Dec 06 2016

How important is sex to a marriage?

Many things get lost in the long haul of relationships, among them inhibitions, senses of humour, socks — and, in many cases, libido.

It is a lucky and unusual couple who, decades into a marriage, still feel the same passion for each other that ignited their early relationship.

Far more common is the story of the once-happy sex life that has waned as the years passed — that initial physical bond becoming fractured in the maelstrom of raising children, earning a living, running a house and growing older.

Loss of libido: The older we get, the less we make love according to research

Loss of libido: The older we get, the less we make love according to research

Indeed, the statistics tell a story of decline: the older we get, the less love we make. According to the most recent Sexual Wellbeing Survey, the average British person has sex 127 times a year, and the average married person has sex 98 times a year.

The Kinsey Sex Institute states that the average 18 to 29-year-old has sex 142 times a year; 30 to 39-year-olds 86 times a year; 40 to 49-year-olds 69 times a year; and the over-50s have sex 52 times a year. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Growing older in a committed relationship doesn’t have to mean a slow slide into celibacy and slippers.

Couples for whom the spark of passion still burns bright may be rarer than those whose flame is long extinguished, but they do exist.

‘My husband and I have more sex now than we did in our 30s and 40s, when we were coping with a young son and both of us were working,’ says Carol Shaw, 62.

‘Now, we make love sometimes two or three times a week. Spontaneity is the key to our physical relationship. We don’t specifically go to bed early to have sex — because we have been together so long, we know exactly what each movement, each gesture means. On holiday, we will often make love during the day, and we have experimented with Tantric sex, too.’

'After our son was born we had sex only once or twice a year. Now we've put intimacy back at the heart of our marriage, it's stronger than ever'

(Tantric sex, first practised by the ancient Hindus, is a slow form of meditative sex that’s said to increase intimacy and create a mind-body connection that can lead to powerful orgasm.)

Carol’s relationship with her 67-year-old retired husband, David, has been kept alive because each of them has refused to get complacent — something which damages many marriages.

‘All the evidence points to the fact that an active sex life keeps couples together,’ says Dr Geoff Hackett, a leading expert in sexual medicine and former chairman of the British Society for Sexual Medicine.

‘It promotes intimacy, reassurance, the realisation that both parties are wanted and needed. It is hard to find researched evidence, but most surveys point to the fact that a lack of sex in a relationship is a leading factor in break-ups.

‘Once the sex goes, so many other problems follow. It has also been proven that couples — especially men — will live longer, happier lives if they remain in a steady, loving relationship. There is no doubt that a healthy sex life is one of the most important factors in a thriving and successful marriage.’

Carol and David, who live near Inverness in the Scottish Highlands, agree. After 41 years of marriage, they still regard their sex lives as the ‘glue’ in their relationship.

Carol, a company managing director, explains: ‘A healthy physical relationship brings intimacy and comfort to a relationship, beyond words. If the sex breaks down, everything else in the relationship will suffer. 

Close bond: Carol and David Shaw still enjoy regular sex in their 60s

Close bond: Carol and David Shaw still enjoy regular sex in their 60s

‘We went through a period of “aridity” in our marriage after our son was born in the Eighties, when sex happened only once or twice a year for about six years.

‘It put a big strain on our marriage. We were fractious with each other, had a lot more arguments, and we’d turn away from each other in bed.

‘The reasons were many — a young child, coping with two demanding careers — all the usual problems couples face. Thankfully, we came back together, and getting our sex life back on track was a major factor.’

Carol and David’s relationship began with a powerful physical attraction which has not waned.

‘As we’ve grown older, our love-making has become different — it is slower and more tender,’ she says. ‘But it means just as much to us as it ever did, and I hope we will continue well into our old age.

‘We are both open to experimentation — hence the willingness to try Tantric sex. We’re agreed that the key to a good marriage is sex. It is vital to our relationship. I cannot imagine a world without David, and I am sure we’ve been so happy because we’re so sexually compatible.’

Sexual medicine expert Dr Geoff Hackett stresses that the benefits of sex are physical as well as emotional.


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