Last Sunday, the lead article on the hot pink cover of the The New York Times magazine was “Sexless but Equal.” It was well-timed for Valentine’s Day, and guaranteed to cause all of us who aren’t already feeling adequate to feel even more so.
The gist of the article is this: sure, today’s woman might have more help around the house from her husband, but that spells doom and gloom in the bedroom. According to the article’s author, therapist Lori Gottlieb, men who pitch in around the house are having sex 1.5 fewer times per month than those who don’t. This apparently has something to do with us powerful working wives seeing them as doormats instead of being able to fantasize that we’re married to that guy in Fifty Shades of Grey who would take control and tie us up.
Naturally I read this article and saw red, not pink, for Valentine’s Day. What kind of bologna is the media serving up now?
I kept thinking about the article all week. At one point, I remembered a dinner party I’d attended a few years ago, one where the conversation turned to sex. All of the guests seated at the table were women. (The lone two guys at the party were outside watching the kids.) And at that party I was startled to hear how many of the women avoided having sex at all.
“When he goes upstairs, I just tell him I’m going downstairs to turn out the lights or whatever, and if I stay down there long enough, he’s always asleep by the time I come up,” said one woman, the working mother of two young children. “That way I can read my book.”
“I make sure not to smile at my husband when he gets into bed,” confessed another, a stay-at-home mom of three young children. “Otherwise, he thinks I want sex.”
One of these women is married to a beast of a guy whose idea of helping her around the house on Saturday is lifting his feet for the vacuum. The other guy does everything from cooking to dusting. The common factor? These women feel a lack of desire probably because they’re moms. Motherhood—whether you’re the one staying home all day with the kids and crazed to pull them off you when your partner gets home, or you’re the one going out to earn money and coming home ready to have your kids cling like barnacles as you make dinner—is probably the most potent sex depressant ever invented.
For one thing, there is no time. Or, when there is time, your back is killing you from being a Baby Sherpa or child wrangler. Sex? Let’s fill the tub with hot water for a good soak and then we can talk about it. Except, oops, no, you’re asleep.
Who works and who makes more money, who does chores and who doesn’t: all of those things fade in the face of the logistics involved in getting time alone to have sex during the hour between the time you put the kids to bed and the moment your body betrays you and falls into a coma. Yes, it definitely helps to have your husband do the dishes and/or give the kids their baths—the recipe for happiness guaranteed by all women’s magazines, as Gottlieb points out. But then what happens is that you’re both too fried to be creative in the bedroom. It’s the same old, same old. You don’t have the energy to pull out the sex toys because then you’d have to put them away again, and you just finished picking up the living room.
Gottlieb also cites a study by the National Bureau of Economic Research showing that, if a wife earns more than her husband, the couple is less likely to report their marriage is a happy one, and that the risk of divorce increases if the wife earns more than her husband. Well, duh. Women used to stay with their husbands if they couldn’t afford to leave them. Now we have more options because we don’t have to depend on men to pay our rent.
But that’s a different topic. Let’s get back to sex. And let’s get personal for a minute: even if you have a rollicking, passionate connection with your spouse at the beginning of your marriage, after ten or fifteen or twenty (my case) years, that blazing fire may take a bit longer to rekindle. Sex after marriage and parenthood needs a few magical ingredients: a hotel, maybe, where no kids are likely to be lurking out in the hallway in search of somebody to clean up vomit. Or maybe kids old enough to go out on the town in the family car—though then you’re doing it with one ear cocked toward the driveway, waiting for the kid to come home in time for curfew, while the other ear is cocked toward the phone, waiting for the cops to call and say there’s been an accident. Parenthood is clouded by worry no matter how old your kids are, and nothing dampens lust like anxiety.
By the same token, nothing is better than sex between two people who have been through all of that and more together. Yesterday—partly, but not completely, because of that article—I dug out my lacy underthings and greeted my husband with a bottle of Prosecco. Our youngest son, the only one still at home, was out, so we stayed in.
Afterward, as we were lying in bed contemplating whether or not to binge on the new season of House of Cards, my husband said, “Want me to do the recycling tomorrow?”
Now that, my friends, are the words I love to hear from my Valentine.