Our sex life first took a hit seven months ago when we brought home an 8-week-old attention-hogger named Gauss. By the time we mustered up the courage to throw his doggy ass out of the bedroom, my husband landed his dream project at work. Ever since, Shaili has taken to stumbling through the door at odd hours, and is fast asleep before I can wail, “I’m horny!” Six years into my marriage, I’ve become a statistic.
Married couples are the designated losers in our hormone-obsessed culture. Our sex life seems to be in perpetual jeopardy, in danger of dwindling into either mechanical routine or total extinction. Various experts periodically issue dire warnings about the dismal state of affairs, often proposing a number of daring and spectacular measures to avert the looming crisis. Alas, the prognosis is grimmer than ever.
A recent USA Today article reports that a whopping 40 million married couples have little or no sexual contact with their spouses. The latest Kinsey report suggests that married women like me are getting a lot less nooky than Donna Reed. Faced with the frantic pace of modern life, which entails juggling dirty diapers, demanding bosses and gym workouts, our libidos have beaten a hasty retreat.
Happily, however, help is at hand. Thanks to the sexual revolution, entire industries are now devoted to the sole purpose of reviving our flagging appetites. Most sexperts agree: Just buy the dildo, rent some porn, shimmy into a pair of crotchless panties and perform the sexual equivalent of the Cirque de Soleil. Lo and behold, hubby and I will be riding into our very own orgasmic sunset long before the Visa bill arrives. Marital coupling in the 21st century is expensive, backbreaking labor. No wonder that up to 20 percent of all couples have sex fewer than 10 times a year.
These lazy spouses are courting danger, warns Michelle Weiner Davis, pundit du jour on this new, new trend of marital celibacy. She paints an ominous picture in her book, The Sex-Starved Marriage: “Late nights at the office with a seductive coworker, an attentive ear and effusive ego-building compliments may be just the kindling your spouse needs to start a fiery sexual relationship with someone other than you.” There is a special hell reserved for sexual slackers. It’s called Divorce Court.
So toil we must, irrespective of our physical or mental state. Weiner Davis’ self-described “Nike Solution” couldn’t be bothered with outdated notions like getting in the mood. To hell with feeling tired, stressed, or unhappy with your relationship. She tells her low-desire clients (almost always women) “Just do it!”—the hormones will eventually catch up. If not, there is always the handy strawberry-flavored lube. It sounds a little tedious, but as the women in Weiner Davis’ seminars can confirm, the results are enviable: “He put up wallpaper, grouted between the tiles in our dining room floor, and made plans for us to go out for dinner…I couldn’t believe it!”
Neither can I. Look, Toto, we’re back in the ’50s again.
A recent issue of the Atlantic Monthly includes a very retro piece of drivel titled “The Wifely Duty,” in which author Caitlin Flanagan praises the virtues of countless 1950s housewives who fulfilled their marital duties with alacrity and enthusiasm. She writes, “The rare woman—the good wife, and the happy one—is the woman who maintains her husband’s sexual interest and who returns it in full measure.”
We modern gals are instead sullen, recalcitrant feminists unwilling to employ even one of the hundred ways to drive our man wild in bed. No wonder the poor husband can’t get it up either: “He must somehow seduce a woman who is economically independent of him, bone tired, philosophically disinclined to have sex unless she is jolly well in the mood, numbingly familiar with his every sexual maneuver.… He can hardly be blamed for opting instead to check his e-mail, catch a few minutes of ‘SportsCenter,’ and call it a night.” There’s not a word in this nearly 5,000-word tirade on the “husbandly duty.” The friend who e-mailed me the article wrote in the accompanying note, “It makes me never want to a) have kids b) have a partner c) have sex ever again.”
In themselves, many of the sex tips touted by relationship gurus are worthwhile. A little generosity in the bedroom goes a long way. And vibrators and edible underwear are indeed a lot of fun, but when used for pleasure not out of paranoia. I can’t imagine anything more depressing than fucking furiously to keep the twin demons of Divorce and Infidelity at bay. These books would have us believe that sexual high jinks will mend a missing sense of connection. Worse, they promote the disastrous myth that great sex is the basic requirement of a lifelong commitment.
As sex therapist Marty Klein puts it, “Sometimes sex is great; sometimes sex is kind of so-so; sometimes you’d rather have ice cream and watch television.’’
Our libidos are by nature periodic, subject to lulls as we navigate modern life and its attendant hazards. Given this reality, a truly healthy sex life must necessarily include the option of simply saying no.
Sure, I could do with a little more sex in my life these days. But when Shaili puts his arm around me and mumbles sleepily, “Sunday, I promise…,” I know we’re going to be alright.
Lakshmi Chaudhry is a senior editor at AlterNet.org