We're Not in the Mood: For Married Couples with Kids and Busy Jobs, Sex Just Isn't What It Used to Be. How Stress Causes Strife in the Bedroom-And Beyond

By Deveny, Kathleen | Newsweek, June 30, 2003 | Go to article overview

We're Not in the Mood: For Married Couples with Kids and Busy Jobs, Sex Just Isn't What It Used to Be. How Stress Causes Strife in the Bedroom-And Beyond


Deveny, Kathleen, Newsweek


Byline: Kathleen Deveny

For Maddie Weinreich, sex had always been a joy. it helped her recharge her batteries and reconnect with her husband, Roger. But teaching yoga, raising two kids and starting up a business--not to mention cooking, cleaning and renovating the house--left her exhausted. She often went to bed before her husband, and was asleep by the time he joined her. Their once steamy love life slowly cooled. When Roger wanted to have sex, she would say she was too beat. He tried to be romantic; to set the mood he'd light a candle in their bedroom. "I would see it and say, 'Oh, God, not that candle'," Maddie recalls. "It was just the feeling that I had to give something I didn't have."

Lately, it seems, we're just not in the mood. We're overworked, anxious about the economy--and we have to drive our kids to way too many T-Ball games. Or maybe it's all those libido-dimming antidepressants we're taking. We resent spouses who never pick up the groceries or their dirty socks. And if we actually find we have 20 minutes at the end of the day--after bath time and story time and juice-box time and e-mail time--who wouldn't rather zone out to Leno than have sex? Sure, 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, it sounds like we're in the midst of a long dry spell.

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 some psychologists estimate that 15 to 20 percent of couples have sex no more than 10 times a year, which is how the experts define sexless marriage. And 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 underreported statistic," says therapist Michele Weiner Davis, author of "The Sex-Starved Marriage."

If so, the problem must be huge, given how much we already hear about it. Books like "The Sex-Starved Marriage," "Rekindling Desire: A Step-by-Step Program to Help Low-Sex and No-Sex Marriages" and "Resurrecting Sex" have become talk-show fodder. Dr. Phil has weighed in on the crisis; his Web site proclaims "the epidemic is undeniable." Avlimil, an herbal concoction that promises to help women put sex back into sexless marriage, had sales of 200,000 packages in January, its first month on the market. The company says it's swamped with as many as 3,000 calls a day from women who are desperately seeking desire. Not that the problem is confined to New Agers: former U.S. Labor secretary Robert Reich jokes about the pressure couples are under in speeches he gives on overworked Americans. Have you heard of DINS? he asks his audience. It stands for dual income, no sex.

Marriage counselors can't tell you how much sex you should be having, but most agree that you should be having some. Sex is only a small part of a good union, but happy marriages usually include it. Frequency of sex may be a measure of a marriage's long-term health; if it suddenly starts to decline, it can be a leading indicator of deeper problems, just like "those delicate green frogs that let us know when we're destroying the environment," says psychologist John Gottman, who runs the Family Research Lab (dubbed the Love Lab) at the University of Washington. Marriage pros say intimacy is often the glue that holds a couple together over time. If either member of a couple is miserable with the amount of sex in a marriage, it can cause devastating problems--and, in some cases, divorce. It can affect moods and spill over into all aspects of life--relationships with other family members, even performance in the office.

Best-selling novels and prime-time sit--coms only reinforce the idea that we're not having sex. In the opening pages of Allison Pearson's portrait of a frazzled working mom, "I Don't Know How She Does It," the novel's heroine, Kate Reddy, carefully brushes each of her molars 20 times. …

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