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Vicki Larson

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Get It On or Get Divorced?

Posted: 06/13/11 02:19 AM ET

Marriage is in trouble. Oh, I don't mean because about 4 out of every 10 of us think it's becoming obsolete, although that certainly doesn't bode well for it. No, it's because of what Guy Ritchie, Camille Grammer, David Arquette and Arnold Schwarzenegger say they know all too well -- too many of us aren't getting any action at home.

There are more than 17,000 people who identify with "I Live In a Sexless Marriage" on the Experience Project. But if recent surveys are correct, that doesn't even come close to the number of people who are living it but experiencing it privately.

The jobless rate may be around 9 percent, but the sexless marriage rate is perhaps a much more dire situation -- as many as 20 million married Americans aren't getting it on with any regularity.

Most unhappy are middle-aged men. Almost half say they aren't getting as much sex as they'd like, according to an AP/LifeGoesStrong.com poll. And while 61 percent of men aged 45 to 55 say a good sex life is a critical part of a healthy relationship, just 47 percent of women in the same age group agree. That's a big gap, but not necessarily surprising considering about 80 percent of columnist Dear Abby's female readers once told her that they'd much prefer to have a meaningful conversation with their partner than a good romp.

And it's not just a U.S. phenomenon-- things aren't too great Down Under, either. A recent survey of about 9,000 Australians, of whom 73 percent were married, finds similar numbers -- 54 percent of men and 42 percent of women are unhappy with how often they're having sex. The men overwhelmingly wanted more action, while a third of the women said they were getting more than they wanted, thank you very much.

Clearly, there's a problem in the marital bed. But can that lead to divorce?

Yes, according to Denise A. Donnelly, an associate professor of sociology at Georgia State University, who has studied sexless marriage. "People in sexless marriages report that they are more likely to have considered divorce, and that they are less happy in their marriages," Donnelly told the New York Times in 2008, noting that 15 percent of married couples hadn't gotten it on with their spouse in the prior six months to one year.

Of course, that doesn't mean they haven't had sex with someone else.

No one's quite clear on what makes a marriage "sexless" anyway. Some would say it's sexless if you're bonking 10 times a year or less. Others, like Dean Mason, who runs FixYourSexlessMarriage.com, says it comes down to defining what your personal threshold is. If you want it daily and you're getting it weekly, that falls under the "sexless" banner, too. And evidently, married folks are actually getting it on a little more than once a week -- 58 times a year -- according to the General Social Survey, which has tracked the social behaviors of Americans since 1972.

So who's saying, "Not tonight, dear, I have a headache"? Not who you might think. A lot more men are often not in the mood, says Susan Yager-Berkowitz and Bob Berkowitz, the husband-wife team who surveyed 4,000 people for their book He's Just Not Up for It Anymore. While there may be lots of research on treating sexual dysfunction, which affects about 31 percent of men, there hasn't been much research on men who have lost their sexual desire, the authors say.

And it's not something men are likely to bring up in the locker room either, says marriage counselor Michele Weiner Davis. "To be disinterested in sex is to feel less than a man," she writes in The Sex-Starved Marriage. "Just thinking about low libido -- let alone talking about it -- strikes terror in men because it threatens the very foundation upon which their feelings of self-worth are based. No wonder they're tight-lipped."

Unless they're talking about their wife's lack of interest in sex, of course. Guys tend to mention that a lot.

Weight, children, work, porn, stress, unemployment, depression, power struggles, menopause, infidelity, nagging -- there are any number of reasons why couples stop having sex for weeks or months at a time. But the underlying issue may be anger -- more than 40 percent of the men surveyed by the Berkowitzes said that they're mad at their wives. Wives, of course, are just as angry; in a survey of more than 1,000 moms in Parenting magazine, "Mad at Dad," 46 percent said they get mad at their hubbies once a week or more (54 percent if they have babies in the house), and 1 in 10 say their anger is "deep and long-lasting."

No amount of Viagra is going to take care of that!

And then there are those who say, who needs sex to be happily coupled?; 59 percent of men and 69 percent of women ages 56 to 65 believe that couples can have a strong relationship without sexual activity, according to the AP/LifeGoesStrong.com poll.

Really? I'm not so sure about that, unless there's a real medical issue preventing a couple from intercourse. But, even if that's so, there are many reasons why going sexless isn't healthy -- mentally, emotionally and physically. "The fountain of youth can be found between the sheets," says Dr. Mark Anderson, coauthor with Dr. Walter Gaman and Judith Gaman of Stay Young: 10 Proven Steps to Ultimate Health. "Frequent intercourse causes the brain to release human growth hormone, which helps maintain youth."

It also relieves stress, boosts the immune and cardiovascular systems, burns calories, reduces the risk of prostate cancer, and a lot of other good things.

Plus, it's fun.

 
 
 

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