Tag Archives: sex in marriage

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.

Photo courtesy of PhotoXpress.com

The Surprising Natural Antidepressant You Might Receive from Your Husband

File this study under “most likely research to be shared by men around the world.” You can also file it under “post containing the most words that I never thought I’d be writing about.” But it’s terribly interesting and far-reaching, so here goes: It turns out scientists think semen has special powers to reduce depression when absorbed into the vagina via unprotected sex. Really and truly; it’s too early to be an April Fool’s post.

I will place a forewarning here early in this post, just as research psychologist, Jesse Bering,  did when he wrote the article for Scientific American that I stumbled across, “An ode to the many evolved virtues of human semen.” Having unprotected sex is clearly a risky proposition in today’s world. That’s why this information is intended for married/committed readers. Please be wise in your application of this data. I also give credit to the author for his well-mannered apology for what will likely to result in an increase in ejaculatory humor, “Ladies, forgive me for what I have done.”

OK, back to the “rich vat of seminal theory,” as Bering so aptly calls it. It all began back in 2006 when Gordon Gallup and Rebecca Burch were studying menstrual synchrony (that fact that women in the same household tend to synchronize their menstrual cycles). Because lesbian women did not have the same effect on one another, Gallup and Burch began to look at the possible effects of semen, realizing quickly how little is known about how the chemicals in semen influence female biology, behavior and psychology.

A little biological background is helpful. Semen (or seminal plasma) contains only 1 to 5 percent sperm. The rest of the chemical composition includes more than 50 compounds with various functions. A few of the more notable elements include cortisol (increases affection), estrone (mood elevator), prolactin (a natural antidepressant), oxytocin (mood elevator), thyrotropin-releasing hormone (antidepressant), melatonin (induces sleep), and serotonin (well-known antidepressant neurotransmitter), among many others. It’s not a stretch for researchers to then consider whether semen would have antidepressive effects, given its composition. The presence of two female hormones in semen (FSH and LH) may indicate that it has some power to trigger ovulation.

Bering also notes that the vagina has long been known as an ideal route for drug delivery because of the many arteries and blood vessels in the area. Chemicals that enter the body through the vagina “have an almost direct line to the peripheral vascular system.”

Results of Study
Now that you know biologically why the theory seems plausible, what did the researchers actually study and discover? They recruited 293 college females from the SUNY-Albany campus, who filled out anonymous surveys about their sexual behavior. They compared women who had sexual activity with condoms with those who did not. They also tracked depressive symptoms using the Beck Depression Inventory, a fairly common clinical tool.

After adjusting for frequency of sexual intercourse, women who had sex and “never” used condoms showed significantly lower depressive symptoms than those who “usually” or “always” used condoms. The unprotected, sexually active women were also less depressed than those who abstained from sex. Sexually active women who used condoms were “just as depressed” as those practicing abstinence. (This takes care of the argument that happier people have sex, or that having sex makes for happier people.)  I repeat my above statement that this article is intended for married/committed couples as unprotected sex with multiple partners remains a very high risk.

In addition, women having sex who “never” used condoms were much less likely to have attempted suicide than those who “sometimes” or “usually” used them.

Still, I immediately thought about hormonal birth control and its possible effects. It turns out the researchers also controlled for that possibility. They also controlled for frequency of sex and duration of the relationship with the male partner.

In an important caveat, the researchers admit that the results are “preliminary and correlational in nature, and as such are only suggestive.” They say that to gather more definitive evidence would ideally require the measurement of seminal components in the recipient’s blood.

Let’s see if they are able to replicate the results, or if they even plan to. There certainly are other plausible explanations for the results.

Ladies, are you surprised by the results? Do you think there could be other causes for the reduced levels of depression? Men, have you always thought you held a special power in your loins?

Related Link:
After I scheduled this post to publish, I found The Generous Husband just posted about this very same topic. Paul lists other potential positive attributes of semen, including pain control and better sleep.

Photo credit: ©Pavel Losevsky/PhotoXpress.com

How to Improve and Increase Sex in Your Marriage

“Keeping the Spark Alive” Series

There are many ways to maintain romantic sparks, but many of us are clearly not making time or effort for romance.

I recently reviewed some ongoing survey results at the Crucible Institute, founded by David Schnarch, PhD, author of Passionate Marriage. (The web site offers relationship advice to awaken your passion and feelings of intimacy.) The incomplete survey—which already includes thousands of participants—reported that 12 percent of those surveyed in relationships had not had sex in the last year. More than 20 percent more only had sex a few times in the last year. It’s not that married couples should reach a certain magic number per week, but these statistics show many couples are having major problems in the area of sharing sexuality.

How do we keep from becoming merely roommates, or liven things up if you could use a little romantic boost?

Fill the Emotional Needs Bucket
Reuters reported early this month that three out of ten people surveyed who were in a relationship more than five years say they never receive any compliments from their partners. Recalling that it takes five positive interactions for every one interaction to maintain a positive relationship, couples are certainly missing out on a lot of positivity. (Read the details of the 5:1 ratio.)

Find something each day for which you can genuinely compliment your spouse—whether it’s something they’ve done well at work or at home, a physical quality you appreciate, or another trait you find endearing. Keep in mind, men as well as women like to hear that you are physically attracted to them. While women may receive compliments about their hair or dress, men aren’t likely to get this kind of feedback from friends or coworkers. (That would be a little awkward to hear, “Dude, love that tie, where did you get it?” from another guy.)

Having plenty of physical touch throughout the day, spending 15 minutes each day connecting with one another, and listening to one another will go a long way toward filling each other’s emotional buckets. Be open about your fears and desires, and talk about your dreams for the future.

Fill the Physical Needs Bucket
The obstacle that I hear about most often for romance is being too tired—or even chronically exhausted. Women’s Day reported this month that 41 percent of married women would choose an extra hour of sleep over sex with their husband. (Not so surprising, is it?) With so many dual-career families, child rearing responsibilities, sports and extracurricular activities for older children, daily chores and more, it’s not surprising so many people are drained. Sleep difficulties, especially as we age, can add to the challenge of feeling rested. Couples who go to bed at different times can create additional challenges, because the sleeping partner is not likely to want to wake up for romance once they are asleep.

Suki Hanfling, certified sex therapist, says in the Women’s Day article, if you’ve been dragging all day, “waiting until bedtime to have sex almost guarantees no nookie.” She suggests choosing a time when you’re more awake, such as in the mornings or on the weekend after a nap. Yes, you may even have to schedule sex to make sure it happens.

If your partner is the one who is over-tired, and you are hoping to increase the amount of hanky-panky, figure out a way for him or her to get a nap. If one of you is chronically exhausted, it’s time to consider revamping your responsibilities or visiting the doctor. Avoid telling yourselves that “these are the difficult years when we have young children, and it will get better when the kids get older.” While that may be true to some extent, you need to prioritize your sex lives now, before you lose touch with one another.

Hanfling suggests you don’t have to be turned on to do the deed. A Penn State survey showed even women who had lost their desire said that when they did have sex, they enjoyed it. “Be open to each other’s advances and communicate, in a loving way, what feels good.”

The Woman’s Day article, Put the Spark Back Into Your Marriage at Any Age, has a lot of helpful advice from several experts for couples as they age.

Prioritize–Reignite or Keep Fire Burning
I think it’s important to mention that it’s generally easier to keep your romantic flames burning (or at least flickering) than it is to reignite them once the fire has gone cold. That is not to say that it’s impossible, but you may need to give yourselves more time to get back in the groove. Some couples may need outside assistance to help them reconnect if sex has been long absent from their marriage.

If you’re looking to open up communication about intimacy, I recommend reading Hot Monogamy together and taking the surveys together. At a minimum, start the conversation (without blame) about how you miss being with your partner the way you used to be.

What will it take for you to keep the romantic sparks going in your marriage, or to reignite them if they’ve gone out? Are you and your partner open to reevaluating your priorities and lives to make sure there’s some time for intimacy?

Related Link:
Help for the Sex-Starved Wife, this Time Magazine interview with Michele Weiner-Davis shares invaluable information for women who have a higher sex drive than their husbands.

Read Refinding Intimacy from Anonymous8’s blog about the dry spells that most couples go through. Guest poster Julie Sibert says, “After all, it’s not ‘sex’ that mows the yard, signs the permission slips or feeds the dog.  Sex seems like such a ‘negotiable’ – and everything else that ‘has to be done’ screams a bit louder.  The irony to it all is that nurtured sexual intimacy actually better equips a couple to ‘do life together.'”

Photo credit: ©PhotoXpress.com

Sex Stats for Married and Singles: How do You Measure Up?

The average person in America has sex approximately 60 times a year, according to a study from the American Sex Survey ABCnews.com, The Kinsey Institute. Within every age group from age 18 to over 70 married people had  more sex than singles. The study reported that 70 percent of American men think about sex every day, compared with 34 percent of women. Individuals in the 18-29 age group had sexual intercourse most frequently (96.3 times per year for married, 77.5 times per year for singles). Each decade older corresponded to a decline in frequency of sexual intimacy.

This begs the question, how much affection and intimacy is enough to keep a marriage going strong? Another study of 3,000 British residents by CBCNews in Canada answers this question. The Generous Husband recently reported on this study, explaining that “For a good marriage, you need 4-3-3-2-2.” That is, couples should enjoy four kisses and three cuddles per day. They should have sex three times a week, share two hobbies and have two romantic dinners per week.

I can hear you saying that marriage can’t be broken down into formulas and numbers. I agree, but suggest that the above numbers are reasonable benchmarks. If you want guidance on what behaviors to avoid and focus on, Simple Marriage recently shared 7 Deadly Sins of Relationships, which offers spot-on advice regarding how to keep your relationship strong, and behaviors that could be the death-knell of your love affair.

What do you think of these numeric recommendations? Is communication more important than how often you cuddle, or does physical intimacy bring you closer together?

Photo Credit: ©Mat Hayward/PhotoXpress.com

How to Talk About Sex

In Improving Sexual Communication, we broached the need to talk about sex in order to achieve a passionate sex life. Following are more details on ways couples effectively do this, and ways they can cause more harm in this area. The advice is gleaned from the highly recommended book Hot Monagamy by Dr. Patricia Love and Jo Robinson.

The authors report that most couples talk around sex, rather than talking about it, perhaps using gestures, jokes, unclear comments or put-downs. For example, vague euphemisms about your sexual desires, such as, “You know what I like,” may be misunderstood by your spouse. Talk in clear, honest language about your likes and dislikes. Here are a few tips from the book:

  • Preconditions are one area that can require communication. One spouse may communicate that she wants a clean house, kids in bed and eight hours of sleep the previous night to feel romantic. However, such a list can cause your partner to wonder if it’s ever going to happen. Determine what your legitimate preconditions may be and which are just excuses or a demonstration of lack of interest.
  • Many people talk about sex in an impersonal way, say Robinson and Dr. Love, for instance inviting their partner to bed or asking them to turn the TV off. These are not necessarily negative comments, but a partner wants to be cherished and desired for his or her person, not just for the act. Instead of depersonalizing it, share with your partners what it is you enjoy or desire about him or her. There’s a big difference between “I want it” and “I want you.”
  • Taboo topics can even be held for couples who have been married for 20 years. Silence and a lack of sharing only create a barrier between the couple, impeding true intimacy. So, whether you are disturbed by infrequent initiation by your partner or need to discuss bodily changes, birth control or a need for variety in the bedroom, have the conversation. Most couples would prefer to talk about these topics during a non-intimate time.
  • Can you talk too much? Absolutely, “There are moments in life that defy words and command our undivided attention. That’s why we are silent during a ballet or a concert,” say the authors. Enough said.
  • Silence is not always golden. A partner who is silent about his or her sexual needs because they don’t want to upset their spouse can be creating a rift in the marriage—one that can put you at risk for an affair.
  • Gender differences can make talking about sex more difficult than you expect, since men tend to place a higher importance on independence and mastery, while women value intimacy more. So, when a woman requests more kissing and touching, a man may feel this is a criticism of past performance. Be aware of this tendency, and use praise when appropriate.
  • Criticism, harsh statements or sarcasm are not effective inside or outside of the bedroom. (This includes comments about body image.) Neither is generalizing about what your partner “always” does or doesn’t do. Instead, keep a positive and respectful tone. After all, you’re trying to spice up your love life, not weed the garden.

Is there just one area of your sexual communication that you can seek to improve upon? Will you consider being more receptive to your partner’s wishes, and more open in communicating your own? Do you find talking about sex natural or difficult?

5 Things I Learned From My Failed Marriage

This is a guest post from Julie Sibert, a passionate speaker and writer on intimacy in marriage at Intimacy in Marriage. Thanks to Julie for providing these lessons, which help turn a past failure into a way to help others.

Julie says: I learned a lot more than five things from my failed marriage, but the items below have to do with discussions about sex in marriage, so I’ll stick to that topic. Here goes:

5. Hormones do matter. Libido (a Latin word meaning desire), aka “sex drive,” is governed greatly by hormones. I was on the birth control pill for a good portion of my first marriage, and had NO IDEA that it was negatively impacting my sex drive hormonally. (In layman’s terms, the pill essentially tells your body to not ovulate. The message “I want to have sex” often does not get through because if you’re not ovulating, your body instead is saying, “What’s the point?”) Now, I’m not telling you to ditch the pill; but I am encouraging you to talk with your doctor. This goes for any medications and prescriptions you and/or your husband are taking. Don’t be afraid to ask the question, “How could this medication impact my sex drive?” Additionally, if either you or your husband experiences low sex drive, consider testing for low testosterone. Both men and women have testosterone (men just have it at a much higher rate). Low testosterone obviously can impact your desire to have sex.

4. Offering my body was not optional. God’s Word in 1 Corinthians 7:3-5 clearly and lovingly shows that the marital commitment includes the pledge that husbands and wives will not withhold their bodies from each other. In my first marriage, I think I conveniently overlooked this, much to the detriment of our relationship. Some women ask me, “Is it ever okay to say ‘no’ to sex?” Well, sure it is, because marriage should be a place of mutual respect and kindness. But I believe “no” should be the rare exception, communicated with compassion and a tone that conveys, “not right now…but later.”

3. “Someday” never really comes. I wasn’t oblivious to our lack of sexual intimacy; I was just consistently telling myself, “We will figure this out someday.” Well, the elusive someday never really materializes on its own. Had I intentionally walked in the direction of “someday,” we likely would have overcome many of our sexual struggles.

2. Communication is what makes sex great. Honestly, my first husband and I had horrible communication about our sexual intimacy. It wan’t his fault alone and it wasn’t mine…it was a shared problem that we never really shared. It’s humbling to admit that now…to look back and see that had we made the effort to talk…really talk… not only about our struggles sexually but also about our needs and wants… sex likely wouldn’t have been such a neglected aspect in our relationship.

And the number 1 thing I learned from my failed marriage…

1. Isolating never solves anything. I knew sex was a big issue for us, but I didn’t seek out resources that could have helped me individually and us together as a couple. And let me tell you…there are a lot of Christian resources out there. If you feel alone in any of your sexual intimacy struggles or questions, staying isolated in that painful and confusing place is not going to solve anything. Consider some of the resources I have listed here. You could also ask your trusted Christian friends if they know of resources.

After my first marriage fell apart, I vowed that if the Lord were to ever bless me with marriage again, I was not going to take sexual intimacy for granted. I’m happy to report that I have never regretted that decision. Neither has my current husband. Be blessed!

Want a Happier Marriage? Have More Sex.

There appears to be a strong correlation between happiness and frequency of intimacy in a marriage. In fact, some of you already know this, by the looks of a large-scale national study, which showed married people have more and better sex than do their unmarried counterparts. (And singles think they’re having all the fun.)

Sociologist Denise A. Donnelly explains, “While sex isn’t the only important thing in a marriage, it matters more than many believe. Couples who don’t have satisfying sex lives are more likely to get divorced. Plus, regular, intimate sex can help increase general happiness.” Donnelly adds, “Happy couples have more sex, and the more sex a couple has, the happier they report being.”

Certain transition periods for couples are likely to reduce the frequency of intimacy, such as when dealing with significant health problems or becoming new parents. A BBC study detailed 500 women’s experiences with pregnancy and how their sex lives were affected. On average, they had sex half as frequently during pregnancy as they did before pregnancy, and that dropped further after the baby was born. The biggest obstacles they cited were feeling too tired, stressed, suffering from depression, or having post-baby body image issues. However, three-fourths of them reported being tired but very happy.

Researchers of the study (conducted for Prima Baby magazine) said there is a perfectly normal period of adjustment for couples as they become new parents, when their focus on naturally on their new child. Also, it may take months for the woman’s hormones to come back into balance after birth. Women who experience pain, discomfort or complete lack of libido should see their physician.

The responsibilities of parenthood notwithstanding, couples who focus for years on their little ones and neglect their own relationships will likely see a significant decline in marital happiness. Experts warn of treating one another like roommates, which can happen when household and work responsibilities consistently take higher priority than the marriage.

The good news is that most married couples are doing something right. Not only do married couples have sex more often, but they enjoy it more, both physically and emotionally. 1

1 Linda J. Waite and Kara Joyner, “Emotional and Physical Satisfaction with Sex in Married, Cohabitating, and Dating Sexual Unions: Do Men and Women Differ?” Pp. 239-269 in E. O. Laumann and R.T. Michael, eds., Sex, Love and Health in America (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2001); Edward O. Laumann, J.H. Gagnon, R.T. Michael and S. Michaels, The Social Organization of Sexuality: Sexual Practices in the Unites States (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1994).