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| || || | When my wife and I shared a beach cottage with some married friends—tight quarters—last summer, I hadn’t been the one to make the house arrangements. So while our friends got first dibs on the master, and their toddlers went in the bedroom next to them, we got stuck in the room with the twin beds by the kitchen. There was nowhere for us to put our newborn but in a crib right between us.
Having sex is a big part of going on vacation for me; though not having it for another week wasn’t going to kill me—that was our usual pattern anyway. But the following morning, and every morning thereafter, I was awakened by the sound of boots knocking, followed by cooing in the den over cups of post-coital Folgers. My wife wears earplugs, so she didn’t get to hear how beautiful our housemates thought the sunrise was seven mornings in a row.
“How can you not care that they have sex so much?” I asked, more jealous of them than curious about her.
“I care more that we can’t sleep in the same bed,” my wife replied. Right, I thought: the bed where we have sex. But that’s not what upset me. These two were doing it every single day. Even at our friskiest, twice a week was pushing it. I’d never really given our sexual health a second thought. There had been comfort in feeling like we had a sex life just like everyone else, but now I couldn’t look at another couple without wondering if they were doing it more too: the ugly trust-fund guy who marries out of his league; my wife’s hot friend who stays with that ripped d-bag for the sex; friends who had babies by accident because they had careless romps so often. Observation turns to obsession quickly when you’re a hard-up skinny guy who can point to the exact day his child was conceived.
Our vacation mates’ energetic sex life floored me. I’d been a friend of the husband for over a decade, and I’d always thought of him—and them—as being more like us than anyone else we knew. Happy in life and career, we loved our beautiful wives like mad and only went to strip clubs when a bachelor party called for it. This wasn’t different eating or exercise habits my wife and I were talking about; this was the ultimate seal of marital commitment. And we weren’t sealing the deal often enough.
Until that vacation, I’d thought I was just like every other fellow with a kid and a mortgage, happy to reconnect with his wife at the end of a long week. Married with responsibilities, I assumed we were playing the same kind of defensive sex that many like us do, pushing the outer limits of how long the guy can go without before he snaps and instigates a fight over something trivial. We have sex to avoid that.
Like money, sex is a sign of success to me. It just is. It’s the embodiment of a leading man: Women want to be with him, men want to be him. I may not make as much money as my wife, but I consider myself successful in my own right. A woman wanting to have sex with me means she finds me attractive. Me wanting to have sex with my wife, on the other hand, is only one of many weights I must stack on her desirableness scale. Compliments, extended streaks of niceness, and my willingness to cook the occasional dinner without meat in it all carry equal sex-getting weight in our household.
The thought of once weekly being our equilibrium made me sad for us, like I’d failed to deliver as a husband. Sure, we weren’t living in sin anymore, chasing each other naked through the apartment with cans of Nutella. And yes, having a kid definitely cramped our bedroom style. But how do you tell the exhausted, child-rearing mother who brings in the lion’s share that you need more sex from her?
As the breadwinner, my wife sets the sex schedule. That’s the right of the provider, and I understand. The lady needs her rest. She may not have realized it, but half the reason I wanted her to quit working someday was so I could take control of that agenda. The reality is that I’d had far more dry spells than moments of prowess in my singlehood, so having sex with my wife once a week had always felt like a big improvement. But that’s not how I was seeing things the Saturday we got back home from the beach.
That night, we arrived at the marriage bed like robots scheduled for a recharge. Gone was the anticipation that usually came with our weekly sex, replaced by resentment that it had come to this.
“We have to do something,” I said, not wanting to have angry sex. “Is this that number thing again?” she asked. “Why do you care so much?” I told her I cared because this was not how things were supposed to be. I remembered how I felt in high school when I heard of men reaching this point in life, when they’d have the opportunity to have more sex and not seize it. Back then, just the thought of touching a woman’s hand—let alone copping a feel—was enough to send goose bumps up my everything. I used to think getting married would mean round-the-clock-sex, especially if it was to my dream girl.
But this wasn’t about lost youth, and she knew it. The problem was that I’d never expected my dream girl to end up ruling the roost. This was a Control Thing, plain and simple. “Let’s have sex every night for a week,” I blurted. It felt like I’d been waiting to say it since the day we got married. Like many men, I’m not the emotional one in the marriage. Just being in the same bed with my wife is nice, but it doesn’t give me the warm fuzzies like it does her. Sex I can feel. And if we’re talking about the measure of sexual health, I have to feel it to believe it.
Admittedly, it was competitiveness in my gut more than a longing in my loins that made me want to blow our number out of the water. I love my wife—done deal. That doesn’t change the fact that the “ending” is the payoff. I leave the emotional judgment up to her: If she deems the sex good, I second the motion.
I guess I should have felt badly for putting her through the exhaustion and physical toil of having sex every night for a week, but I believed the experiment was for our own good.
“Okay,” she agreed. “But for the record, I’m fine with how often we have sex.” My wife, not the thong type, showed up for the first night in sexy lingerie, and I couldn’t help but laugh—and get turned on by how much she must love me. Like marathoners who sprint too early, we arrived at Day Two short of breath, and by Wednesday I was relying on gizmos from the XXX store to keep things interesting. The streak ended on Worst Sex Thursday, after we gave up in the middle of the act to get some sleep.
Had I known our experiment would end in such humiliation, I never would have suggested it. But amazingly, I didn’t feel defeated at all. Arriving at the loneliest number on my own felt okay. So okay, in fact, that I found the will to pick up the phone. Asking a guy how often he has sex with his wife doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue. But I found the information is often volunteered after you’ve told him that a mutual friend does it every night of the week. After the requisite “lucky bastard” reply, I’d ask, “So how about you?” We’d all been friends since college, having served as best man in one another’s weddings.
“Once or twice a week,” “a couple times,” and “as often as she’ll let me” were typical answers. One guy couldn’t keep up with a young bride who wanted more sex from him. But in every case, the woman was in control of the number. That’s why we tended to talk ballparks—not because it made us feel more competitive, but because we expected more from ourselves.
At least that’s what we told each other. The longer we’d been married, the more we’d thought about what our numbers should be. I was surprised to find that we were all pretty much on the same page: Once a week is too little, three times is pushing too much, and twice a week is optimal, although it sure would be nice if she’d toss in a bonus every once in a while. We agreed: 1.5 was the goal, even if half points had been in steep decline since the wedding day (and even if, according to a 2001 Durex Global Sex Survey—in which men may or may not be inflating their own stats—married pairs supposedly average 1.8 couplings a week).
The funny thing is that when I was single, impressing a sense of quality on a lady mattered much more to me than quantity. Sleeping around meant giving too many women the wrong idea, but when sex did happen, I was out to impress.
My wife and I had our fast and loose fun for a few years, but now that we are in our thirties, sex has become much more of a production. Showers afterward are now mandatory, and nobody wants to go to bed with a wet head. I don’t feel so much resigned to weekly sex now so much as a thankful that there’s something I can count on. Plus, since the big experiment, spontaneous sex denied during the week is often repaid doubly on the weekend.
But the number runs down. Luckily, having sex within my means feels right again. We took that beach vacation the summer before the economy fell off a cliff, and now, numbers hitting bottom is a good thing.
At least that’s how I’m spinning it
Illustration from Clyde Mendes column at MetroSexual LA
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