Time magazine recently published two articles discussing new studies regarding sexual satisfaction, marriage and infidelity. While Time played up the “groundbreaking” nature of the results, I was not surprised. Shortly after my wedding, I came to the conclusion that sex is probably the most important aspect of marriage.
That revelation wasn’t the result of any sexual dysfunction in my relationship, but simply the result of adjusting to being married and to the expectations we all subconsciously harbor about marital bliss and the reality of being committed to someone ’til death do us part.
When I woke up one day to find the new marriage smell worn off, I emerged from the newlywed cocoon so many of us get wrapped up in during the early days of forever. I found my way back to hobbies my husband doesn’t have an interest in and to the uncoupled friends I unintentionally overlooked, because inviting them out always seemed like making them the third wheel. I watched chick flicks by myself and ran errands without him. I started shopping with my mom again.
I wasn’t sad or mad or glad. I just rediscovered the fact that there is a world outside our coupledom that is fun and fulfilling. My emotional and intellectual needs could be met without him being the source of all my contentment.
But after all my girls’ nights out and mother-daughter adventures, I still had one need that could only be met at home, within my marriage: S-E-X.
Hitting me rather abruptly, I realized that out of all the relationship needs, sex is the only one that cannot be met by anyone else other than your spouse. At least not in a socially acceptable context, unless you are polyamorous (which is arguably not socially acceptable, but that’s beside the point).
Ultimately, we can–and should–find emotional fulfillment in ways separate and apart from our spouse. It’s not healthy to put all our eggs in one basket… except for that one egg…. The sex egg.
Of course, I’m not advocating that sex be the only focus of a marriage. What I am saying is that, in all other areas except for sex, we can make up for deficiencies in our relationship through friends, family, hobbies or even work. We all must decide for ourselves at what level we are personally comfortable with what our spouse provides in those other areas. But when they are less than our expectations, maybe sex is the answer.
Studies have shown that women need to feel an emotional connection with their partner to have a satisfying sexual relationship, but if we check out any one of the multitude of sex advice shows or columns, we’ll find the “experts” telling women to just do it! Sure, things in the bedroom might have cooled off, but the longer we go without, the less you’ll want it. Use it or lose it! If we still love each other, once we get going, that emotional connection will come flooding back as soon as we get to magical O-Land!
It sounds like the chicken-or-the-egg debate, but emotional intimacy breeds physical intimacy, which breeds more emotional intimacy, and so on. So if one or both of those wheels needs some grease, why not grease the one that’s easiest to reach first and see if we can get everything rolling again? Makes sense to me.
We also frequently hear that sex itself isn’t the root of most affairs, but that’s where the studies mentioned in Time come into play. After evaluating data collected by the Kinsey Institute, researchers found that sexual incompatibility, poor sexual function, and performance anxiety were the top reasons men cheated. We’re told that it’s men who don’t feel appreciated by their wives–who suddenly get that appreciation from another woman–that are prone to cheat.
Knowing how important sex is to men and to their self-worth, is it not easy to conclude that men who are reporting poor sexual compatibility, poor sexual function, and performance anxiety with their wives might also feel under-appreciated, or less like a man than ones who are knocking those O’s out of the park night in and night out?
Backing up that claim was the second study, conducted on over one thousand married couples, in five countries, all of whom had been married for an average of 25 years. In this group, the men who reported being happy with their marriages stated the top two reasons for their happiness were 1) the duration of the relationship, and 2) their wives’ sexual satisfaction. So, the ability to please their spouse sexually was more important than pleasing themselves sexually.
In fact, for each point a man rated his wife’s orgasm, his own happiness in the marriage jumped 17%!
On the flip side, the women in this group reported relationship duration as the number one factor to their happiness, but the number two factor was… sexual satisfaction! And when asked in general, men were more likely to say they were happy with their marriage while women were more likely to say they were satisfied sexually. Hmmmmm…
The burning question the researchers asked, but were not able to answer with their data, was whether or not the length of the marriage was the contributing factor to the wives’ sexual satisfaction, or if satisfaction with their sex lives led to the marriage lasting that long. Either way, I think it’s clear that both partners’ sexual needs might be more important than we’re commonly led to believe.
Honestly, I feel a bit vindicated by these studies, since my belief that sex is critical to the success of a marriage is often met with hostility. More importantly, however, I think research into this area can give us all a better idea about how to make our own marriages last in a time when so many don’t.
We are constantly bombarded with conflicting messages from society and the media (not to mention our friends) about what is the most critical ingredient to a happy marriage, and more often than not sex doesn’t top the list. Sure, people admit it’s important, but they are loathe to say it’s the most important. It seems shallow and selfish. And dirty.
Bad sex can be agreed upon as a dealbreaker. But mediocre, vanilla sex? Well, maybe even that is more of an issue than we believe….