By Anna Merlan
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"New Yorkers' libidos are shrinking faster than their 401(k)s. . . . Whatever impression you may get to the contrarysex among the married classes is not as, well, happening as boomers were once led to believe," writes Ralph Gardner Jr. in his recent New York magazine article, "Generation Sexless," about why married people don't have sex. Gardner chalked it up to the economy, work, kids, and living in the most stressful city in America. There was a sense of resignation among the men and women he interviewed that no-sex-after-marriage was an incredibly common problem, one to be expected and tolerated. One solution emerged as widespread among the people Gardner talked to: having an affair. As if the only choice they have is forgoing sex with their spouse or getting some on the side. What about working on the sexual relationship? What about swinging and non-monogamy? Why does it go right to cheating? If stress and lack of time are critical factors, then who has the energy for an affair? If you haven't guessed by now, this article had my panties majorly in a bunch.
As Gardner quoted mostly Upper East Siders (well, it is New York magazine, after all), I couldn't help thinking, subjects like his have maids and nannies and drivers, and yet they're still too bogged down with stress to get it up? What about the rest of us? If worrying about their 401(k)'s has husbands losing wood in the bedroom, what about guys who are working their asses off and don't even have retirement accounts? In other words, how can a regular guy with a regular job get a working stiffie for his spouse? And what about couples in which both partners work? What accounts for bed death? Does marriage itself kill the sex? Offspring? Or is it cohabitation with commitment?
Readers may recognize the term bed deathas a lesbian thing, as in "lesbian bed death"a made-up syndrome based on some poorly worded research from the 1980s, yet the term stuck and is still debated among queer girls. Some say that women are socialized into a passive role, and if there's no dude around, then the sexual initiator is missing. Others contend that women have a lower sex drive by nature, and two people without the "horndog factor" (as I fondly call it) aren't gonna do much. More political types blame it on lower sexual self-esteem caused by internalized homophobia. While I would like to believe that straight people are becoming more like lesbians all the time (think of it: more muffdiving! More clothing-optional music festivals! Better vegan food!), none of these theories accounts for bed death among our hetero brothers and sisters. The truth is, dykes in long-term relationships do not have the market cornered on sexual slowdown. It happens to most couples, regardless of sexual orientation, once the honeymoon phase is over and that domestic combo of bliss and boredom sets in. We get comfortablelike sweatpants-to-bed comfortablecomplacent, and don't make time to have sex.
The fact is, people lead very busy lives, and fatigue and stress significantly affect sex drive more than we give them credit for. Add kids to the mix, and women have hormone shifts and sleep deprivation working against their libidos. Plus, it is estimated that 25 million Americans are on antidepressants and 24 million take medicine for high blood pressure, and the majority of both kinds of drugs can affect sexual function and desire. Modern medicine isn't exactly helping us with the horndog factor, and neither is the media. We are bombarded with images of how we should look and fuck that are fabricated, unrealistic, and don't represent how people really get their rocks off. We're convinced that if sex with our partners isn't over-the-top, wildly romantic, and mind-blowing, then we need to trade up for a newer model.
Listen, I am neither heterosexual, married with children, nor a resident of the Upper East Side, but I have some advice for Gardner's subjects and all those people who can relate. Give yourselves a break, and realize that a slowdown in sex doesn't mean the world is coming to an end. Remind yourselves what you love about each other, and be realistic. It's not going to be like it was when you couldn't keep your hands off each other, but it can still be great. Masturbate more: Jerking off increases sexual awareness, keeps you in touch with your body, and helps you become a more knowledgeable and confident lover. Don't try to keep up with the Joneses. Maybe your best friend is into tantric positions, marathon sessions, or role-playing, but you're about a pillow under your butt, some cool music, and your favorite vibrator. Do what feels good, emphasize quality over quantity, and focus on what works for you and your partner. Try having sex at different times of the day or set aside a weekend, because late at night after a long day of work, school, and kids is not an ideal time to get busy. Try a night of everything but intercourse. Calm down the voice in your head screaming "What?! NO FUCKING??" and see where you go when hiding the salami is off-limits. You might be surprised at how many ways there are to give each other pleasure, and you can then incorporate some of them into your in-and-out romps.
I think there is a compelling reason why American wives are often the ones with the proverbial headache, but people don't seem to be talking about it: The sex they are getting isn't desirable. It's not fulfilling, satisfying, and, in some cases, it's not pleasurable at all. The number one complaint I hear from married women at my workshops and through my stints on Ricki Lake is "Sex lasts for five minutes. There's no foreplay. He gets off and I don't." Most women can't get off in five minutes. Most women can't achieve orgasm through vaginal penetration alone. But it goes deeper: Women don't feel desired, loved, pampered, or worshiped, not even for those five minutes. If that's what's going down (and clearly most hubbies aren't), then no wonder women aren't in the mood. Why would chicks want, crave, or need this one-sided, boring, non-orgasmic activity when our lives are already filled with plenty of mundane, unfulfilling tasks? This crisis won't be fixed by Viagra or even traditional sex therapy. An affair is a messy, unnecessary solution. Men need to step up to the plate, spend as muchno, moretime worrying about women's pleasure as Upper East Siders seem to worry about retirement funds. And women need to communicate their desires, make them a priority, find their inner horndog, and feed it.
PS: I want to apologize for the slightly premature adulation for The Sex Film Project in my last column. For all you performers interested in John Cameron Mitchell's upcoming movie, the Web site, www.thesexfilmproject.com, is now up.
Visit my Web site at www.puckerup.com