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How important is sex to a marriage? The fact that passion often wanes in marriage is no joke for many couples so should it be more of a priority? Many things get lost in the long haul of relationships, among them inhibitions, senses of humour, socks — and, in many cases, libido. It is a lucky and unusual couple who, decades into a marriage, still feel the same passion for each 14 Kid-Inspired Healthy Lunch Ideas for Grown-Ups that ignited their early relationship.
Far more common is the story of the once-happy sex life that has waned as the years passed — that initial physical bond becoming fractured in the maelstrom of raising children, earning a living, running a house and growing older. Indeed, the statistics tell a story of decline: the older we get, the less love we make. According to the most recent Sexual Wellbeing Survey, the average British person has sex 127 times a year, and the average married person has sex 98 times a year. 50s have sex 52 times a year.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. Growing older in a committed relationship doesn’t have to mean a slow slide into celibacy and slippers. Couples for whom the spark of passion still burns bright may be rarer than those whose flame is long extinguished, but they do exist. My husband and I have more sex now than we did in our 30s and 40s, when we were coping with a young son and both of us were working,’ says Carol Shaw, 62. Now, we make love sometimes two or three times a week. Spontaneity is the key to our physical relationship. We don’t specifically go to bed early to have sex — because we have been together so long, we know exactly what each movement, each gesture means.
On holiday, we will often make love during the day, and we have experimented with Tantric sex, too. After our son was born we had sex only once or twice a year. Tantric sex, first practised by the ancient Hindus, is a slow form of meditative sex that’s said to increase intimacy and create a mind-body connection that can lead to powerful orgasm. Carol’s relationship with her 67-year-old retired husband, David, has been kept alive because each of them has refused to get complacent — something which damages many marriages.
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All the evidence points to the fact that an active sex life keeps couples together,’ says Dr Geoff Hackett, a leading expert in sexual medicine and former chairman of the British Society for Sexual Medicine. It promotes intimacy, reassurance, the realisation that both parties are wanted and needed. It is hard to find researched evidence, but most surveys point to the fact that a lack of sex in a relationship is a leading factor in break-ups. Once the sex goes, so many other problems follow.
It has also been proven that couples — especially men — will live longer, happier lives if they remain in a steady, loving relationship. There is no doubt that a healthy sex life is one of the most important factors in a thriving and successful marriage. Carol and David, who live near Inverness in the Scottish Highlands, agree. A healthy physical relationship brings intimacy and comfort to a relationship, beyond words. If the sex breaks down, everything else in the relationship will suffer. Eighties, when sex happened only once or twice a year for about six years.
It put a big strain on our marriage. We were fractious with each other, had a lot more arguments, and we’d turn away from each other in bed. The reasons were many — a young child, coping with two demanding careers — all the usual problems couples face. Thankfully, we came back together, and getting our sex life back on track was a major factor. Carol and David’s relationship began with a powerful physical attraction which has not waned. As we’ve grown older, our love-making has become different — it is slower and more tender,’ she says.
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But it means just as much to us as it ever did, and I hope we will continue well into our old age. We are both open to experimentation — hence the willingness to try Tantric sex. We’re agreed that the key to a good marriage is sex. It is vital to our relationship. I cannot imagine a world without David, and I am sure we’ve been so happy because we’re so sexually compatible.
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Sexual medicine expert Dr Geoff Hackett stresses that the benefits of sex are physical as well as emotional. It’s vitally important to our overall health,’ he says. Orgasm creates a rush of endorphins within the brain, and a couple are never closer than the moment they’ve just had sex. As human beings, we are programmed to seek sex. If you look at the behaviour of young people, it is all built around the need for sexual attraction. This may wane as we get older, but we are all still looking for sex, and if it goes from our marriage or relationship we will seek it elsewhere, whatever our age. Dr Hackett says he regularly sees patients in their 60s and 70s who are still actively seeking sex and the reassurance that they can still function.
The desire to have sex is innate within all of us,’ he says. Rochelle Peachey and her husband Phil, both 46, have been married for ten years. They recognise the importance of putting constant effort into a relationship so that it remains vital and exciting, and enjoy an invigorating physical bond. Sex brings a closeness that is beyond words. It relaxes you, puts you in tune with each other, and smoothes over all the everyday trials and tribulations,’ says Rochelle, who runs a dating agency with her husband. I think it is especially important for men — they need to feel proud of their virility, and know that their wife finds them sexually attractive.
Men’s attraction is visual — they need you to be attractive to them. All around us we see couples breaking up or having affairs, and it is nearly always down to a lack of sex in the marriage. Sex can’t become a habit — you need to be inventive, and surprising, and work at it. She and David, who have two sons, aged 26 and 18, between them, have both been married before, and credit the success of their second marriage to the intense physical attraction between them. I love the fact that Phil still fancies me just as much, if not more, than when we first met. You need to keep the sex in a marriage fresh and interesting, and never become complacent about the way you look.
I see women who let themselves put on weight, never wear make-up, then wonder why their husbands are having affairs. I dress in young fashions, wear high heels and beautiful lingerie, and I always have my hair and nails done. Rochelle and Phil, who have homes in London and Florida, enjoy sex three or four times a week, and work hard not to take each other for granted — an inevitable slip-up in many marriages, but one which happens all too easily when the pressures of everyday life bring themselves to bear. They are proud of the efforts they make to sustain their libido. We often put on music at home, and we never restrict love-making to the bedroom.
We try to be as adventurous as when we first got together. A bad sex life was one of the things that killed my first marriage. I have learned never to go to bed angry after a row, and never to turn Phil down. We’ve been together for 18 years, so we know each other inside out, but there is no complacency. Relationship expert Francine Kaye runs The Divorce Doctor website and counselling service.
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She agrees that complacency can be the kiss of death to many relationships, stressing that making the time and effort to have sex is critical, even if you don’t feel in the mood. Sex is very much the glue in a marriage,’ Francine says. You simply cannot get closer than having sex. It consolidates the bond which keeps people together. If you break that cycle — through tiredness, illness or career stress — then you break the bond.
You have to make time for sex, no matter how exhausted you might be feeling, because it will bring you together. If men are stressed, sex is what they need to make them feel better about themselves. Men don’t express their feelings verbally — making love is their way of showing their partner how much they love them. Francine argues that the majority of people can cope with any problem within a marriage if they have the connection of sex. If they don’t, problems can quickly become insurmountable. I can put any couple back together if they’ve had sexual chemistry,’ she explains.
But if there is no chemistry, it is virtually impossible to save a marriage. If you feel the chemistry has gone but was there once, you can work at bringing it back. The rigours of domestic life often serve as a potent anti-aphrodisiac. There’s nothing like having a long list of chores to do, a couple of demanding kids and several urgent errands in prospect to dim the ardour which might, just a moment ago, have briefly stirred. So throw in a demanding job and all the other minutiae of life and it’s no surprise that many couples just cannot find the time or energy for physical abandonment.
Children are a key distraction, turning what may once have been a love nest into a family home in which romance can easily suffer. Jason Heller, 37, and his wife Rachel, 35, are at that critical stage where young children and busy careers have shifted the focus away from life a deux. They’re running a new business together in London — a shop, café and lounge called Huggle — and have two children, four-year-old Maya and Sam, 14 months. Both admit that their sex life has waned as a result. There comes a time in your marriage when your physical relationship has to take a back seat to bringing up young children. I think it’s a natural part of marriage — it will come and go, and you have to learn not to worry.
Jason sees sex as a form of communication, a way of reassuring your partner that you love each other and everything is all right, even though life may be fraught with tension. But like most parents of young children, we have less time for each other than we had before, but we accept that as part of the parenting and marriage process,’ he says. We both work hard for the business, and in the evenings life is about feeding and bathing the children and reading stories to them. The days of wild abandon are gone for the moment — but I am sure they will come back.
I joke that I am not Rachel’s priority any more, but she knows I wouldn’t have it any other way. You have to remember there will be life again, after the children have grown up. Sexual medicine expert Dr Geoff Hackett advises circumspection if a couple’s sex life has waned — and professional help. So much can be done to bring couples back together, and once they rediscover their sex life it is extraordinary how quickly many other issues are resolved,’ he advises. Sex is the vital component in a functioning relationship, but it doesn’t have to be incredibly frequent. A couple just need to know they have those moments of intimacy which only they share, and which bond them together.
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