When it comes to choosing a lifetime partner, sexual attraction is huge.
As I've traveled the country speaking to women's groups since "The Secret Lives of Wives" was published a year ago, I've fielded hundreds of questions on what it takes to stay married. Most of the queries have to do with how to sustain "intimacy", a fancy word for sex. I'm hardly surprised about this prevailing obsession.
While researching the book there was lots of sex-talk during my interviews with 200 women in long-term marriages. Staying hot for each other was one of the primary reasons their relationships had endured, I heard from satisfied wives married more than 40 years.
One of my favorite stories came from 86-year-old Libby, married for half-a-century and a widow of five years:
"We never lost our physical attraction. I have to tell you, sex was always very, very good. This business that women over 70 don't lubricate is bullshit: We had great sex nearly up until his death.
"I guess people would call us sex addicts because we thought about it and did it all of the time. My grown children now tell me, 'When we were kids all our friends parents took them out on adventures on Sunday afternoons. You and Daddy closed the door at 1 p.m. on Sundays and didn't come out until 4 p.m."
Hundreds more husbands and wives reached out to me about the importance of sustaining sexual crackle when my blog post, "The Fine Line Between Marriage and Divorce," appeared. One 77-year-old wife wrote me that her husband of 57 years still buys her Victoria's Secret lingerie. The response to my blog -- which is one of Huffington Post's most viewed posts ever -- re-affirmed my belief that sex matters big-time.
I heard over and over that the choice on whether or not to cross that line often had to do with what was going on, or not going on, in bed. Here is a typical letter from a 47-year-old wife who described her "dry two decades" of matrimony:
"I was never that sexually attracted to my husband, even when we were dating. But my family really urged me on -- he had everything else going for him, successful parents, a good job. We were good friends. I figured sex would get better.
"It got worse, even after years of therapy. I am now trying to have my cake and eat it too -- I am staying in this marriage as not to break up my family. But I am sleeping with another man."
Of course, when scouting for the right mate you also want to find someone who listens, someone whose opinion you respect. You want someone who makes you laugh and who backs away from an argument before it turns into a nasty fight. You want someone who is not too stubborn to say, "I was wrong and you were right."
You want a teammate, not a control freak.
Yet it is chemistry that you want most of all, and it is chemistry that makes the fights shorter and the relationship longer. Feeling sexual attraction and sexually attractive is a life force like nothing else. When our bodies are regularly stroked and our libido is ignited our outlook on life is hopeful and youthful, no matter how many birthdays we have had.
Sex is the crucial connection that keep things flowing in a marriage, not buckets of money, not a spouse's lineage, not even the edicts of religion. The wife above in a sexless marriage is a "good Catholic" who defends her behavior with this: "God wants me to be happy."
Take heed young men and women searching for a spouse. Make sure you pick someone that makes you tingle at his or her touch. Figure this out before you order the wedding invitations, hire a band and book the venue.
Sex does not get better with time if you never had the spark in the first place. Marriage means mortgages, dealing with icky in-laws, raising defiant children, getting older and larger. This does not make for a hot climate for sexual re-awakening if an initial awakening didn't take place.
Chemistry is that magical ingredient that draws two people together and holds them together when things get tough, which they inevitably do. You cannot invent chemistry. It is either there or not there, a force of nature not of your own will. With a healthy sex life comes other good things, a sense of natural ease and good communication. These are the ingredients for a marriage that lasts.
I will leave you with a last word from 69-year-old Ed, married 40 years. This is his response to how he stays married:
"My wife and I have had our share of challenges, mostly because of problems with our children. But I am still intensely physically attracted to her, and I am certain she would say the same thing. We argue and disagree and have different views on things but because of that attraction, a part of me still always looks at our relationship like it is new. I will be 70 next month and my wife is 66, and I'm telling you that chemistry remains as strong as the day we met.
"Obviously sex is not as frequent as it was in the old days. In our 30s we once went 90 straight days having sex three times a day. Now I'm using some Viagra and we have sex about once a week. But it's still as good as ever."
"The Secret Lives of Wives" is released in paperback this week, and is currently being made into a Lifetime TV pilot. Connect with Iris at iriskrasnow.com.
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