My friend described a wedding shower she recently went to where the theme seemed to be “sexy underwear” and even the cookies had icing in the shape of bras and panties. Lingerie is the gift of choice at these events and everyone hoots and hollers when the nighties are held up for inspection. I heard about a bachelorette party in a bar in which the bride-to-be had pretzels pinned to her shirt and the other girls had to find (strange) men in the bar to bite them off.
A very wise young woman I know who is married and has small children remarked that she thinks all this stuff gives a warped idea of marriage, especially of sex within marriage (or a committed partnership). And I realize that just like we aging hippies thought we invented sex, or at least discovered it for the very first time in human history, it seems that every generation must think the same thing.
And doesn’t that just set women up for disappointment?
I read an article recently by Sonja Lyubomirsky, a professor of psychology and researcher, who wrote (surprise!) that it is unreasonable to expect a “long-term committed monogamous relationship… (to) maintain the same level of… ardor as when that love was… new.” Further, she wrote that “when married couples reach the two year mark, many mistake the natural shift from passionate love to companionate love for incompatibility and unhappiness.” Novelty can help, she advises, but after a while that is not a particularly good suggestion–you’ve “been there, done that” and the novelty of a new sexual partner, if you are in a marriage you hope to maintain, is probably not the way to go.
Books, movies, and aging celebrities insist that sex can be just GREAT your whole life! And maybe it can be–but definitely not all the time, especially in a long term relationship with the same person. So should we women feel like failures over yet another unrealistic expectation? Should we feel badly if we admit that the lacy nightie just plain itches and we feel pretty stupid (not to mention uncomfortable) in the strings-as-panties it comes with? That we prefer sleeping in sweats, especially when the kids might come into the room during the night? Should we feel like sexual disappointments if we’re just too damn tired? If we lie there and do the grocery list on the ceiling?
I hope everyone out there has great sexual experiences with the person they love and to whom they are committed for the long haul. But, in my opinion, it is dangerous and self-defeating to believe that sex with the same person over many years is going to stay the same over time, is going to be as hot years after the first sparks.
My children’s generation is definitely more open about sexuality than we were (despite the pictures of people dancing naked at Woodstock). Sex on TV and in the movies is inescapable today. But, in my opinion, it is precisely this ubiquitousness and lack of boundaries that set people up for unrealistic expectations. Watching people make love in the movies ignores the fact that it is impossible to sleep all night curled around your lover in the same exact photogenic position without that tingly feeling… that your arm or foot has become numb and you can’t move. That bad breath stinks. That in real life your makeup will streak and fade by morning. That the big O is not always accompanied by orchestral music and fireworks. That not everyone is beautiful with a perfect body. (As an aside–brava Lena Dunham!)
Keeping a marriage “hot” does not only involve putting physical parts together. As you celebrate more and more anniversaries, it’s a good idea to adjust your expectations and concentrate less on how often you “have sex” and more on how you express affection and intimacy. Cuddle, touch, hug, talk, kiss, laugh, share.
We age, we change. We change in the ways we relate to our partners, to our partnerships, to our bodies, to our sexuality, to ourselves.
And that’s as it should be.
So if you start to think that everyone (except you) is hot and horny all the time, just don’t believe it.