Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Sex. The average male thinks about sex once every 12 seconds. (In high school, my girlfriend's parents assumed I was thinking of sex 12 times a second... but that's another story.) Unfortunately for the average male, he's having sex a LOT less often. Once every 12 hours if he is particularly lucky and particularly energetic. Once every 12 days if he's been married for a few years. And once every 12 months if he is me.

Sure, I'd like to be like the other guys, making love to my beloved every few days but my wife seems to have other ideas.

In the 70's and 80's TV show "One Day at a time," Schneider observed that if you put a jelly bean in a jar for every time you made love during your first year of marriage, and then took a jelly bean out of the jar every time you made love after that, then no matter how hard you tried, you would never get all of the beans out of the jar.

When I heard that joke, I didn't laugh because I was too young to get it.

Now I don't laugh because it's too true to be funny!

When Susan and I got together eight years ago, I was reading the book, "Why Men Don't Listen and Women Can't Read Maps." It listed the sexual habbits of couples around the world, noting the average number of times couples from different countries around the world made love each year. It started off as a bit of a joke, but Susan and I kept track for that year -- how many times DID we make love? We didn't put any jelly beans in the jar, but we counted nonetheless. And it came out to a stunningly average 120-something: exactly where couples in most western countries rated.

It made sense. We made love perhaps every second day or so. Sometimes it was daily, and sometimes one of us would be busy, stressed, or out of town at a conference, and we would go for a few days without. So, it averaged out, over the course of a whole year, at 2-3 times per week.

By the end of that year, the joke was long-since stale, and we stopped counting.

And then the jelly-bean effect kicked in.

Things started dropping off markedly (no pun intended). Before, our libidos matched each other, er. . . tit-for-tat (as it were), and we had the relaxed comfort of knowing that we were there for each other. But after a year, things began to wind down. I was left like a boy who was served a meal with only half a dessert: not unhappy, not dissatisfied, but still craving that little bit extra to feel just right.

Things picked up a bit a few months later when we started talking about having children. Suddenly sex had a utilitarian function, and Sue's interest picked up a bit.

A few more jelly beans came out of the metaphorical jar.

When Alex was born, of course things quieted down substantially! They say you're supposed to wait six weeks after the birth of a child. We did. Those six weeks seemed an eterntiy to me. As if the crying, pooping and sleep-deprivation weren't enough to take!

In those days, of course, breasts were off-limits. Too tender, too sore, nipples too cracked, mommy too tired in any case.

By the time Alex was two, a light was beginning to shine in the end of the jelly-beanless tunnel. It was not so much a spotlight, a beacon of hope, or even a ray of sunshine. From a sexual point of view, it was more like a firefly quietly buzzing faintly in the distance.

But then our second son Rick came along, and that firefly of hope was promptly swallowed up by the enormous wart-encrusted bull frog of post-partum reality.

Healed nipples were cracked: again. Sleep deprivation became the rule, not the exception: again. And the seductive smell of expensive perfume that means, "someone is going to get lucky tonight" got replaced with eau-de-dirty-diapers. Again.

The six weeks of complete abstinence that follows a birth was merely an h'ors d'ouvre of the smorgasborg of asexuality that was to follow.


The children got older. Alex went to school. Rick was in day care two days a week. Sleep started returning to normal. The "I'm just sooooo tired" explanation just didn't make sense any more.

And still her libido dropped.

It made no sense. She had long since stopped breast feeding, but still she didn't want me to touch her breasts. ("I never really liked it even in that first year," she said.) She wasn't too interested in me touching any of her other bits, either, no matter how hard I tried to focus just on her pleasure.

Our love making dropped to once every two weeks, putting us well behind the league tables for couples from other countries, and not even on a par with the extremely shy Japanese.

But even our bi-monthly trysts were work. It took me days of planning, orchestrating, cajoling, wheedling, begging and seducing. It's probably not right to use "seducing" and "begging" in the same sentence, but I certainly tried them both, even if not at the same time.

And the response to all of this? Her libido -- if it was possible -- fell even further. For her, sex had already fallen from something vaguely enjoyable (like eating a nice bowl of oatmeal when you're vaguely hungry), to something more akin to a mechanical act (like flossing your teeth). But now it became something that was downright unenjoyable. Something to be endured. A Trial of Womanhood to be gotten through. As womanly trials go, it was different from childbirth not in kind, but merely in degree.

Did I ask her what was the matter? Why things had changed for her so much? What I could possibly do on God's Green Earth to make things just a small bit better? Of course I did. In much the same way as any healthy 13 year old boy would happily exchange his left arm for his first sexual experience, so was I willing to do whatever it took to sex a part of my life once more.

I racked my brains for a solution. We talked. We saw a counsellor. We saw a doctor. I would have seen an Indian Chief if I thought it would have helped.

Sue said she wanted her libido back, too. She didn't know where it went, or why it went. But she was interested in getting it back. Not determined to get it back. Not committed to it. Just. . . interested.

But, having a degree of pent-up sexual frustration as I had not experienced since I was 13, I didn't have the skills to gently nurture her butterfly-like interest, cultivating it into the fierce robustness of an eagle.

Instead, it seems, I squashed it like a mac truck going 80 miles an hour.

At least, I guess that's what happened...

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