sexless marriages

Not long ago I was reading article after article on women my age who thought sex with their partner was something to be devotedly avoided. They were simply not interested in physical intimacy. Explanations abounded. Low libido. Exhaustion. Emotionally empty relationships. But the bottom line was that many of these women seemed okay with the idea that they weren’t having much or any sex. Some of them even felt that this was the way marriages went after a time. Every time I read one of these pieces in the paper or magazine, I would ask my husband, “Who the hell are these people? Do I know women like this? Do I have friends, relatives or acquaintances with marriages like this? Underneath contented exteriors are there lifeless relationships swirling all about us?” And then yesterday, I ran across a review of a new book by Bob and Susan Berkowitz about middle-aged married men who would also rather not have sex to the point where they weren’t. Of course, that explains how women are getting away with not having sex. Their husbands are not interested either. They are impotent from all manner of medication: anti-depressants and Rogaine to name just two. Or they are angry with their wives for all manner of things and are with-holding sex – though I am wondering if their wives notice. And, of course, they are too busy with all manner of Internet porn (honestly, you should see some of the google searches that bring people here of all places -the ultimate in yuckiness) to bother with their fat wives. Yes, one of the top three reasons men shun their wives sexually is that they have gotten fat (the women, although I see a great number of men who should spend more time minding their own BMI’s). I could gloat and feel vindicated about my weight pieces from last week, but it would be a hollow victory given the overall orgasm drought. It almost makes climate change a less pressing priority.


When I read about the lack of sex in marriage these days, I am tempted to write about my own experiences. Why not? I hint about them enough. But I won’t. It’s just not my life alone. (And sometimes my step-daughter reads this blog and she would need a mind’s eye scoop after.) I will say that I have found marriage more sexually satisfying than my long ago single girl days. You remember those free-wheeling 1980’s? But there is nothing that compares with intimate sex. Making love should be more than a euphemism. It is the kind you can only have with someone who knows the real you. Can make you laugh. Finish your thoughts. Have in-depth conversations that range from the grocery list to string theory. In a single sitting. How can you truly let go with someone who hasn’t folded your underwear, endured the smell of your farts or understands that even though you can’t say the word “clitoris”, you definitely want him to give it his full attention?


According the Berkowitz’s, somewhere between 6 months and 3 years, sex goes bye-bye. It has to, according to them. But why? And what do they mean that sex “goes”? Does that mean it slows down? Becomes less frequent? Goes on a long holiday? Gets really bad? My personal opinion is that too many people buy into the notion that sex is spontaneous. A gesture. A glance. Ignition to blast off. People put more thought into where they are going to eat out, and what movie they should see than to what will go on in their bedroom (or on the sofa, maybe the kitchen counter, or in the shower).


Mr. Berkowitz remarks as well that most people spend only 3% of their time thinking about sex. I am going to assume that this includes people who are not having any. I wonder, how this can be measured? The Berkowitz’s apparently interviewed a multitude of therapists and surveyed 4000 couples who weren’t having sex. Kind of a skewed demographic, I think. I spend way more than 3% of my time having impure thoughts, middle-aged as I am. And withholding old farts hunched over their computers gawking at women who are much less likely to have sex with them than their wives are probably devoting more than 3% of their brain cells to the subject as well. What an irony that in a country that is sex obsessed, those legally and morally sanctioned to have sex – in accordance with Holy American Family Values as preached at us – aren’t getting any.

Caitlin Flanagan irritates me to my core. Last year she published a book, To Hell with All That: Loving and Loathing Our Inner Housewife, which made her the darling of the nano-second with the Right Wing talking heads. Although it stops short of endorsing the shoeless, knocked up and slaving over a radiating microwave conservative mantra, it is a load of poser crap because as nearly as I can ascertain Ms. Flanagan is not, and never has been, a housewife. Her husband is filthy rich. She has a nanny and a housekeeper. She works. Okay, from home. But if the woman has a job that necessitates the need for a nanny and a housekeeper, them ain’t mother’s hours. 

This month she has a featured article in Oprah Magazine. I love O and I hate it. I love it because it provokes me and gives me good blog topics. I hate it because while it professes to be a tool for female empowerment, it completely buys into the same garbage about what being a woman is that all the other women’s magazines do. It is the deeper end of the self-help pool perhaps, but it isn’t helping because it makes the assumption that all the others do. If there is something wrong in your life from your relationship to your children to your job the root cause of this dysfunction is you, and though sometimes it is, a lot of the time it’s THEM. Anyway, the title of the article is You’re Middle-Aged. But Are You Done? Discuss. Oy! Where to begin with that! There are so many issues to be taken with the idea that 40 is some kind of huge mile-marker and that the decade that it kicks off is the precurser to Depends undergarments. Good lord, at 40 you still have a dozen or more years of tampons to buy. 40+ year old women are not near as wrinkly as the cosmetic industry would like us to believe (unless you smoke and were/are a tanning addict) and with a little bit of vigilance we can stave off the first bits of facial hair growth and graying. It’s not the wonder years of that the mid to late 30’s are but as Shrek says, “It’ll do.”

Flanagan yips a bit about not having the same drive or need to do and succeed that she did as a younger women and then wonders what her friends think about this decade of crisis. So, she fires up the old Rolodex and invites a few of her “average” friends over for party favors and wine and Q&A on the burning questions – marriage – money – sex and how this effects their ability to keeping dreaming about their lives and futures. Now, given who she is I didn’t expect her friends to be like mine. My best friends is a home health care nurse who is almost finished with her MSN despite having a full-time job, husband and two kids. Another very close friend is a middle school teacher whose husband is a farmer, her three girls are 22, 19, and 16 and has also just finished up her MA studies. Flanagan’s friends include a successful novelist, a performance artist, a television personality, a professional organizer , a temporarily retired entrepreneur, and she  throws in a SAHM as a bone for we merely ordinary women to relate with.

I truly went into the reading of this article with an open mind. I thought, “Hey, this is Oprah, right? She isn’t going to tolerate some vacuous shit. These women probably discuss some really important topics. The pressure on women to stay young looking and thin. The difficulties of juggling career and kids. Getting back into the workplace after taking time off. Being taken seriously in your profession.” Yeah, I was wrong, but I read on. And just made myself so crazy that I cornered my poor husband with a diatribe that lasted a good half-hour or so on how I would have answered this idiot woman’s questions. 

Although the entire article is not worth the paper it is printed on, there are a few topics that particularly galled me. One of them was sex. Not one of these women viewed sex with their husbands, or other significant mate, as important. It was an afterthought or worse, an inconvenience. One of them even quoted from a book entitled I’d Rather Eat Chocolate: Learning to Love My Low Libido whose author actually told her husband that she was unilaterally scaling back the number of sexual interactions in their relationship, and what’s more incredible really…..he agreed with her. Furthermore the group on the whole was intrigued with the notion that instead of women visiting their doctors to get help with increasing their low libidos (I am assuming that the 40’s are a low point hormonally for many women …. though I don’t personally know any such women) men should see their physicians to see about decreasing their sex drives instead. Sex with one’s love is a chore? Granted, I was married for a goodly while to a man too ill to be intimate with in any way, but even if that wasn’t the case, I would still want to make love as often as possible with my husband. Sickness, exhaustion, child, selling a house, packing, moving to another country. None of these present any sort of insurmountable obstacle to passionate interactions and this I know for sure.

Another topic was money. Money spent wisely and money thrown away. Most of the participants discussed some purchase of clothing as the best investment they ever made and were thankfully shamed into silence by the women who said that the money she spent on fertility treatments was easily the best investment she ever made. When the discussion turned to money they thrown away, it was predictably things that they regretted splurging on like outfits of clothing, furniture, interior decorators. The money  that I regret spending is on the grave site and headstone I purchased for my late husband. $1300 that I really couldn’t afford, but I did it because he wanted to be buried somewhere that his family, mainly Katy and I, and his friends could come and visit. Sadly, Katy and I were the only ones to really visit his grave and had I not interred him I could have brought his ashes along to Canada with us. Now he lies alone in a little cemetery that it is unlikely I or his daughter will get back to for long while. Who knows really? Maybe even never. I regret that money a lot now.

I thought about conversations I have had with my friends about the state of health care and education. About the night my women’s writers group discussed the realities and ins and outs of dating and how one’s relationship history influences our choices and views. I suppose that “depth” is one of those eye of the beholder things, but I am irked that such a completely shallow person was given an opportunity to have a frank discussion and blew it so definitively.