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Being Sexually Deprived in a Sex-Saturated Culture

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.

According to the popular television personality and psychologist, Dr. Phil —­ who wades through the intimate details of his guests’ as well as his professional clients’ lives — there is an epidemic of “sexless marriages” these days.  His observations coincide with recent articles in popular magazines like Time and Newsweek and in more upscale journals like The Atlantic, Salon, Psychology Today and First Things.  In the midst of a sex-saturated culture, overflowing with dramatic images of the female anatomy, a new phenomenon has developed: men losing interest in sex.

Even the prolific political columnist, Mark Steyn has weighed in, asking, “Do you notice anything shriveling?”  In his essay, he reports that the lack of sexual enthusiasm has even extended to the Netherlands, a place known for sexual permissiveness.  Now, according to the ANP news agency, “the Dutch now derive more pleasure from going to the bathroom than from sex.”  So much for “free” love.

Clearly, something is weird when everybody’s talking about it and nobody’s doing it.  Could it be that sex has become just another item to periodically check off on the “to do” lists of too-busy couples? 

Earlier this summer, I reported on a fascinating study.  Two Wharton economists analyzed what they called “declining female happiness,” using 35 years of data collected by the National Bureau of Economic Research.  Their startling finding: none of the recent societal trends benefitting women has increased their happiness.  In fact, the opposite has happened.  Throughout the industrialized world, women’s happiness has declined in absolute terms and in comparison to men’s happiness. 

Mary Eberstadt, in her October 2009 First Things article, “What Does Woman Want? The War Between the Sexless,” gives her explanation for so much unhappiness troubling today’s driven women.

Perhaps some of the modern misery of which so many women today authentically speak is springing not from a sexual desert but from a sexual flood — a torrent of poisonous imagery, beginning even in childhood, that has engulfed women and men, only to beach them eventually somewhere alone and apart, far from the reach of one another.

At least that way of looking at the puzzle might explain some of the paradox of all that female unhappiness.  Between bad ideas of gender neutrality and even worse ideas about the innocence of pornography, we reach the world ... where men act like stereotypical women, and retreat from a real marriage into a fantasy life via pornography ... and where women conversely act like stereotypical men, taking the lead in leaving their marriages and firing angry charges on the way, out of frustration and withheld sex.

As the data indicate in my forthcoming book, Children at Risk, the majority of young people still want a lifetime marriage to the person of their dreams.  Yet, the last three decades illustrate that as individuals increasingly focus on their own happiness, they are unwilling to put forth the hard work to make the dream a reality.  Or, there are so many demands on their time and energy that couples can no longer bestir themselves to meet someone else’s needs.  One Manhattan therapist described today’s women as “exhausted and resentful.”   

Sandra Tsing Loh’s article in The Atlantic, “Let’s call the whole thing off,” details all the things that are on her “staggering mother’s to-do list” and concludes, “I cannot take on yet another arduous home and self-improvement project, that of rekindling our romance.”  Most everyone, however, has a hectic schedule in today’s fast-paced world; so one can only wonder if the crux of her misery lies in her statement: “and, then, in the bedroom, to be ignored — it’s a bum deal.” 

Perhaps Caitlin Flanagan explained it even better in her article, “The Wifely Duty,” from The Atlantic, January/February 2003: 

To many contemporary women, however, the notion that sex might have any function other than personal fulfillment (and the occasional bit of carefully scheduled baby making) is a violation of the very tenets of the sexual revolution that so deeply shaped their attitudes on such matters. Under these conditions, pity the poor married man hoping to get a bit of comfort from the wife at day's end. He must somehow seduce a woman who is economically independent of him, bone tired, philosophically disinclined to have sex unless she is jolly well in the mood, numbingly familiar with his every sexual maneuver, and still doing a slow burn over his failure to wipe down the countertops and fold the dish towel after cooking the kids’ dinner. He can hardly be blamed for opting instead to check his e-mail, catch a few minutes of SportsCenter, and call it a night.  

Yet, Flanagan gave a simple the solution to sexless marriages back in 2003. Restoring the joy and happiness to your marriage: 

… is not complicated; it requires putting the children to bed at a decent hour and adopting a good attitude.  The rare and enviable woman is not the one liberated enough to tell hurtful secrets about her marriage to her girlfriends or the reading public.  Nor is she the one capable of attracting the sexual attentions of a variety of worthy suitors.  The rare woman — the good wife, and the happy one — is the woman who maintains her husband’s sexual interest and who returns it in full measure.

In the long, dry spells of responsibility and drudgery that establishing careers and raising children entails, marital sex offers brief but vital reprieves from the daily grind; it is impossible to rationally explain exactly how physical intimacy’s fresh assurances that we are not alone in carrying heavy responsibilities can have a such miraculous rejuvenating effect.  It is simply one of love’s beautiful mysteries.  Nothing can quite compare with knowing that the love of our youth is still there — despite all the wear and tear, the give and take, the forgiveness of hurts needed to restore joy, rekindle enthusiasm and renew the promise to stay side-by-side over the long haul, forever needing and being needed, two who have become one flesh. 

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