Let's Talk About Sex (and Why I'd Rather Just Go to Sleep)

Okay, I'll say it: After four kids and 25 years of marriage, it's not easy to get in the mood for sex. My husband would disagree.
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I can give you the play-by-play of my first date with the man I married: the Greenwich Village restaurant, our heads tilted in conversation as if drawn by magnets. I can recall exactly what I wore, how I asked him to zip up my dress when he arrived early, and the electric charge I felt as his hand grazed my back. I remember the long walk home, the urgent kisses on the couch -- all that ardor and passion.

Fast-forward almost 25 years. We brush our teeth side by side and climb under the sheets. The body pillow that I embrace to ease my back lies between us. (Bob calls it my boyfriend.) We murmur good night and within a minute I can hear his gentle snores. He knows that because I'm exhausted and a morning person, there is not a prayer he's getting any nooky tonight.

What happened to the sultry young woman who melted with just one meaningful glance from her husband? Where did she go? How did we morph from the couple who couldn't keep our hands off each other to a couple who need a monthly planner to even think about conjugal relations? To be honest, I can take or leave sex, and mostly I'd rather leave it. Oops, did I just say that?

Not So Hot

After a glass of wine at book club or a girl's weekend away, I'm not afraid to ask my friends about how much sex we are all (not) having. And once I introduce the subject, the floodgates open. They all start divulging the dirty little secret that binds many of us in that middle place in marriage -- the admission that we often prefer a great night's sleep to an orgasm.

It's easy to see how I got from aching desire to near apathy. Following those cuddly newlywed years, Bob and I did what most couples do: We let escalating responsibilities get in the way. With marriage and a career came four children, a mortgage, fatigue, and familiarity. Whatever is new eventually becomes old. Or tired. Once, after being away for weeks on business, my husband rolled toward me with anticipation. But after taking care of our young twins day and night, I said, "I'm all touched out." I could feel Bob's disappointment. But those intense years of parenting were more about self-preservation than what my mother called "tending to the marriage."

Somewhere between the midnight feedings and work deadlines, the chasm grew between my husband's needs and my desire. He once joked that he has the strength of 10,000 men after sex, and it seems to be true. So, like many a wife before me, I am not beneath doing it even when I don't feel like it just so he'll use some of that postcoital power to get the household chores done. (Unclogged drain joke, anyone?) There have been times I've even faked my own pleasure (oh, please, we've all done it) so I can just go to sleep already. But honestly, when things get going, once the motor turns over, well, it's pretty enjoyable on my end, too. It's getting there mentally that's the problem. Many days my libido feels like a shrunken head.

One of my friends sent me a French maid costume while my husband was recovering from a serious injury. Implicit in the gift was the message that I could "help him get better." Did I mention this was a friend? I was so unenthusiastic about role-playing it took at least a month before I got the nerve to show Bob the costume. I had been waiting on him hand and foot as well as caring for our children, all while trying to act cheerful and lift his spirits. Flouncing around in a lace-up, cleavage-baring mini was not on my list of care-giving duties. But when I pulled out the costume and a feather from the black mules got stuck in my mouth, we both giggled. And then there it was, the flicker of our old selves, ignited by the sexiest gift a long marriage has to offer -- a shared sense of humor.

"Put it on!" he begged with a smirk. So I did, and as I pranced around, half-horrified that a child might enter, we convulsed into genuine belly laughs. What happened next is strictly confidential.

Getting Our Groove Back

As the years rolled along, I assured myself that once I got enough sleep, or the kids got older, or we had the house to ourselves, that earlier passion would return. It had just been in hibernation, right? But no one warned me that the "smooth sailing" period in life is a myth. Just as our twins were getting more self-sufficient, there were aging parent issues and then (yikes) menopause. Once again a good night's sleep became my holy grail.

"So, are we ever going to have sex again?" my husband asked me recently as we were both undressing for bed. The question stung because I knew he was right to wonder about it. I started flossing so I could procrastinate for a minute before answering. "Of course we are," I mumbled. And I began to wonder what I could do to stop the mud slide. Over the years I'd bought products to make things tingle and glide, the sexy underwear that raised an eyebrow, the tools and toys found in the backs of magazines. These props were enough to resuscitate us, but was it enough to put us in normal marriage category? What is "normal" anyway?

We are road-tested now, grayer, and more wrinkled. Marriages have seasons. And while there's something sexy about conjuring up the old us, there's a peace in accepting that we are past the "skyrockets in flight" period. Sure, when we find ourselves home alone or together in a hotel room while we're traveling, the spark often returns. And when it does, it renews my faith that we want to keep trying.

I adhere to the definition of marriage that says you fall in love with the same person over and over again. Things ebb and flow. And during the ebb times, love and passion can manifest themselves in other little ways, like sharing our morning coffee, dreaming about backpacking through Burma, or even just taking an after-dinner walk with the dog.

Am I giving up? Not a chance. I may not be as frisky as I used to be, and he may wish that I'd initiate things more often, but at our core we are still determined to make it better. And in the long run, that's what really counts.


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