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The Guardian Family 10.11.2012

The Guardian Family 10.11.2012

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Section:GDN FY PaGe:1 Edition Date:121110 Edition:01 Zone: Sent at 7/11/2012 14:58cYanmaGentaYellowblack
Saturday 10.11.12
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guardian.co.uk
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When couples have been together for a long time what happens to the sex? Inside,readers provide some surprising answers, whileStuart Jeffrieskicks off our specialissue by asking if conventional coupledom inevitably means the end of passion
Is monogamy dead?
‘We had sex every day for a year’ Readers’ sex tips Erotic books
more precarious, community bondshave weakened and there has been adecline in religion, so we hope to geteverything from one other person.”But that’s surely impossible. In her book Mating in Captivity: Reconcilingthe Erotic and the Domestic, the thera-pist Esther Perel distinguishes betweenwarm and hot relationships. The formerinvolves absolute candour, together-ness, equality and, quite possibly,devising a mutually satisfying rota forpicking up the kids from school andcleaning the toilet. The latter involvesnon-politically correct power plays and,if the book jacket is anything to go by,transgressive shoe fetishismas part of a sustainable sex life.
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here are about4,000 mammalspecies on Earth, but only a fewdozen form life- long monogamouspair bonds. The bonobo chimpan-zees of Congo, for instance, eschewmonogamy because they use sex as asocial activity to develop and maintain bonds with male and female chimps.And monogamy is hardly the norm forhumans. In his jaunty paper Alterna-tive Family Lifestyles Revisited, orWhatever Happened To Swingers,Group Marriages And Communes?,family relationships professor RogerRubin reports that only 43 of 238 socie-ties across the world are monogamous.Many Toda women in southern Indiamarry several brothers. Abisi womenin Nigeria can marry three men on thesame day. In rural Turkey, a man canmarry more than one wife and eachone takes on a different role. Even inthe west, non-monogamy is actuallythe norm. Which is quite a surprise,given the psychosexual strangleholdthe seventh commandment (youremember, the one about not commit-ting adultery) has on Judaeo-Christiancultures. But it is the norm that darenot speak its name. In the US, 60%of men and 50% of women reportedhaving extra-marital affairs. It takes theform, as Meg Barker, relationship coun-sellor, sex therapist and senior lecturerin psychology at the Open University,puts it “of secret, hidden infidelitiesrather than something that is openlyknown about by all involved”.That’s to say, polyamory is allaround, but socially inadmissible. “Itis interesting,” writes Barker in her new book Rewriting the Rules: An Integra-tive Guide to Love, Sex and Relation-ships, “that we readily accept someoneloving more than one child, sibling orfriend without their love for one of them diluting the love for others, butwhen it comes to romantic or sexuallove most people cannot accept ithappening more than once at a time.”She isn’t suggesting that we junkmonogamy, rather that we realise thatlong-term monogamous relationshipsas currently configured aren’t so muchfulfilments of love’s young dream asdisasters waiting to happen. In suchcircumstances, mere monogamy surelycannot bear so much weight.Should we adjust our parameters?Should we pursue what relationshipcounsellors call the poly grail? Does sexmatter to the health of a long-term re-lationship? Is it OK to give it up?“We increasingly look for lots of dif-ferent things in one place – namely themonogamous relationship,” says Barker.Why? “Because we have become moreand more atomised, work has become
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Section:GDN FY PaGe:2 Edition Date:121110 Edition:01 Zone: Sent at 7/11/2012 14:58cYanmaGentaYellowblack
2Family
Saturday Guardian 10.11.12
Supported byFilm London throughNational Lottery Fundingon behalf of the BFI andThe City Bridge Trust
A fantastic new film festival foryoung people, with special filmpreviews, creative workshopsand the chance to make andreview films. The festival takesplace at the Barbican and selectedindependent cinemas acrossLondon.
barbican.org.uk
festivalframedfilm
1725 nov 2012
Is monogamy dead?
Can one relationship be hot and warmat the same time? It seems, to put itmildly, unlikely. Does good intimacymake for hot sex? asks Perel. Again,unlikely: they don’t sound like differ-ent rules, but different sports.Conjugal felicity didn’t used to beso conflicted, argues Alain de Bottonin his new book How to Think MoreAbout Sex. Before the bourgeoisieintroduced the idea of love-basedmarriage in the 18th century, heargues: “Couples got married becausethey had both reached the proper age,found they could stand the sight of each other, were keen not to offend both sets of parents and their neigh- bours, had a few assets to protect andwished to raise a family.”The new love-based conception of conjugal felicity, involving being physi-cally aroused by the other’s appearance,wanting to read poetry to each other bymoonlight and yearning for two souls tofuse into one, changed all that.Later, increased sexual expectationsnecessitated that the physical arousaland great sex you had at the start of your relationship be continued overyears of your monogamous relationship– even though, frankly, most nightsyou’d rather watch The Great BritishBake Off in old undies than tear off yourpartner’s lingerie with your teeth.Such expectations explain whyyou’ve got The Position Sex Bible: MorePositions Than You Could Possibly Im-agine Trying by Randi Foxx (possiblynot a real name) unread on the shelvesnext to the unwatched DVD of Dr SarahBrewer’s Secrets of Sensational Sex.And so it was that monogamy be-came made up of two equal parts – oneinvolving endlessly deferred goodintentions, the other nostalgia forWhen It Was Better. If it ever was. De Botton applauds monogamy’sunsung heroes, writing: “That acouple should be willing to watchtheir lives go by from within the cageof marriage, without acting on out-side sexual impulses, is a miracle of civilisation and kindness for which both ought to feel grateful every day.Spouses who remain faithful to eachother should recognise the scale of thesacrifice they are making for their loveand for their children, and should feelproud of their valour.”Of course, not all monogamouscouples have kids, neither are they allmiddle-aged, middle-class or hetero-sexual: but all of them, De Bottonargues, deserve medals.That said, De Botton also counselsthat extra-marital affairs may benecessary. It’s a thought shared byother anatomisers of that modernmalaise, monogamy.Former London School of Econom-ics sociologist Catherine Hakim arguesthe following in her new book, TheNew Rules: Internet Dating, Playfairsand Erotic Power: “The fact that weeat most meals at home with spousesand partners does not preclude eatingout in restaurants to sample differentcuisines and ambiences, with friendsor colleagues.“Anyone rejecting a fresh approachto marriage and adultery, with anew set of rules to go with it, fails torecognise the benefits of a revitalisedsex life outside the home.”If you’re a 45-year-old woman or a55-year-old man, you should probablystop reading this article immediately.Now is the peak time for you to have anaffair. You should be on the pull for thesake of your marriage. Or whatever it isyou call your relationship.
 H
akim cites twoeconomistswho estimatethat increasingthe frequencyof sexualintercourse fromonce a monthto at least once a week was equivalentto £32,000 a year in happiness. DavidBlanchflower and Andrew Oswald alsoestimated that a lasting marriage pro-vided the equivalent of £64,000 a year.“If you add the two together, an affairproviding lots of sex and an enduringmarriage, that’s a recipe for a lot of happiness,” Hakim concludes.But this Panglossian summationof sexual happiness will only workif you keep schtum about yourtransgression. “I am happily married,and I would hope that if my partnerhad an affair he would be so discreetabout it that I wouldn’t notice any-way,” Hakim told Jane Garvey on BBCRadio 4’s Woman’s Hour.So Hakim does not recommendopen relationships. Indeed, she isrelationship? Barker says many of thecouples who come to her seeking sextherapy expect that she will teachthem how to have the great sex theyhad at the start of their relationship orhave never previously enjoyed. “Sexis our whole idea of the barometer of a relationship’s healthiness. So sex becomes this imperative. It needn’t be.Sex is often portrayed as though, be-cause you’ve had sex, your sex partnerwill know how you’re feeling andrespond perfectly to every situationin which you find yourselves.”This assumption that sex is the causeof and solution to any relationshipproblem is widespread in popular cul-ture. In the recent film Hope Springs,for example, Meryl Streep and TommyLee Jones play Kay and Arnold, a sixty-something couple who approach atherapist (Steve Carrell) because Kay isconcerned about the lack of intimacyand sex in their long-term monoga-mous relationship. “The therapist inHope Springs seemed to assume thatKay and Arnold had to recapture theirsexual relationship, rather than reallyexploring whether this was somethingthat they wanted and, if so, why it wasimportant, and the different possibleways of doing this,” says Barker.When Arnold loses his erection, Kayassumes this means he doesn’t findher attractive. Later, when they havewhat Barker calls “penis-in-vaginaintercourse”, their problems areresolved. “Penis-in-vagina intercourseis represented as ‘real’, ‘proper’ sex,and sex is seen as requiring an erectpenis and ending in ejaculation,” saysBarker. “There isn’t, for example, thepossibility of sex which is focused onKay’s pleasure or the possibility of Kay and Arnold enjoying less genitallyfocused forms of pleasure. Also,erections are equated with attractionwhen these things may, or may not, berelated.Quite so. Is she saying it’s OK not tohave sex in a long-term relationship?“For some couples that may work, butnot others. One possibility I address inthe book is making a ‘yes, no, maybe’list of all the sexual and physicalpractices that they are aware of, andwhether they are interested in them.That may help.”Barker counsels periods of solitudein order to work out what you wantfrom a relationship – or if you want out.“It’s easy not to think critically aboutwhat’s happening. It helps to createspace to reflect on what you want.”Sex may well not be the biggestproblem in a long-term relationship.“One of the biggest problems in arelationship is that it can be foundedon someone validating the other,completing you by enabling you. Soyou have this idea that one partnerin a relationship is a rescuer, or amentor of a sweet young thing. It’sin Fifty Shades of Grey – the brokenman I made better. Fixing somebodylike that or fixing yourself like that isto treat a person as a thing, which isalways a mistake. If you’re in a rela-tionship for a long time it’s harder tosustain those roles.”Indeed, Barker finds that a lot of couples come to her for counsellingwhen these roles have started to fray.“The challenge then is to remake therelationship without those roles.”Tricky – like rebuilding a boat at sea.But not impossible. “Monogamyis not an easy option. There’s alwaysgoing to be a sacrifice because thereis a struggle between freedom and belonging. And at the outset youdon’t really know how much of oneyou’re prepared to sacrifice for theother – or if you’re prepared to makeany sacrifice at all.”Freud wrote about this in Civili-sation and Its Discontents in 1929:civilisation, he thought, is a trade-off  between security and freedom. Weswing one way and then, disenchanted,the other. On and on we go, aiming forperfect equilibrium without achievingit. Monogamy is similar.Barker recommends that we abandonthe old rules of monogamy and embraceuncertainty, guiding our relationships by means of creative negotiation. Thatway relationships can be made better if not perfect.This chimes with what the psycho-analyst and writer Adam Phillips writesin his book, Monogamy: “All prophetsof the erotic life are false prophets because every couple has to invent sexfor itself. They are not so much makinglove as making it up.”
Esther Perel: Does good intimacymake for hot sex? Not necessarily
 dubious about them. “All the literatureI have read suggests they are imposed by men on women, or by promiscuousmen on their gay partners.”Instead, Hakim tells me that if you’re going to have an affair, youmust play by French rules. “First andforemost, they must remain hidden atall times and never be visible enoughto embarrass the spouse. Second,you never do it with someone in yourown ‘backyard’ – neighbours, friends,work colleagues etc – where the risk of exposure is greatest.”But surely there are other risks of exposure? What if sleeping Mr Hakimlustfully groans the name of his loverin the marital bed, while Mrs Hakimsits bolt upright, eyeing him narrowly?At least a £64,000 reduction in happi-ness, is my guess.Hakim’s more serious point is thatsexless, celibate relationships areunsustainable without some kind of sexual outlet. Across the Channel,sensible continentals realise that theanswer to this condundrum is furtiveinfidelity. This is the main reason behind the sudden expansion of internet-dating websites that focus onmarried people seeking affairs.“Only two fifths of Italians say affairsare completely unacceptable. Onequarter of Spaniards do not regard sex-ual fidelity as important. The majorityof the French – two thirds of men andhalf of women – believe that sexualattraction inevitably leads to intimacy.The incidence of affairs is informed bysuch tolerant attitudes.”Meg Barker, for one, is sceptical of the deceit such tolerance entails. “Whyis deceit taken to be a good thing?The answer is to communicate. Todaythere are things like hook-up culture,friends with benefits, relationshipsthat are monogam-ish, lots of differentpolyamorous possibilities. These kindsof things are up for negotiation.What Hakim does, in effect, isuphold one of the bad old rules of monogamy that Barker seeks to junk,namely that the rules should not beexplicitly discussed or negotiated.Barker, by contrast, finds in monog-amy’s very indeterminate rules a spacefor confusion about what is permissiblewithin a relationship. “One person maythink it’s all right to stay friends withan ex-partner. Another may think it’sall right to flirt with or have sex withanother person. Another may think it’sOK to look at porn. What’s important iscommunicating so you know what theother expects.”How important is sex in a long-term
The Joy of Sex andothermanualsreviewed by JohnCracePage 5
Catherine Hakim: Sexless, celibaterelationships are unsustainable
 
Section:GDN FY PaGe:3 Edition Date:121110 Edition:01 Zone: Sent at 7/11/2012 13:39cYanmaGentaYellowblack
Family
Saturday Guardian 10.11.12
3
‘Whatever you’re doing, double it’
Jon Henleycatches up with two couples who tried marathon sex regimes daily,for 101 and 365 days. Five years on, was it worth it? And are they still at it?
I 
can’t believe we did thewhole thing. We had littlekids, too – our days were just exhausting. Annie andI were both shattered. Howdid we do it?” says DouglasBrown. Do it they did,though: every day, for 101days. Charla and Brad Muller, though,did better: they managed the full 365.Can you imagine?Sex, every day, for a whole year.Even when you’re knackered. Evenwhen you’re barely speaking to eachother. Even when there are lots – andI mean lots – of things you’d rather bedoing (hot bath/good book? Footie onthe box? Clean the goldfish bowl?) Shortly after their respective, self-imposed marathon sex ordeals – per-haps inevitably – two books appeared.One was called Just Do It: How OneCouple Turned Off the TV and TurnedOn their Sex Lives for 101 Days (NoExcuses!) and the other 365 Nights: aMemoir of Intimacy. When the bookscame out, this newspaper interviewedtheir authors, at some length; firstDoug and Annie, then Charla and Brad.But all that was five years ago.So how are things going now? Whateffect have these two barely imagin-able bonkathons have on the couples’relationships? Are they all still at it?In short, the answer is yes. “Notonce a day,” says Annie quickly, downthe line from Denver, Colorado. “I’m 45now – the menopause is starting to rearits ugly head. In terms of life cycles,I’m definitely on the other side of mysexual peak. We try for once or twice aweek, but we have a really small houseand the kids don’t have bedtimes anymore. There are weeks we don’t man-age it. But you know what? If we hadn’tdone 101 days, I don’t think we’d un-derstand the importance of sex in ourrelationship. That’s the real thing.” Annie explains further: “Whenyou’re in the tunnel of childrearingand career-building, that whole side of things just tends to get put on the back burner. People really don’t understandthat sex is the glue that keeps you to-gether. The physical in a relationship isthe foundation it’s built on.”Doug, a journalist on the DenverPost, agrees: “We did still have a sexlife,” he says. “We communicatedpretty well. But life just got in the way.Work, money, kids. It’s easy to lose thattime for each other in a relationship.”The couple set off on their 100 con-secutive days of sex – it turned into 101, but that’s another story – after Dougcovered a sex conference for his paper,at which he discovered the existenceof a support group for men in relation-ships who have not had sex for at leastthat length of time. It was Annie’sidea to reverse that. But Doug says theexperiment is still paying dividends.“If couples get along well, at a certainpoint they can become just pals. Thenthe sex thing becomes kind of weird.But if you force yourself to do it, yourealise how special sex is, how unique.It’s different from anything you havewith anyone else. And if that leaksaway in a couple, it’s really sad.”Self-enforced intimacy, Dougcontinues, created “a familiarity between us – but in a good way. A kindof mutual comfort. Each knows whatthe other likes. And it’s led to it notfeeling strange or shaming for us tosuggest things. There’s just a physicalease there, a naturalness. That’s stayedwith us. It’s great now when we bothknow it’s going to happen. It kind of feels like coming home. And it hasreally taken away the pressure.”That’s a bonus, especially for a man,says Doug: “Before, there was alwaysthat pressure to perform. That’s dis-tracting and it can be dispiriting. Thefeeling that you’re on stage, you have toperform. But when we did the 101 days,all that just kind of melted away. Yourealise you can’t be on stage every day.”Charla, who works in marketing,says that Brad, a salesman, feels prettymuch the same way. (As, mind, doesshe.) “You’re no longer in it to win itevery time,” she says, on the phonefrom Charlotte, North Carolina. “Doingwhat we did for a year removes all theembarrassment and awkwardness fromthe whole thing. It truly was a trans-forming year for us in every respect. Infact it’s hard now to know what our lifewould be like if we hadn’t done it.”Five years on, the biggest lessonfrom this couple’s 365-day marathon –somewhat startlingly, the project wasCharla’s gift to her husband for his 40th birthday – is that if “intimacy everyday may not be a long-term sustainablemodel, neither is no intimacy at all.”
T
he point, saysCharla, is that: “Weall tend to have thispicture that sex hasto be spontaneousand romantic. Butwhen you have kidsand laundry andwork and all the rest, the reality is thatthere’s just not much in your life thathappens spontaneously. “You have to plan for it, schedule it– consciously make a time and a placefor it to happen: “We thought having topay all that attention to it would some-how distract from it, make it mundane.But it didn’t. The other thing that yearmade me realise was that men don’tneed it more than women. Men mightwant it for different reasons. But Ilearned that I wanted it too.”The fact is, Charla says: “Everything just gets better when sex is a vital partof your relationship. He’s happier,you’re happier, the whole house ishappier. A daily kindness enters yourrelationship, a level of attentivenessfor each other. It’s almost like you’redating again ... That’s a real discovery.”Not that Charla would necessarilyrecommend 365 consecutive days of sex for anyone else. “You can’t be pre-scriptive,” Charla says. “What worked
We did it! Doug and Annie Brown.Left, our 2008 interview. Below,Brad and Charla MullerPhotograph byAndrew Testa for the Guardian
for us won’t work for everyone. Butwhat I suggest is, whatever you’re do-ing, double it. Then in a month, doubleit again. Just see how that feels. Youmight be surprised at what it brings.”So, um, how often do they manage itthese days? “Not every day,” she says,primly. “But enough to keep a smile on both our faces.”Doug thinks many couples mightprofit from a bit of enforced coupling.“It’s just so easy not to make that timefor each other,” he says. “And eveneasier now. Five years ago there werelaptops; now there are tablets andsmartphones too. We have a consciousagreement that it is not acceptable tolie in bed and tap on a screen. But Ithink that if a couple can commit toa period of time and really plan for it,prepare for it, start engaging with it,there’s a good chance they’ll benefit.” Annie’s advice? Just make the time.Focus on each other, if only for onenight a week. Take the time to find outwhy you fell in love in the first place.A good massage, says Doug, cando the trick just as well these days.“Annie loves a good, long massage,” hesays. “Just talking and touching, youknow? It’s almost as good as sex for her.Sensual, but not sexual. After all, we’re both five years older now.“Mind you,” he adds, a shade wist-fully, “when we were doing the 101days, there was a whole bunch of timeswhen we did it outdoors. We haven’tdone that since. I kind of miss that ...”
 Just Do It: How One Couple Turned Off the TV and Turned On their Sex Lives for 101 Days (No Excuses!) by Douglas Brown is published by Crown Publishing Group, £9.99. 365 Nights: A Memoir of  Intimacy by Charla Muller is publishedby John Blake, £ 11.99.
A daily kindnessenters yourrelationship.It’s like you’redating again’

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