The Fairy Tale about Spontaneous Sex

A while ago a couple of studies caught my attention. Both were dealing with every-day stress and sexuality in a partnership (and didn’t sound very encouraging): In Great Britain 35% of all working women stated that they were not interested in sex because day-to-day life was absorbing too much energy. After having to deal with their household chores after work they are simply too tired for sexual activities. I tend to believe that these results probably apply to most women on this planet. And I know lots of working mothers who, - particularly during school vacations – after a busy day with their brood on the playground, at the open air pool or similar “relaxing” pastimes would probably also wholeheartedly agree. But then the survey by a woman’s magazine indicates, that German men don’t appear to be a whole lot better off: During the last 30 years, stress and burnout have reduced their libido by more than 50%. For instance, in 1976 18 – 30 year olds still indicated to have had sex 18 – 22 times a month; by 2006 the frequency of their sexual activity was only 4 – 10 times a month. It appears that the daily routine has a similar libido dampening effect on both, men and women. Once one has dealt with everything that needs to be done, one is also done in oneself to the point where one just wants to be left alone and has no interest in sweaty acrobatics between the sheets.
When observing the couples in my therapy sessions one of the primary reasons responsible for this depressing relationship affliction appears to be: the myth that sex should occur spontaneously in order to be “good”. Somehow almost everyone is convinced that sexual encounters are supposed to be always born of unintentional, suddenly erupting (ideally and preferably mutual) passion. My suggestion to reserve time for sexual activities in the weekly planner always gets the most uncomprehending and depreciating reactions from couples. Their response is “ that probably won’t even work, I won’t even know whether both of us want to . . .!” Intentional sex? For many that appears just as unthinkable as intentional theft. Then I also get the reaction: “But that is totally unromantic!” Is it? I would like to suggest: quite the contrary! Once that thought takes on its very own life, it can get quite romantic!

Let us quickly mentally jump back to the beginning of your present (or previous) relationship. How was it when you first met? The first telephone conversation, the first E-mail? The first date, the second, the third? Deciding on a day, a location, an activity that would suit the both of you? Palpitations in front of the wardrobe – what am I going to wear? What about underwear? Maybe it won’t just be about going to the movie/having dinner/a night club because in that case one doesn’t want to get caught wearing that “practical” mousy woolen love killer, right? Quickly tidy up; maybe put clean sheets on the bed in case the question of “my place or yours” comes up? Do I still have a few candles, a bottle of wine and where did I put that darn „Massive Attack“ CD? Well – did any of that ring a bell with you, maybe it‘s not exactly they way it was but close in its description of the prevailing mood? And how would you - honestly - describe that? As spontaneous? Absolutely not, that also involved quite a bit of planning, didn’t it? And that in a very positive sense – the excitement, anticipation, purpose, suspense, that tingling sensation in the belly, sweaty hands! Ergo, the best preconditions for an erotic evening . . .

OK, it is obviously not the same as after a 3-year relationship making a date for an intimate encounter with the long time partner. No more self-consciousness and tension, there is already a familiarity and the entire experience lacks the inherent risks and uncertainty. Still, one perception is very important: In those days the entire effort was not any less fun because a certain measure of planning was also necessary! On the contrary, anticipation provided an important contribution to the success of the evening. Even in those days very little happened (at least in most cases) driven only by the heat of the moment. And there is no reason why it should be any different now. Even in the instance of many other activities dealing with enjoyment and pleasure it is generally not the case: It requires a decision when you “plan” to prepare a wonderful dinner (what to serve), preparation (shopping) as well as a certain effort in the kitchen. When you want to go on vacation, you have to decide on a destination and a time, visit a travel agency (or consult the Internet), purchase tickets, make hotel reservations, etc. You can’t seriously claim that any of these activities are going to diminish your fun and enjoyment of your dinner or the vacation. On the contrary, here anticipation generally also plays a very important part of the enjoyment. It stimulates the imagination – and where sex is concerned, what has ever been more important than imagination?

Therefore the first and most important step is moving away from the intercourse attitude that for many becomes part of a long-term relationship by relinquishing the misperception that sex is something that is only good if it happens spontaneously and without prior planning. If you insist on this fallacy, you should never have gotten married or have committed to a long-term relationship, in the first place. Because in the moment when you made that decision, you decided to give up sex as something that “just happens”. According to the sexual therapist Dagmar O’Connor, in this moment the issue of sex segued into something that “should happen”. And then always with the same partner. Ergo, and if we are honest about it, pretty much the opposite of spontaneity. Good luck continuously waiting in a monogamous relationship for spontaneous, unplanned, extemporaneous sex. I am not aware of any couple where this would have culminated in a lot of joy. In most cases it very much resembles the expectation that Christmas and Eastern will fall on the same day. After all, with this attitude one expects that the unfettered desire overcomes both partners at the same time, (something that is unlikely to be the case except during the first six months when the hormones are hovering in a permanent state of emergency).

We are prepared to schedule set times for everything else in our lives – times when we expect not to be disturbed at whatever we are doing and therefore our energy is at a level enabling us to totally apply ourselves. Or would you even consider planning your fitness-studio-hour “just at any time after the days’ chores”, right after a stressful workday? Or start the ironing when you full well know that any minute now the children are going to show up demanding your full attention? No, because you know that it would make absolutely no sense in either case. But that is exactly the manner in which most people deal with their sex life! And then they are surprised that the whole thing isn’t any fun (any more) and at one point even totally stagnates.
As a couple you should therefore pay careful attention to schedule sufficient time for pure intimate togetherness; time that you truly spend as a couple. “Eroticism within your own four walls requires engagement and purpose”, so O’Connor. Create erotic private space on a regular basis, a time both of you can look forward together. The manner in which you fashion these free zones can vary – after all, eroticism is a lot more than just the act of sexual intercourse itself. Determine which time of day you prefer for intimate encounters. Does it always have to be the evening when both of you may be tired and exhausted? How about in the morning – why not try and set the alarm for half an hour earlier – or during the day on weekends. Especially for parents it is often easier to park the children somewhere else for two or three hours during the day than during the evening. But even for a childless couple there is question whether the Sunday morning’s jog is really more important than sex. Anyway, it is always a positive exercise to comfortably sit down with a glass wine and honestly discuss the prevailing priorities. In order to provide a certain priority for sex in everyday life (and that‘s what you do when you decide to deal with planned intimacy!), one naturally will have to first of all agree which priority it will be allocated. It is only then that a decision regarding the importance of the time that should be allocated can be made: as important as the time spent watching TV every night? as important as doing the laundry, surfing on eBay, washing windows, the tennis club? And then to question what the individual present list of priorities actually looks like and whether it should stay that way. In the above-mentioned English study half of the surveyed women stated that they still had six hours a week housework in addition to their job. That left them only with 15 minutes a week for sex. Go ahead; once calculate realistically that for yourself as a couple – many have already found themselves with an epiphany! Maybe consulting your old day planner won’t be such a bad idea, after all. . .

A final thought for all those of you who are still hesitating; who have the feeling that sex should not be “artificially” planned: That, which is being planned are only relaxed and conducive circumstances that can, but don’t have to lead to sexuality. The body’s sexual reactions are always spontaneous and can’t be forced (just like going to sleep). No one can desperately generate sexual arousal just because it says so in the day planner. That is not the general idea. Generally we have a pretty good idea about the circumstances helping us going to sleep and we take care that they are present as desired at the right time – whether that involves, the comfortable nightie, reading in bed for 10 minutes, the glass of warm milk or simply relaxation and darkness. One can handle things in the same manner when it comes to sexual desire: regularly and with a lot of care and attention creating free zones and circumstances conducive to the creation of opportunities. There is probably no more beautiful gift we can give our partner and ourselves.