The book, For Better: The Science of a Good Marriage, by Tara Parker-Pope takes an in-depth look at the science and statistics behind marriage.  In chapter 4, the science of sex is laid out and some common beliefs are explored. Familiar to many people is that which has been dubbed “the honeymoon effect.” You know, that crazy, you can’t keep your hands off each other, time at the beginning of a relationship that slowly dwindles to a more a more, should we say, conservative sexual routine. So what does this drop look like in numbers? Statistics show that in general, there is around a 50% drop in sexual activity after the first year of marriage. This decline continues into the second year of marriage but at a slower rate.  Studies demonstrate that after the age of thirty the frequency of sex declines about 20% each decade until the age of sixty-four with another 60% percent drop after the age of sixty-five. Furthermore, survey results show that 16% of married couple hadn’t had sex for a month and 7% hadn’t had sex for a year.

So what happens to that fiery romance that was once felt in the early days of courtship? Much of the decline in sexual activity has to do with the chemistry of the brain which fuels the dopamine system during the romantic, I have butterflies in my stomach, phase of love. As Tara Parker-Pope claims, as time passes in a relationship, the fast and furious firing of the dopamine system “calms to a state of contented companionship and attachment.” There are many additional factors that play a part in the quantity and quality of sex including stress, health issues, hectic schedules, work and family responsibilities, relationship concerns, and even genetics. In many instances, couples simply do not have the energy for sex. The former U.S. secretary Robert Reich actually brought this issue to national attention in 2003 asserting that “American couples were so fatigued by the work-life juggling act that they no longer had energy for sex.” Needless to say, it can be challenging to keep a marital sex life alive and kicking.

Much of the research completed on sexless marriages demonstrates that lack of sex is a strong predictor of unhappy marriage and divorce. However, low-sex and no-sex marriage are not always destined to fail. Some couples are content with little or no sex and thus, sustain few related problems. For most couples, however, sex is a common source of marital conflict with one or both people unhappy with the quality and quantity of sex. But here’s the scoop – there is an abundance of research on marital sex that can support people in the challenges of sustaining an active sex life or in reigniting a sex life that has begun to flicker out over time. Understanding how variables such as stress, health problems, and relationship issues can affect a couple’s sex drive can help individuals in mending a great deal of the conflicts that contribute to lack of intimacy. For some couples, talking about the problem and seeking professional help is key. Truth be told, couples who talk about their sex lives (as well as other aspects of their marriage) tend to have healthier marriage.

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