According to Sonja Lyubomirsky's opinion piece that ran in the New York Times recently, the excitement of new love fades almost as quickly as the joy of a "new job, new home [or] new coat." And while it is a familiar theory that passion and romance easily dissolve as the day in, day out drudge of life takes over a love relationship, I beg to differ. Based on my research, more women, particularly wives today, are in search of a way to fuel their ongoing desire and are determined to preserve it.
When it comes to being a wife in the twenty-first century, the traditional, sexless, long-suffering model is on the wane and a modern, independent, sensual version fills her place. These wives want their husbands after the honeymoon period of the marriage has dissipated and real life rules. Whether this new version of wife has been married two years or 20 years or 40 years, she is invested in keeping the passion alive. This style of wife considers love making a meaningful currency of the marriage and is loathe to let it go. She is keenly conscious of the ramifications of not having sex: extramarital affairs -- for both wife and husband -- a marriage predicated on friendship with an essential piece missing, a tension in a relationship that was once intimate. In my study I found that:
*More than 60 percent of wives of all ages view sex as romantic and compelling
*More than 50 percent of wives want more sex from their husbands
than they get
*50 percent said that during the childbearing years, the goal of getting
pregnant makes sex seem like a business
*More than 70 percent of wives said they feel frustrated without emotional intimacy and physical intimacy
In this new mix, rather than wives being scrutinized as aging creatures who were once beautiful and alluring, there are wives who complain about how unsavory their husbands have become. I've listened to wives who describe their husbands in quite the get ups around the house -- grungy bathrobes, black socks and boxer shorts, gym clothes from the year one. As one wife said, "Why does he think it's me when I still try to look good for him? Meanwhile, he looks dreadful. Who wants sex with such a slob?" Some wives spoke of efforts to remain attractive, including workouts at the gym, dieting, and hair blow outs in order to allure their husbands. Of this group, we can juxtapose the wife who confided "I want sex with him the way he used to be" with another group consisting of wives who are absolutely smitten with their husbands after decades of marriage and satisfied with their sex lives. Consider the wife who reported " My husband and I are so connected physically that it doesn't matter how we've changed over 25 years. I want to be with him."
This doesn't mean that passion isn't less pronounced or longing less visceral as time passes. What it means is that for enough wives, sex with their husbands is a vital component of the marriage, worth incorporating and rewarding.
Susan Shapiro Barash is the author of The Nine Phases of Marriage: How to Make It, Break It, Keep It and reaches gender studies at Marymount Manhattan College.