This is a press release for a story by Kathleen Deveny that made the cover of Newsweek in 2003
It’s difficult to say exactly how many of the 113 million married Americans are too exhausted or too grumpy to get it on, but psychologists estimate that 15 to 20 percent of couples have sex no more than 10 times a year, which is how they define sexless marriage. Even couples who don’t meet that definition still feel like they’re not having sex as often as they used to. Despite the stereotype that women are more likely to dodge sex, it’s often the men who decline. The number of sexless marriages is “a grossly under-reported statistic,” says therapist Michele Weiner Davis, author of “The Sex-Starved Marriage.” Deveny examines the trend that many married couples seem to just not be in the mood, and talk to couples who are overworked, anxious about the economy — and have to drive kids to way too many T-Ball games. Passion ebbs and flows in even the healthiest of relationships, but judging from the conversation of the young moms at the next table at Starbucks, Deveny reports that we may be in the midst of a long dry spell.
The statistical evidence would seem to show everything is fine. Married couples say they have sex 68.5 times a year, or slightly more than once a week, according to a 2002 study by the National Opinion Research Center at the of Chicago, and the numbers haven’t changed much over the past 10 years. And at least according to what people tell researchers, couples who could be classified as Duel Income, No Sex (DINS) are most likely an urban myth: working women appear to have sex just as often as their stay-at-home counterparts. And married people have 6.9 more sexual encounters a year than people who have never been married. But any efforts to quantify our love lives must be taken with a shaker of salt. The problem, not surprisingly, is that people aren’t very candid about how often they have sex. When pressed, nearly everyone defaults to a respectable “once or twice a week,” a benchmark that probably seeped into our collective consciousness with the 1953 Kinsey Report, a study that’s considered flawed because of its unrepresentative, volunteer sample. A researcher’s best guess: three times a week during the first year of marriage, much less over time. When people feel they have permission to complain, they
often admit to having sex less than once a month.
Marriage experts say there’s no single reason we’re suddenly so unhappy with our sex lives. Many of us are depressed; last year Americans filled more than 200 million prescriptions for antidepressants. The sexual landscape may have been transformed in the last 40 years by birth control, legalized abortion and a better understanding of women’s sexuality. But women have changed, too. Since they surged into the workplace in the 1970s, their economic power has grown steadily. Women now make up 47 percent of the work force; they’re awarded 57 percent of all bachelor’s degrees. About 30 percent of working women now earn more than their husbands. For many couples, consciously or not, sex has become a weapon. A lot of women out there are mad. They’re mad that their husband couldn’t find the babysitter’s home number if his life depended on it. But men are mad, too. They may not be perfect, but most husbands today do far more around the house then their fathers would have ever dreamed of doing. Experts say very few
women openly withhold sex. More often, lingering resentments slowly drive a wedge between partners. Advice on how to stay connected, however, varies widely. Traditionally, marriage counselors have focused on bridging emotional gaps between husbands and wives, with the idea that better sex flows out of better communication.
Erica Jong, the author of “Fear of Flying” writes, “My own experience has been that passion ebbs and flows in marriage. It is far more dependent on romantic vacations and child-free weekends than we like to admit … Perhaps the problem is not in our marriages but in our expectations. In our post-sexual-revolution era, we expect carnality and familiarity wrapped up in the same shiny gift package. We would be much happier and much more fulfilled if we changed those unrealistic expectations … Yes, wild passionate sex exists. It can even exist in marriage. But it is occasional, not daily. And it is not the only thing that keeps people together. Talking and laughing keep couples together. Shared
goals keep couples together.”