Why Married Couples Don’t Have Sex. . . . At Least Not with Each Other!
One Sex Isn’t the Issue
IF YOU’VE GOTTEN this far, two things are clear: first, you are not entirely thrilled with the state of things in your bedroom; second, you are willing to work at making a change. This is a great place to start. The important first step, then, is to figure out what’s at the root of the issue. Why isn’t your sex life as satisfying, adventurous, and pleasing as it once was, or could be?
The clichéd answer—and the one you will likely hear the most when casually exploring the subject—is “lack of desire.” Sometimes, that lack of desire is even attributed solely to women. (“Women just aren’t as interested in sex as men,” you’ll hear people say.) That answer may be common, but I’m not at all convinced that it’s true. As mentioned in the introduction, I believe that women of all ages would very much like to be having more sex, and more sexually fulfilling relationships. We’re certainly surrounded by sex these days—in the media and as consumers—and women seem to be enjoying it just as much as men, if not more so.
The Fifty Shades Phenomenon
If I’m looking for evidence to back me up, I don’t have to go much further than my local bookstore, where I’ll find the shelves stocked with Fifty Shades of Grey, Fifty Shades Darker, and Fifty Shades Freed, by E. L. James. The erotic trilogy has sold more than 100 million copies worldwide and has spawned a host of copycat series all determined to tap into this previously underserved market.1
Fifty Shades of Grey may not have been in the running for a Booker Prize, but its success is certainly a testament to the fact that women want to be seduced and desired, to be whisked away from their boring sex lives, and to explore hot new ways to bring passion and pleasure back into their lives.2
What I’ve come to think of as the “Fifty Shades phenomenon” is not, in fact, an isolated case. Perhaps spurred on by the book itself, or, more likely, by the open dialogue about sex and intimacy that it’s encouraged, women are beginning to look beyond the bookshelf in their quest for a more fulfilling sex life.
Beyond Fifty Shades: Sexy Consumer Shows
Couples are now flocking to expos such as the Everything to Do with Sex Show. This show—the first of its kind in Canada—is held annually in several cities and is a “three-day consumer adult event geared towards anyone looking to spice up their life,” says show manager and co-owner Mikey Singer. Adults can attend seminars and visit exhibitor booths for the latest and greatest in high-end sex toys and erotica or watch a sexy stage show together. “As more people have become more comfortable with their sexuality and women have gotten more involved in the business and made more demands on the people making the products, their quality has improved,” says Singer.
Singer thinks it’s great to be part of an organization that he believes is doing good. “When we can help a relationship come together instead of breaking up, that’s a good thing,” he says. “In fact, the standard line at our office is that we’re saving relationships, one sex life at a time.”
As a testament to the fact that women are now more heavily involved in figuring out what works for them in the bedroom, the 2013 Halifax show’s stats reveal that more than half of the attendees were women. In Toronto, 65 percent of attendees were married or in a relationship.
Since the event began, in 2000, the number of people attending in Toronto, for example, has grown fivefold (from ten thousand in 2000 to more than fifty thousand in 2013), indicating not only a desire among adults to spice up their sex lives, but an openness and willingness to seek out and learn new ways to embrace and enhance their sexual relationships.
When both partners recognize the impact of a poor sex life on their relationship in general, they seem to be more inclined to seek out ways to spice things up. Attendees at the Everything to Do with Sex Show, for example, flock to the ever-popular educational programs. Ranging in age from mid-twenties to mid-eighties, attendees pack the room of seminars such as Steamy Hot Oral Sex and G Spot, P Spot (P referring to a man’s prostate). “The Pleasures of Anal Sex seminar is always filled to the back,” says Singer, apparently unaware of the pun. “I’m going to be thirty-five this year, but when I was twenty-seven I would see my parents’ friends in there.”
Liz Lewis Woosey, president and show manager of Black Kat Shows, and producer of the Sexapalooza consumer show, shares numbers that support what Singer has seen in terms of attendance. The attendance at the Toronto Sexapalooza show has grown from eight thousand in 2010 to twelve thousand in 2013. Liz runs her consumer sex shows all year long in several cities across Canada and in Columbus, Ohio.
She believes that their show, like other consumer sex shows (Taboo, the “naughty but nice sex show,” runs similar expos in Canada’s western provinces), is attended by those who want to be entertained and educated and who love to shop. The demographics tend to be similar across all of these kinds of shows, she says, noting that Sexapalooza has recently initiated a “sexy senior” discount ticket for the many over sixty-five who attend.
Sex Shops: Still Going Strong
When I was growing up, a naughty must-see for any tourist visiting Toronto was Yorkville’s Lovecraft. After being raised in South Africa, where censorship (and other forms of conservatism) was rampant and magazines such as Playboy, which hit the stands in 1953, were banned, I was especially fascinated! In the bright, well-lit store (no dingy “head shop” atmosphere here), one could find everything from vibrators to edible underwear. Although the shop has now moved to the suburbs outside of Toronto, Lovecraft, until very recently, was owned and operated by Anne Amitay, one of the original two women who established it almost four decades ago, and it’s still working hard to ensure that couples have satisfying and adventurous sex. A quick peek at the store’s website, for example, reveals FAQs such as “What do ben wa balls do?”; “Is a vibrator the same as a dildo?”; and “Do you have ‘couple friendly’ DVDs?”
Like Anne Amitay, Carlyle Jansen, founder of Toronto’s Good for Her shop and an expert on modern-day sexuality, has also long known the importance of educating couples about how to inject flavour into their relationship. Along with other trained facilitators, Carlyle has offered workshops for individuals and couples since 1997. Since opening its doors, Good for Her has grown by leaps and bounds. They sometimes offer workshops every night of the week—mostly out of their location in downtown Toronto, but also at consumer shows or even with groups of people, sometimes in private homes.
“Sex” outlets and boutiques like Lovecraft and Good for Her aren’t unique. Shops like these can be found in cities around the world. Some, like Chicago’s G Boutique, are for women only, while others, such as Ann Summers (UK) and Beate Uhse (Germany), are open to everyone. There’s also a growing online presence including bestvibes.ca
* CARLYLE’S COME A LONG WAY *
Carlyle Jansen says that when she was younger, she was “not comfortable with sex. I avoided it through my teen years, wasn’t comfortable having sex until my early twenties and then found that I couldn’t orgasm—neither on my own nor with a partner.” She decided that she needed to learn more about sex, began watching videos and reading books, and soon discovered the Hitachi magic wand, which did the trick: she was able to orgasm—finally!
And at her sister’s (a United Church minister) bridal shower, Carlyle realized how much information she had acquired about sex. She became the expert after giving sex toys to her sister as her gift and then responding to all of her friends’ curious questions about them. Afterwards, people commented about how comfortable she seemed talking about sex and how she should offer workshops. She did exactly that through the YMCA, but after women talked about wanting a permanent safe and comfortable place to go to, Toronto’s Good for Her was born in 1997.
A Museum of Sex?
There’s a Museum of Bad Art in Boston, and a Museum of Parasites in Tokyo, so is it any wonder that there’s a Museum of Sex? Daniel Gluck, native New Yorker and founder of the Museum of Sex in Manhattan, believes that sex is a subject that people are more comfortable with than ever before and that it’s become more normal to talk openly about it.
Since its opening, in 2002, when they saw around 70,000 people (50 percent tourists and 50 percent locals) come through the door, the museum’s numbers have grown tremendously. As of 2014, they see about 190,000 visitors annually, ranging in age from those in their twenties to seniors coming in with walkers. Around 65 percent of those visitors are female.
Gluck believes that people come to the museum for three things: curiosity, titillation, and education. Sexuality, he says, is a subject to which most, if not all people, have a personal connection.
The museum’s growth is yet another reflection of what people are talking and wanting to know more about—sex. Gluck says that “people have lusts and desires and there are a variety of ways to enjoy them. It’s becoming more normal for people to discuss and explore their sexual desires and pleasures in a much more honest and open way.”
Sex on Screen
Television shows and movies with a high and more explicit sexual content are nothing new. Visit a movie theatre or turn on a television or a computer and you’ll likely be able to find a host of sex-related content (never mind steamy sex scenes that are included as a matter of course). There are also a host of sex advice shows that viewers can tune in to at any time, thanks to PVRs and “on-demand” viewing. But recently, I came across something that seems to perfectly underline our growing interest in learning how to improve our sex lives. Courtesy of a YouTube link that my fifteen-year-old sent my way (she had seen mention of it on her favourite radio station’s Facebook page), I learned about Sexbox. In this UK television show, three sex therapists and a moderator converse with couples right after they’ve had sex in a concealed box on the stage. The concept behind the show is unique: the producers reason that because a couple is at their most vulnerable and open to talking about their experience right after having sex, that’s when it’s best to ask them questions. While they’re in the box, the experts chat with the host about different topics related to sex, such as how the Internet has changed the face of pornography and how important it is for kids to be critical viewers of porn so as to mitigate its damages. Once the box’s light has gone from red to amber, the couple emerges to answer questions such as “Do you feel closer?”; “Was that a good experience for you?”; “Did you talk much?”; “Did you let your partner know what feels good and what doesn’t”; and “What do you define as good sex?” Shows such as these—though unconventional and controversial—certainly make for interesting and often informative watching and also continue to create open forums and opportunities for people to discuss sex.
So, clearly, sex is all around us. It’s in the pages of the books we’re reading, and on our television, movie and computer screens. It’s become a tourist attraction and a consumer-show market. It’s even a booming business. Just ask Noel Biderman, founder of Ashley Madison, the popular online dating service for married men and women, whose site now has over twenty-six million members around the globe and growing.
Faced with our obvious interest to know more about sex, can we really say that a lack of desire is at the root of our problem? Should we really believe that women, in particular, don’t want to have sex, and don’t want to explore new and creative ways to do so? I think not. But that answer begs another question—one that begins to get a little closer to the real reasons why so many married couples are dissatisfied in the bedroom: If lack of desire isn’t the problem, then what is?