By Amy Alkon
Q: I’m a man who has been married three times. Upon reflection, it seems to me that most women are ultimately not that interested in sex as a recreational activity. I try to be a selfless and devoted lover, but I always see a steep drop in a woman’s sexual interest after we’re together for a while. Can I do something to avoid this?—Wondering
A: Admittedly, women aren’t going to psychics and asking, “Tell me, Madam Sasha … will he have recreational sex with me? I NEED TO KNOWWW!”
Still, there are plenty of lusty women who are just looking to bed and shed a guy. And I do get emails from women desperate to get their man to put down Call of Duty and put out. But anthropologist Peter B. Gray and evolutionary biologist Justin Garcia write in Evolution and Human Sexual Behavior that a survey of the scientific literature finds what many of us probably recognize—that men, on average, have stronger and more consistent sex drives. As social psychologist Roy Baumeister put it in one of these studies: “Men want sex more than women at the start of a relationship, in the middle of it, and after many years of it.”
Gray and Garcia explain that “within an evolutionary lens, this (difference) makes sense.” They’re referring to how it was in an ancestral man’s (gene-spreading) best interest to have sex with any woman who’d have him. Women, however, benefited from being choosier—holding off from going into the bushes with just any “hit ’em and quit ’em” Mr. Neanderbrow, which could leave them as the sole caretaker for one or more little Neanderbrows.
But there’s choosiness and there’s choosing to replace hot sex with hot scrapbooking. When sexologist Rosemary Basson read a 1999 study with more than a third of women reporting “low sexual desire,” she began to wonder whether the problem is in the women or in the expectation that desire in women will play out the way it does in men.
Basson found that in the early stages of a relationship, or if women are away from their partner for days or weeks, they will have that from-out-of-nowhere lust to get it on that men do. But once a woman settles into a relationship, sex often becomes a “responsive event.” This doesn’t mean that her sex drive is permanently up on blocks on the front lawn. It’s what Basson calls “triggerable,” meaning that a woman first needs to start fooling around, which will lead to her getting aroused. She’ll then feel desire and be up for sexcapades. But because many couples don’t know this, their sex lives (and often their relationships) go to pot while they wait around for the woman’s desire like a bus that never comes.
This should tell you that it’s wise, when in a relationship, to schedule not just date night but sex date night. Sure, having this as an event alert on your iPhone—just below “City Council meeting”—probably sounds pretty unsexy. However, it’s ultimately a whole lot sexier than getting to the point where your penis starts rogue-answering your phone with charming little greetings like, “Death Row, how may I direct your call?”
Q: My friends are shocked at how honest my boyfriend and I are with each other. He’ll tell me I need to brush my teeth … again. I’ll ask him if he’s heard of deodorant. We tease each other a lot, but it’s not mean-spirited. We love each other. Also, he says he’s grateful that he doesn’t have to constantly censor himself with me as he did with his previous girlfriends. But are we being too honest?—Worried
A: Sometimes the naked truth needs a back wax before it gets presented to anyone. But it really depends on the audience. You two, for example, seem to have a mutual admiration society with moments of, “Umm … perhaps you hadn’t noticed … ” The message? “Be yourself! But with one fewer green thing between your teeth.”
Marriage researcher John Gottman finds that what matters is the overall climate of the relationship—whether it’s a warm and loving friendship or the kind of “ship” where one longs to shove the other overboard when the cruise director rounds the corner. Gottman also emphasizes the importance of raising issues gently and sooner rather than later. Your way may not seem gentle to your friends, but providing that you don’t start seasoning your humor with contempt (which Gottman finds is a real relationship-killer), you probably have a good chance of growing old (and smelly) together. Picture yourselves in the old fogies home, reciting romantic poetry to each other—like this one (which I think is from Tennyson): “Roses are red, violets are blue, you look like a monkey, and you smell like one, too.”