Just after the New Year, G and I had dinner in Manhattan with two “happily” married couples in their early 50’s. Both had two kids who were also “happily” married. Divorce had not yet touched their lives.
The couples read our book and knew about our interest in the world of sex and understandably slanted the dinner conversation to that topic. One of the women mentioned that she had just read in some magazine about a number of studies which report that an active sex life between a man and woman, particularly those who are married for a long time, is necessary to increase marital bliss. I was about to ask the couples if that held true for them, but held my tongue for they are products of the old school who highly value personal privacy.
Being curious about that claim, the next day I decided to do some research on clinical studies which evaluated the impact of sexual activity on happiness and marriage and found exactly what I expected. As I repeatedly emphasize on our posts, the conclusions of many clinical studies on sex, particularly surveys, are not at all definitive. I can assure you that the claims, and they are numerous, that more sex makes married men and women happier than those who have significantly less of it, were not proven. Not even close!
There are reports that many couples, yes, including men, are not that crazy about sex and, therefore, it does not play a major role in their lives. One study reported that the sex- life of working married couples over 40 was almost non-existent. If you read what’s going on today in the world of sex, because married men and women are living in very stressful times, they prefer to sleep and not copulate at bedtime. In one article, though tough to believe, young, married women are reluctant to give oral sex to their husbands, even once a month. These ladies don’t know what they’re missing because, though “hard to swallow”, one study reported that women who give oral sex are happier.
Here’s the conclusion of another “brilliant” survey study: Sex, drinking and partying bring more happiness than rearing children. And yet another typical study conclusion: Happiness is thinking that you get laid more than your friends. All are typical examples of very bad clinical studies flooding the media which are not to be believed. Unfortunately, there are few calling attention to this phenomenon, and many men and women buy into these misleading claims which often negatively impact their lives.
Getting back to sex, happiness and marriage: There are huge, powerful and pervasive market forces that are making married couples, who are not crazy about sex, feel as if there’s something wrong with them- when it’s not at all so. One unfortunate side effect of this misplaced assumption is for some to seek the “missing link” elsewhere. There was one inexcusable, misleading study which reported that married women who cheat on their husbands are happier with their lovers.
The sex drive is like everything else that’s natural in life. It varies with age and circumstances. It varies depending on biology, age and circumstances. One can naturally be hyper- energetic as a busy bee or lazy as a sloth; aggressive or passive and stubborn or flexible with degrees of levels of intensity in between.
Married couples and the rest of us rarely see, hear or read about the normality, stability and tranquility of limited or even absent sex. Though I’m not an expert on sex films, I can assure you that there are few, for example, depicting a naked couple happy as can be discussing what opera they should see at the Metropolitan Opera Company and forgo sex. Also, there are very few, if any, steamy sex novels on happy married couples who decide to limit their sex to the first Monday of each month and maybe two days in a row on their birthdays- God willing! I believe that this, the- little- bit- of- sex married couples market, is a wide-open, innovative opportunity for creative media producers.
I don’t know about Neanderthals, but since Homo sapiens- that’s us- married men and women do not ride a roller-coaster of sex particularly with the oncoming of the years. Historic and current common experience clearly tells us that sex is not the driving force in a long term, happy marriage and can, instead, have an “unhappy” effect. Certainly the sexual revolution has stimulated the quest for increased sexual adventures and, in certain cases, increased the accompanying pleasures, but this will not change the fact that it is not a big deal in many marriages- happy or not!
Gloria Steinem, the famous feminist, recently extolled how being libertated from her sexual drive has opened new wonderful horizons in her life. Though she attributed this new- found freedom to her old age, it applies to all states where sex is not a driving force. She said, “The brain cells that used to be obsessed (with sex) are now free for all kinds of things.”
You may now be wondering what, then, are the secrets of a happy marriage. Tons of books have been written about this, and I don’t pretend to have the specific answers. Certainly there’s the glue or interior force called “chemistry” or “love”* between a man and a woman. Then there are the external factors such as good health and enough money to periodically take your honeybun to dinner at your favorite restaurant.
Conclusion: Patterns in the world of sex are multiple and normal and not having much sex is one such pattern that can play a critical role in a happy marriage.
*What recently hit me like a thunderbolt is the virtual absence of the word “love” in all non-religious media dealing with sex in both marital and non-marital states. Did you ever think about this and what message it’s sending? Let’s talk about this in a future post.