you’re having — even if that’s once a year — fantastic! Don’t feel pressured to change to meet someone else’s idea of “enough.”
I’ve tried to figure out why our sex life is still such an untroubled source of fun. I’ve come up with a few reasons, but it’s hardly exhaustive. Maybe this list will be helpful; more likely, I’m just working it out for myself. It mostly boils down to being “GGG” or “Good, Giving, & Game,” a Dan Savage acronym.
- Similar sex drive. This is huge, and to some degree, out of your control. Sexual incompatibility can be extraordinarily difficult to resolve in a long-term, monogamous relationship. But I’m also not sure how you can know that in advance, or how you can foresee if that will change (after childbirth, during menopause, after an injury, etc.). I was a virgin when we met, so it was especially unknown for me. That said, if you’re not waiting for your wedding night, consider this facet of your relationship carefully before making a lifetime commitment. Sex drive disparity generally gets worse, not better, as time passes. For some people, libido differences might be reason to end a relationship—and that’s perfectly valid. Not an easy decision, but valid.
- Both partners committed to making sex a priority in the marriage. This is related to the above, but it also depends on how you both view sex within marriage. For us, a healthy, satisfying sex life is a cornerstone of our relationship. I’m not a fan of scheduling sex (seems to take away some of the fun of seduction), but it might be better than never getting around to it.
- Making time for it—mentally and physically. Maybe this means turning off the TV and TiVo-ing that show you watch before crashing to sleep. This might mean waking up a little earlier on weekends (I’m not going to even pretend like I know how this works when you have small children; that’s exponentially more difficult and beyond my scope of experience). This also means making time to consciously think about sex. For many people (think: teenage boys) this would sound laughable. But for others, especially those of us with stressful lives, sexual thoughts can easily get buried beneath other concerns. When you have five minutes to spare at work, try recalling an especially memorable encounter. Read a bit of erotica, instead of a novel, before you fall asleep (there is quality work out there; it doesn’t have to be a Fabio-romance novel, unless that’s what does it for ya). Read Sex-Positive blogs during your commute (I like Em & Lo). Put on sexy music (whatever that means to you: booty-shakin’ hip-hop, R&B, sultry jazz) while you and your partner make dinner. Start a Sexytimes Playlist on your iPod of tunes that get you in the mood (and maybe try dancing to them with your partner). Check out NSFW Tumblrs (Sex Is Not The Enemy is a great place to start). Engage in activities that put you in a sexy frame of mind. A candle-lit bubble bath is the clichéd suggestion… but sometimes, it works. Maybe it’s donning short-shorts, or combat boots, or lacey panties, fixing something with power tools, strutting around naked in your house, seductively licking a lollipop, doing yoga, or wearing glasses. I don’t know. But spend some time figuring out what puts you in touch with your sexual self.
- Cut yourself (and your partner) some slack. Everybody has off days (or weeks or months). Don’t compare frequency to other couples; focus on what works for your relationship. Real-life sex can be awkward or unintentionally funny, like when you accidentally fall over while removing your pants or bump heads when you kiss. People make odd noises and faces. Don’t expect it to look or feel like a Hollywood sex scene every time. It also does not need to last an hour (or even five minutes) to be Good Sex. You don’t have to move through every position in the Kama Sutra (although trying new positions is a great way to shake things up). It’s okay if one or both of you doesn’t achieve orgasm every time. Expand your conception of what sex is, and don’t wait until conditions are “perfect” to engage.
- Speaking of which: give it a go, even when you aren’t in the mood. I am NOT suggesting that you should resentfully lie back and hum “Rule, Britannia!” but for many people, the mood arrives once you start kissing and touching, not always before. Try saying yes more than you say no. Consistently rejecting your partner is not a great way to foster intimacy; if you’ve ever been on the rejected end, it does a number on your self-esteem and sense of sexual-desirableness, making you feel that much more vulnerable the next time. Also: initiate! Make sure it’s not just one partner who always gets things going. On the other hand, make sure your partner knows when you really need it to be off the table. When you want to cuddle with no underlying pressure.
- Making the bedroom sex-friendly—and conversely, not limiting sexual activity to the bedroom. What works for us: clean, high-thread-count sheets; no family photos (ruins the mood for me); soft, flattering lighting (i.e. lamps vs. overhead bulb); keeping clutter to a minimum; having supplies easily accessible; no television or video games or laptops allowed. I know this last is often contested, but we’ve found it makes a big difference when we don’t have technology distracting us (we all know the internet can be a huge time-suck).
- Discuss sex—explicitly—with your partner. Often. Preferably over a glass of wine or a plate of chocolate chip cookies or in some other relaxed environment, not immediately before he/she strips off their underwear or in the middle of a fight. Remember that there are other forms of intimacy and that these can satisfy, in place of sex… but also don’t underestimate how fundamental an active sex life might be for either you or your partner. Keep an open mind, try new things with enthusiasm.
Again, I have no idea if we’ll carry on this way. However, if things slow down, it won’t change our commitment to the relationship; sex is important to us, but it’s not the only reason we’ve pledged to go through life together.
So why am I writing? I guess because I want people to know that a married/committed sex life does not have to follow the dominant cultural narrative. A lot of that is based on lore from eras when women weren’t even expected to find “conjugal duties” enjoyable, let alone pursue them outside of marriage. A time when homosexual men and women were supposed to suppress their urges and settle down with an appropriate mate of the opposite sex, even if the idea was sexually repellent. A time when a man keeping at least one mistress was assumed and hardly newsworthy. Times have changed; let’s change the narrative! Or at least widen it to include those of us who enjoy long-term monogamous sex, despite the occasional challenges.