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The Truth about Sex in Marriage

Contrary to popular belief, sex is not the overriding factor in either marital happiness or marital distress, says Scott Haltzman, M.D., author of The Secrets of Happily Married Men. It can be a barometer of how things are going, but research shows sex contributes just 15 to 20 percent toward making the relationship satisfying. However, unhappy couples report their sex life is responsible for 50 to 75 percent of their unhappiness. 

While it’s difficult to give blanket advice (no pun intended) to couples when they are each different, Dr. Haltzman says the most common issues involve:

1)      Most men (77 percent in his survey) have a higher sex drive than their wives. Dr. Haltzman says hormone and brain chemical differences are among the most likely reasons for the difference. In particular, testosterone levels are higher in men, with women having about 10 percent of men’s level. Testosterone levels fall as women age, particularly after having children.

2)      Women have an intimacy imperative. Women have 10 times the level of oxytocin in their brains than do men. This puts the emotional connection at a premium for wives, desiring closeness above all else. Men’s level of oxytocin surges to our level only after orgasm.

3)      Women want to feel intimacy, closeness, romance, relationship to help them feel “in the mood.” For women, good sex is as much emotional as physical. Men should use conversation to learn about their wife’s needs, says Dr. Haltzman. Let her know you just want to understand her feelings about sex. Being romantic just to get sex doesn’t work for women.

4)      Life is overly busy. Prima magazine showed women in the 1950s had sex more frequently than today’s women—an average of twice a week for our grandmother’s generation. Back then there was one TV station that turned off at 10 p .m. Generally, only one person in the family worked while the other looked after the children. Today’s families are often so busy and stressed they report they don’t have (or make) time for intimacy.

5)      Men tend to compartmentalize their feelings and concerns, while women’s more developed corpus collosum (the communication strip between the two cerebral hemispheres) allows women to integrate all the data in their brains and experience more subtleties. Her thoughts on one subject spill over into other areas.

6)      Men are more turned on by concrete things they can see, which is why 76 percent want the lights on during sex. Women are more turned on by abstract, emotional things—romance, commitment, intimacy. (Only 36% of women want the lights on.)

Dr. Haltzman says it’s a mistake to think that simply turning on the “romance” will make your love life flourish. Bringing gifts, helping around the house more, and spending time listening can be very erotic for the wife. But if a woman withholds until everything is “just right” the couple’s intimacy issues won’t improve. The longer married couples avoid sex, the more difficult it is to generate positive sexual relationship when they do start again.

The doctor’s advice? Make love even if you don’t feel emotionally connected. (Sorry ladies, I didn’t say it.) You sit through your son’s soccer game in the rain and do many other things out of obligation, and making love should be a part of a healthy marriage. “I’m not suggesting sexual coercion here,” says Dr. Haltzman. “I’m recommending a regular rhythm of sexual attachment with the understanding that some sexual experiences will be better for him than her and some better for her than him, but that the best sexuality does integrate intimacy, pleasuring and eroticism for both people.”

Husbands would do well to include separate activities of G-rated touching and kissing, sensual pleasures from massage to candles to cuddling (without expectations), being playful, and exploring eroticism as well as sex. Dr. Haltzman’s entire book (Secrets of Happily Married Men) is helpful for men who want to better understand their wives, so if you want to learn more, check it out.

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