NEWSWEEK COVER: No Sex, Please, We're Married

Are Stress, Kids and Work Killing Romance?

Sexless Marriages On the Rise: 15 to 20 Percent Of

Couples Have Sex No More Than 10 Times a Year

Jun 22, 2003, 01:00 ET from Newsweek

    NEW YORK, June 22 /PRNewswire/ -- 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 psychologists estimate that 15 to 20 percent of couples have sex no
 more than 10 times a year, which is how they define sexless marriage, reports
 Assistant Managing Editor Kathleen Deveny in the June 30 Newsweek cover story,
 "No Sex, Please, We're Married," (on newsstands Monday, June 23). 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."
     (Photo: )
     Deveny examines the trend that many married couples seem to just not be in
 the mood, and talk to couples who are overworked, anxious about the economy --
 and have to drive kids to way too many T-Ball games. 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, Deveny reports that we may be in
 the midst of a long dry spell.
     The statistical evidence would seem to show everything is fine. Married
 couples say they have sex 68.5 times a year, or slightly more than once a
 week, according to a 2002 study by the National Opinion Research Center at the
 University of Chicago, and the numbers haven't changed much over the past
 10 years. And at least according to what people tell researchers, couples who
 could be classified as Duel Income, No Sex (DINS) are most likely an urban
 myth: working women appear to have sex just as often as their stay-at-home
 counterparts. And married people have 6.9 more sexual encounters a year than
 people who have never been married.
     But any efforts to quantify our love lives must be taken with a shaker of
 salt. The problem, not surprisingly, is that people aren't very candid about
 how often they have sex. When pressed, nearly everyone defaults to a
 respectable "once or twice a week," a benchmark that probably seeped into our
 collective consciousness with the 1953 Kinsey Report, a study that's
 considered flawed because of its unrepresentative, volunteer sample. A
 researcher's best guess: three times a week during the first year of marriage,
 much less over time. When people feel they have permission to complain, they
 often admit to having sex less than once a month.
     Marriage experts say there's no single reason we're suddenly so unhappy
 with our sex lives. Many of us are depressed; last year Americans filled more
 than 200 million prescriptions for antidepressants. The sexual landscape may
 have been transformed in the last 40 years by birth control, legalized
 abortion and a better understanding of women's sexuality. But women have
 changed, too. Since they surged into the workplace in the 1970s, their
 economic power has grown steadily. Women now make up 47 percent of the work
 force; they're awarded 57 percent of all bachelor's degrees. About 30 percent
 of working women now earn more than their husbands.
     For many couples, consciously or not, sex has become a weapon. A lot of
 women out there are mad. They're mad that their husband couldn't find the
 babysitter's home number if his life depended on it. But men are mad, too.
 They may not be perfect, but most husbands today do far more around the house
 then their fathers would have ever dreamed of doing. Experts say very few
 women openly withhold sex. More often, lingering resentments slowly drive a
 wedge between partners. Advice on how to stay connected, however, varies
 widely. Traditionally, marriage counselors have focused on bridging emotional
 gaps between husbands and wives, with the idea that better sex flows out of
 better communication.
     The cover package includes an essay by Erica Jong, the author of "Fear of
 Flying." Jong writes, "My own experience has been that passion ebbs and flows
 in marriage. It is far more dependent on romantic vacations and child-free
 weekends than we like to admit ... Perhaps the problem is not in our marriages
 but in our expectations. In our post-sexual-revolution era, we expect
 carnality and familiarity wrapped up in the same shiny gift package. We would
 be much happier and much more fulfilled if we changed those unrealistic
 expectations ... Yes, wild passionate sex exists. It can even exist in
 marriage. But it is occasional, not daily. And it is not the only thing that
 keeps people together. Talking and laughing keep couples together. Shared
 goals keep couples together."
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