Deciding to schedule sex might sound awkward or unromantic, but actually, it can be helpful for some couples, including parents of young children. We talk to a woman who has literally scheduled sex.
Auckland lawyer Katie*, 39, and her partner of 12 years had always had a good sex life. “We were ‘sex-in-the-morning’ people – partly because we’re usually really tired when we go to bed – and in the morning, you can go straight to the shower.” (In fact, just FYI, our sex hormones tend to be higher in the morning.) The couple had sex at least once a fortnight, and were happy with that.
Then a baby arrived. “Morning sex didn’t happen,” Katie says, “because whoever was up with the baby in the night would be exhausted the next morning.” As only sleep-deprived parents know, if you can get another half hour’s sleep after a disrupted night, that’s more important than nooky.
“It was better for our sanity when she was sleeping through the night, but there was no morning sex because, well, what if she started crying through the wall while we were doing the deed? Later, we didn’t want her walking into the room during the act, and also didn’t like the idea of locking the door.”
There were other factors at play. Katie didn’t feel particularly attractive, having begun to experience bad bloating, weight gain, and post-partum anxiety. Her sex drive dried up. “I just didn’t want sex.” Her husband hoped her libido would come back, but didn’t put any pressure on her.
“I looked up the topic and it was all ‘oh, you should be doing x and y and wearing nice lingerie so that you have more sex’, which felt more aspirational than realistic! Then I read an article where therapists shared the most common relationship concerns among new parents. One was ‘I feel like my sex drive has left my body.’ The expert replying said: ‘There are a few things conducive to having sex again. First is sleep. We don’t want to do anything when we don’t have enough sleep, let alone sex.’ I was like ‘yes, I feel heard!’”
Once Katie and her husband started getting more sleep, they went to couples’ counselling. “Not in a my-marriage-is-in-trouble way, but as more of a proactive step to work on various aspects of our relationship, including sex.”
Their counsellor made a suggestion that made them laugh: to schedule sex. Ridiculous, right? Sex should be spur(t) of the moment, not something to plug into your calendar or set an alarm for, right? Katie thought so. “I remember thinking scheduling sex sounded almost counter-intuitive, romantically speaking. But the counsellor said, ‘well, what’s happening now isn’t working for you, so why not give it a try?’. And we thought well, why not?”
So a year ago, at 10am on Sundays, they started putting their daughter in front of the TV, and asked her not to interrupt an ‘important work meeting’ (one that happened to be taking place in a bedroom) unless it was urgent. And then they, well, got to it.
“It was a bit awkward at first and I started giggling,” Kaie says. But over time, the weekly meeting became less awkward, more fun. And that helped bring back a spark.
Scheduling sex isn’t something people drop into conversation, but it’s started to gain traction among sexperts.
Feminist writer and sexologist Gigi Engle has written a story called ‘I’m a Sex Coach, and I Swear By Scheduling Sex in Relationships’. “If you’ve ever been in a long-term relationship,” she writes, “this might sound familiar: You and your partner tumble into bed at the end of each day completely exhausted, promising yourselves you’ll have sex tomorrow. Then that tomorrow-sex rarely comes, pun fully intended.”
“As a certified sex coach and sexologist, I often hear about how difficult it is to make time for intimacy while leading hectic lives. It’s why I swear by scheduling sex in relationships. This is exactly what it sounds like: sitting down with your partner and marking sex dates into your calendar.”
“Many of my colleagues in the sexual health space and I call this ‘maintenance sex,’ which… doesn’t sound sexy, I know. But for some people, scheduling sex is critical for maintaining a healthy relationship, hence the moniker [of maintenance sex]. Scheduling sex is an amazing way for partners to keep intimacy and satisfaction alive.”
“If sex feeds your bond, it isn’t just some extra fluff you should try to work into your day if you have time. When it’s part of the glue holding you together, it deserves some respect and dedication. But there’s this very pervasive and annoying myth that sex should just happen. For a lot of people, sex in long-term relationships generally doesn’t work that way. And that’s fine!”
So you could see scheduling sex as a pro-active, practical response to the busy-iness of our lives. Lives in which we schedule important meetings.
When Is It Necessary To Schedule Sex
Clinical psychologist and author Dr Samantha Rodman, who blogs at drpsychmom.com, has written a story for HuffPost.com called ‘How To Schedule Sex, For Skeptics’. She writes that she’s never needed to do this in her own marriage (we’re sure her husband appreciates that disclaimer), but she recommends it for some people with mismatched libidos.
Dr Rodman writes that scheduling sex may become important if one person feels they “could take or leave sex entirely, for many reasons, including marital dissatisfaction, low hormones, monotogamy [when sex feels monotonous], poor body image, sexual side effects from medications, or anything else”.
She adds that scheduling sex might work for “practical people with limited time”, or “people who are collaborative in other aspects of their marriage”.
It can also help couples who have similar sex drives but mismatched timing – as in, one prefers the evening, the other prefers the morning (maybe take turns).
“There are many ways to schedule sex,” Dr Rodman writes, “and many couples try one type of scheduling, get frustrated, and conclude that it doesn’t work at all.” Some potential problems, she explains, are that it isn’t romantic; that you might disagree on how to schedule it; and that one person might end up pushing for it more, causing resentment. To avoid any such problems, it’s all about communication and check-ins.
How Often Should We Have Sex?
When Ej Dickson was deputy digital editor of menshealth.com (WE LOVE THE FEMALE INPUT HERE), she wrote an article called ‘I’m a Woman, and Guys, We Don’t Want to Have Sex With You Every Day.
As she outlines, a study found that 18 percent of men (double that of women) wished they could have sex at least once a day. “When I read this, my initial reaction was befuddlement,” she writes. “Once a day?!?! Like, with the same regularity as a daily lunch break, or a morning bowel movement? Where did they expect to find the time for this? Don’t these people have jobs? When I thought about it more, however, I realized that wanting to have sex at least once a day isn’t just unrealistic, it’s also ridiculous.”
“As a woman,” Dickson adds, “I feel it is ludicrous for a man to expect or desire sex at least once a day, especially if you’re in a long-term relationship. While having sex at least once a day is common in the early stage of relationships, when the hormones are flying and you just can’t keep your hands off of each other, so you spend the majority of your time studying each other’s genitals like a George R.R. Martin fanboy crafting a map of Westeros. This is typically referred to as the limerence stage, and it is awesome, but it is temporary: typically, sex reaches a drop-off point about six months or a year into a relationship. Statistics vary, but a 2015 study determined that the average couple has sex about once a week.”
But just because once a week is the ‘average’, should it be the magic number? As in, a number we should sort of ‘aspire to’ so we know we’re measuring up compared to others? Arguably not, because everyone’s needs, desires, relationships, and life stages are so different. Your libido and windows of opportunity for sex depend on what else is going on in your life. Also, it’s very difficult for your body to become aroused if you’re very stressed or anxious – and is anyone not feeling stressed right now?
Certainly we shouldn’t feel that having sex ‘only’ every fortnight or every month, for instance, is ‘falling short’. It’s only a problem if it’s a problem. If it isn’t an issue, maybe accept your stats. If it is an issue, maybe scheduling sex is worth trying.
Katie recommends it. A year into ‘scheduling’, sex happens maybe every fortnight rather than every week, but she’s fine with that. “It got us back in the swing of things – and sometimes now we have unscheduled sex!”