When You Haven’t Been Having Sex for Some Time…. Published in Aura Magazine 1st July 2003
Sun, sea, sand and hopefully sex? That’s the implicit promise of the travel brochures. But it does depend on the co-operation of the travelling public. Imagine a day on a glittering West Indian beach. You roll from the palm-fringed bungalow onto your luxury recliner. You bask in the sun, get too hot, heave in the sea, cool your head then crawl crab-like back into the recliner. Feeling thirsty, you wave one of those dinky little white flags and ask the waiter to bring you a reviving iced Bacardi. This makes you drowsy, you slip your brain, remove your top and snuggle under a sun heating your skin everywhere. You spend the entire day feeling remorselessly sensual. By crystal nightfall you are ready to tear your lover to pieces… But unfortunately he is still a grumpy workaholic emailing Frankfurt and New York at two in the morning and giving you a running commentary on the body count of sandflies and mosquitoes. The last thing on his agenda is “Revive our love-life”. Or is the very worst thing the fact that he might want sex when you don’t? How could you tackle this and related dilemmas? Is a holiday the best or worst of sexual times?
CELIBATE MARRIAGES In one episode of the TV detective show ‘Morse’, a lady of a certain age was asked if she could recall the last time she and her husband made love: “It happens so rarely, Chief Inspector, one never forgets the time or place…” But according to the Sunday Times, she’s not the only one: “Thousands of couples have spurned sex in favour of celibacy. A new Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles claims that up to one in 30 of all couples are opting for celibacy in their relationships because they have neither the time nor the inclination to do otherwise”. If more than three per cent of us never make love, you can be sure an even bigger percentage doesn’t get that much. Susan Richards, 52, Director of an Essex Engineering firm and married for 31 years, is typical of this trend. She says: “I love my husband dearly and have never looked at anyone else. Although we’ve been celibate for the past 15 years, my ambition is to be married for the rest of my life”.
Most surveys conclude that committed couples in their late 30s and early 40s make love on average twice a week. This has been a familiar result ever since the postwar Kinsey report. However, only God knows how often people really make love. Many researchers are beginning to think some of the “research” is false with couples wildly exaggerating their frequency rates for fear of being thought unattractive or dull. In effect, women seem to under-report how often they have sex outside marriage and over-report the rates within. It was notable that the Sunday Times couldn’t get “Mrs Susan Richards” to use her real name. Presumably she wants her friends and family to assume she has a love life when she hasn’t.
VERDICT: Don’t do it. Celibate marriages are usually that way for a reason. Upper Class Pammy is typical of the trend when she explains to her best friend: “David is a very good father and he’s very nice to me. He runs the house, he orders the food and he picks out all my clothes. Why should I upset the apple cart and force him into sex he does not want?” Being on holiday is no reason to change what may have become the habit of a lifetime. Someone like David would probably have a fit if Pammy did make a move. These sort of situations may sometimes be altered but more often by discussion than travel. You can STILL have a fine time and be utterly nice to each other so why spoil a perfectly good holiday?
THE WORKAHOLICS More promising is the relationship made torpid by work. You have both been stressed up to the eyeballs for months or one of you is so tired and overworked that the very thought of sex produces a groan of repulsion. In these circumstances, not only is a holiday just what the doctor ordered it is a first-class opportunity to pick up the romantic pieces. It’s no mystery that sex ceases when your nervous system is tighter than piano wire. Think, for a moment about your poor old adrenal gland. This marvel is pumping out stress-busting chemicals all day and half the night. But once you have more things to do than time to do them in the gland can no longer shrug off the effects of perpetual tension. The result is a state we all know – you feel like a zombie. You wade through treacle. And your sexuality is hit by a triple negative. You lose desire for your partner. You lose sex drive for anyone or anything else. You eventually get depressed. One classic hallmark of depression is a total lack of sexual interest.
VERDICT: tackle the problem with common sense. It’s going to take the first two or three days of the holiday to recover any kind of active interest in lovemaking. To start with, sleep! Then sleep again. Accept that both of you may feel tetchy. You might also feel a bit ‘viral’. This is all perfectly normal. The bad temper is easily explained. You have not been looking after each other emotionally or intimately in the previous few weeks. Nor have you been looking after your immune systems. WHEN you finally do take a break, be aware that your overworked protective systems will probably take a break too. The bugs can then opportunistically strike. Sleep and masses of fluids are the best cure. No, not all alcoholic. After this transitional pause, don’t immediately jump on each other. That causes bruising. Your bodies need to be reminded of their possibilities – that you two can be wonderful lovers. Your mind needs to get out of overdrive. You must stop observing and start enjoying. Try to reach a day-dreamy, mellow mental state. Perhaps start off with candles, music and a bottle of lavender oil. Or try pretending you are actually going out on a date for the first time. (As in a way you are). I know one couple (he is a contract worker in the Middle East) who deliberately ‘start again’ when they meet every three or four months. Such wooing is a courtesy in itself. The third tip is to realise that sex begins several hours prior to removing any undergarments. An evening only turns out nicely sexual because you have already been considerate, playful, humorous, thoughtful, complimentary and tactile during the day. A limited amount of alcohol is a plus after about 7 pm.
MISMATCHED LIBIDO But what if, despite everything, one of you wants it and the other one doesn’t? Of course, there could be loads of reasons for this. The fact that you’ve been sleeping with your Personnel Director for the past eight weeks could be a problem. Or he could be plagued with impotence and the male menopause. One of you could be more bisexual than you let on. Lots could be keeping you out of each other’s arms apart from the fact that you don’t have identical sexual drives. Unresolved problems in a marriage are only part of the problem. Yet if you did resume your lovemaking, the underlying difficulties might themselves be eased. Given the right conditions, you still might be able to have great sex on holiday.
VERDICT: There’s always the joke – “You don’t want sex? Would you mind lying down while I do?” You possess hands and tongues if other parts function imperfectly. Forty-four-year-old Stephanie says: “Oral sex helps especially if you tell the man you’re not bothered about intercourse. He just relaxes and disappears into his mind. Most men keep fairly wicked fantasies in the back of their heads and you can tell just by watching their faces when they start to get lost in them. Then I just point out that – well – things seem to be happening down here and would they care to shift position?”
Negotiating about sex is ultimately the same as negotiating about anything else, according to Denise, a 43-year-old solicitor: “I tell my husband I really fancy him and although my drive is probably greater than his I’ve learned to adjust to his pace. When we do get round to it, on those few occasions, I really let myself go! We were once asked to pipe down by the people in the next room”. Sex lacking in variety quite reasonably bores many people. It’s what sophisticates call ‘vanilla sex’ – routine missionary coupling. Even if you are not going to play S/M and power games, consider having a gentle bout of ‘truth or dare’. Or use different sides of the bed – or the floor – or the bathroom – for a change. Or throw a dice to see who is going to be in charge for the night. Or pack a blindfold. Or bind your lover’s hands with wool and order him not to break the thread on pain of NOT getting any more pleasure. Or – if you attempt nothing else – pack a coloured lightbulb and an international adapter and cast your holiday romance in a different light.
YOU WOULD NEVER WANT HIM – NOT EVEN IN A MONTH OF SUNDAYS BY THE SEA Perhaps the most difficult problem of all has to be faced by those women for whom sex with their man is a happily distant memory. They not only want to keep it that way, they need to. The very thought of re-opening this physical chapter of their lives is unbearable. You live in dread of him buying Viagra. His hands on your skin? Not even for the wealth of Onassis. Here the drawback to going on holiday is his tendency to get ideas. A few hours of sun on the mercury of his shorts and the gauges rise. The same may be happening to you as you look at some gorgeous hunk by the pool or drown in the eyes of the waiter. But you are with Melvyn. You do NOT fancy Melvyn. You are fond of Melvyn, content to stay in a relationship with Melvyn provided there are separate beds or rooms, but you are not going to let Melvyn have his wicked way. It’s impasse. No entry. Road closed.
VERDICT : You need to have a profoundly diplomatic discussion. There is a serious risk of outrage and rupture. Men do not cope well with sexual rejection at any age. They usually want you to want them even when their own interest fades. If you insist on a platonic ideal, it would be unreasonable not to offer him his sexual freedom. You may even have to face worse – he could walk, so be very sure of your agenda. Sexual intercourse is technically one of the rights and duties of matrimony and males can get absurdly legal. Flattery is useful. Tactful feedback is helpful – tell him why you like his company (not why you cannot stand his sweaty body next to yours). Be fun to know; make interesting conversation; look after his non-sexual and psychological needs. If pushed to give a straight answer to the angry question “Why won’t you make love to me?” say “All I know is I can’t. Please don’t attack me. Sometimes things work out like this…” Oh, and remember not to dress with your cleavage in full sail and your legs peeping through some exotic cheong-sam. You cannot dress to attract the rest of the world and leave him out. Melvyn is human, even though you no longer fancy Melvyn.
Phillip Hodson – www.philliphodson.co.uk