After a 12-week marital sex drought, Joe Mills decided to set a new target for his relationship. This is his diary. . .
You want us to do what?” asked my wife, Lily.
“Have sex every day for 100 consecutive days.” I tried to sound persuasively matter-of-fact but it came out uncertainly.
“And then you want to write about it in a magazine for our family and friends to read?”
Ah. A reasonable point, that. It was never going to be a straightforward proposition, like “Do you want a cup of tea?” But still,Lily said if it was important to me, then she would give it a go.
Lily and I have been together for nine years; married for nearly three. We’re best friends, love each other and have a great relationship. There’s just one thing: we have markedly different libidos. I would have sex most days given the opportunity. Lily is more of a lazy Sunday morning kind of woman. And not every Sunday at that.
This sexual inequality was masked in the passionate early days of our relationship when, like most new couples, we did it constantly. But as time went by, the disparity widened to the point of disconnect. At the end of last year, a few factors combined — a spate of long nights working in the office (me), back-to-back cold sores (her), financial worries (both) — that meant we didn’t have sex for 100 days. Not that I was counting or anything.
We’d had droughts before but this felt like a famine. It really got me down. The person with the lower libido sets the pace and I didn’t want to feel like I was pressuring Lily into sex out of obligation. I longed for the time when my sex drive would slow down because I hated myself for developing a reliance on YouPorn. As Woody Allen once quipped: “Having sex is like playing bridge. If you don’t have a good partner, you’d better have a good hand.”
The thing is, I do have a good partner. We just didn’t partner up enough, that’s all.
Day 1 Embarking on a project like this feels novel and exciting. We both make a lot of effort so that we start as we mean to go on: with a bang. Twice. “If every night is as good as that, this will be amazing,” Lily says. We exchange a look that says we know every night will not be as good. But still, I like her thinking.
Day 3 Today I’m setting up appointments with some sex experts so that we get the most out of the next 100 days. We’ve got a session with a relationship counsellor called Anna for next week. This is to help us talk about our sex life — something neither of us finds comfortable.
Day 4 This is honestly great. I consider tally-marking the days on the kitchen chalkboard but decide that this might make Lily feel she is living a prison sentence. I’ll just keep a note on my phone instead.
Day 7 I’m feeling a little sore after a longer session than usual last night. Lily is suffering from cystitis. Hopefully it clears up quickly or we may have to suspend proceedings. She’s drinking a lot of water and goes off to see her GP.
Day 8 I called Dr Helen Fisher today. She’s a biological anthropologist at Rutgers university in New York. She was very encouraging about the project, which is reassuring because I’ve been having second thoughts. “There’s just so much good that can come from regular sex with somebody, I just can’t see a downside,” she says.
“The challenge is how to meet in the middle after this experiment ends. If you want it five times a week and Lily wants it once, how about you compromise on two or three?”
I’ve been doing some reading to see how we measure up to the surveys and apparently one in three couples struggles with problems associated with low sexual desire and 20 per cent of married couples have sex fewer than 10 times a year.
Day 10 Lily and I see Anna, the relationship counsellor, today. She gives us some helpful practical tips, such as setting aside a date night each week; going to bed earlier and not turning on the TV as a default; and not letting the sun set on an argument.
She also explains what is happening to us chemically and hormonally when we have sex. When you’re in the throes of passion, the body releases chemicals that make you feel good, such as endorphins and oxytocin. Endorphins are nature’s opiates, which give you a sense of wellbeing. Oxytocin increases sensitivity to touch and is sometimes referred to as the bonding hormone. In addition to creating a feeling of calmness and connectedness, oxytocin also triggers orgasm.
Day 11 Usually I stay up later, either working or watching TV, and when I eventually get into bed around midnight Lily is already asleep and I’m exhausted. So we have made a pact to aim to go to bed together at 10pm on school days to give us enough time and energy to have sex before sleep. I can live without Jeremy Paxman.
Day 12 I realise today that I haven’t logged on to YouPorn since we started this sexperiment. Partly because I need to save my strength but more so because I don’t have the inclination. Hopefully this experiment can wean me off that guilty habit.
Day 15 Anna recommended a self-help book called The Sex-Starved Marriage by Michele Weiner Davis. I’ve been staring at this book on Amazon for a couple of days. Today I bought it.
Day 16 Logistical complication. I have to go to Switzerland with work for two nights. How are we going to manage to keep to our schedule? In the end, I decide to clip the trip to one night by flying out very early and flying back very late the following day, even though Lily and I are due to go to Seville on holiday the day after and it would make more logistical sense for me to meet her in Spain. My travelling companion asks me why I have done this. “It’s so I can get back in time to have sex with my wife,” I say without further explanation.
Day 17 This whole thing is actually a lot tougher than I thought it was going to be. Not even a fifth of the way through and we have hit a dip. When you have sex only a few times a month, you don’t notice the monotony of the same old routine quite so much. Perhaps it’s time to get more creative.
Day 18 I suggest that we spice things up by looking at porn together. Lily smiles weakly and says we should give it a try. It’s excruciating. Afterwards, I reflect on why this didn’t work for us — or more specifically, for me. The truth is, I feel guilty looking at porn, like I’m being unfaithful. I worry that I am developing a dependence on it and, if I’m honest, I partly blame Lily for this. I want to be rid of this guilt.
Day 19 I feel that I am doing all the running here. I say as much to Lily. I can tell she is tiring too, now that the novelty has worn off. We argue about the whole idea and discuss giving up. “What’s the point if it’s causing more problems than it solves?” Lily says. She goes to bed in a huff. Problem: we still need to have sex. Fortunately I can give a very persuasive massage. Plus I promise to take her away for the weekend, which may have clinched it. We log on to Mr & Mrs Smith together. This is hotel porn.
Day 21 I go to North London to see a consultant psychosexual and relationship psychotherapist called Judi Keshet-Orr today. She asks me to define what I mean by “sex”. I says that I mean penetrative sex to orgasm. She says that it doesn’t need to mean that, but that it can just mean moments of intimacy. Judi says that I should be less focused on the physical act itself and pay more attention to the bigger picture. “I want you to work on sensuality and intimacy, and if you get that right, sex is going to come,” she says.
Day 22 After our lukewarm porn trial, Lily has a suggestion that surprises me. “What about sex toys?” After complaining that she wasn’t making enough effort, I feel like this is an olive branch — albeit rubberised and battery-operated. We go online to sh-womenstore.com. Blimey, the array of options is eye-opening/watering. We settle on perhaps the straightest item on the site: a Discretion Mini Vibe for £11.
Day 25 For practical reasons, we’ve settled into a pattern of having sex in the evening on weeknights. This means that I need to get home at a decent time, which means that I have been leaving the office at a reasonable time. I’m striking a better work-life balance as a result and feel less stressed. In other news, our cleaner has been today and I see that she has put The Sex-Starved Marriage next to my laptop on the dining table that doubles as my desk. Lily is mortified.
Day 26 I get a parcel in the post this morning and text Lily to let her know that the dildo has landed. She texts back: “Why don’t you display it artfully on the dining table?” As I compose my witty reply she follows up with: “Shall we try it out tonight!?” Quite excited! This has built a sense of anticipation that we haven’t had thus far.
Day 29 I’ve been thinking about the connection between housework and sex. I’m not pulling my weight around the house. This, Weiner Davis says, is a major reason why Lily’s libido is lower than mine. “Nothing turns a woman off so much as the feeling that she is doing most of the work at home,” she writes. “When a low-desire woman feels burned out, the first thing to go on her to-do list is sex.” I resolve to pull my finger out. I run Lily a bath, get her a glass of wine and tell her thatI am making dinner.
Day 31 We head up North to stay with Lily’s mum for the weekend. Normally Lily won’t let me anywhere near her when we’re staying with other people as she thinks it’s disrespectful, but needs must. We know each other so well now that we have refined the art of the quickie.
Day 35 Lily puts a little home-made card in with the chocolate brownie she makes for me to take to work today. I’m really touched and send her a text to tell her as much. I scroll through my recent text history and notice that the tone of our messages has changed in the past few days — less “we need dishwasher tablets”, more lovey-dovey. We now tell each other that we love each other all the time.
Day 38 Neither of us feels particularly up for it tonight. But we keep the Nike slogan in mind: Just Do It. “It’s a little bit like exercise,” Dr Fisher says. “Sometimes you’re not always up for it. But you get it done and you feel better for it.”
Day 42 The sex therapist said that we should discuss what turns us on — and off. So I ask Lily if there is anything about me that turns her off. She says something but I’m not listening because Joey Barton is having quite an amusing spat with Piers Morgan on Twitter. So she says it again. “You’re always playing with your phone, checking Twitter or Facebook or Instagram or e-mail,” she says. “It drives me up the wall.” So we agree: no more playing on my iPhone when we are together. Lily’s point is that she wants me to pay attention. Sex starts outside the bedroom, with emotional intimacy before the physical.
Day 45 We’re off for a week’s holiday in Seville. Seven days of being able to take our time over it. This will break up the routine and give us a change of scene.
Day 50 Today was an important day. Not just because we’re halfway there, but because we had a life-changing talk over dinner. We’ve decided we’re ready to start trying for children. Lily throws away her Pill packet. Suddenly this project has much more meaning and significance.
Joe Mills is a pseudonym. You can read the full version of this article in the July issue of Men’s Health, on sale now