Could scheduling sex be the key to preserving intimacy in long-term relationships?
I reach my hand across the kitchen island for the serving spoon, my husband’s eyes tracking each deliberate movement as I gingerly place my second serving of turkey bolognese on my plate.
“Don’t get sick, baby,” he says tentatively, as I savour the full flavour of carrot and thyme melting in my mouth, and put my fork down.
I know what he means. My husband is not a jerk. He is not worried I will get fat. He is worried that these extra few bites will lead to me feeling bloated and full, which will in turn result in me explaining to him, “I don’t feel pretty tonight,” when he reaches for me under the covers as we settle into bed.
I met him when I was 42. Eight years younger than me, he often gets mistaken for any number of Hollywood movie stars – think Bradley Cooper or a young Hugh Grant. But, despite this, I have rarely been in the mood for having sex since I hit middle age.
In my early 50s, I first chalked up my declining libido to needing more of an emotional connection before intimacy. We tried sharing compliments with each other before hitting the pillow, and finding time for walk-and-talks during the day so we could discuss the ups and downs of our lives. And while I felt appreciated and connected, it did nothing to rouse my lust.
Then came menopause. I took supplements I saw advertised online, supposedly designed to provide hormone-free support to enhance libido. Nothing happened. I ultimately got on hormone replacement therapy, and while my night sweats stopped, my desire for sex continued to stay muted.
On a long walk one day through the desert landscape with one of my besties, I confessed my situation. “We aren’t unhappy,” I said. “Despite the usual bickering and what my therapist friend calls ‘normal marital hatred’. I love spending time with him, so why my case of the blahs?”
Could it be that even though I am a relationship and life coach, an issue I thought I had conquered through a support group, years of therapy, and a seven-day personal development retreat was still wreaking havoc with my self-esteem? Did I really think that my innate worthiness was directly tied to how I sexually satisfied my husband? Did that make me a ‘good wife’? Or even a ‘good woman’?
I thought hard, trying to remember the last time I had felt genuine sexual arousal. It was many months before, at the Watershed Music Festival my husband and I had attended. In my short shorts, I had pressed my body against my husband’s as we made out while Tim McGraw crooned in the background, reminding me to “live like I am dying”. I couldn’t wait to get my adorable, attentive husband into bed that night.
What had been so different? Well, at the festival he didn’t expect me to “do” anything. I was just being me on my own terms, and I felt sexy and confident. I knew there was an answer here but I couldn’t quite see it... Yet.
It wasn’t until I was working on putting my weekly plans into my organiser that I realised while I had been crushing my goals at work, having great life balance, enjoying good friendships, and living my purpose, the one area I had put the least effort into week after week, month after month, and year after year was my romantic relationship with my husband.
Then, a woman who was leading an online goal-setting class I was in exuberantly shared that she and her husband scheduled sex, and that it had changed her life. I looked again at my weekly schedule, this time inspired
I called my friend and told her I was going to do it.
“You’re scheduling sex?” she asked.
“Yes, I am.”
“Are you going to tell him?”
“No,” I said. “This is for me.”
I am four weeks into my experiment and so far my husband and I are having more sex than we have ever had. Sometimes I initiate it full-on in the most random of places because I’m feeling it. And sometimes I just tell him I’m in the mood and he initiates. While I miss the foot rubs he used to use to inveigle me, I am starting to feel like my former sexy self. I know now my worthiness isn’t tied to sex. It’s tied to me feeling playful and in charge of my own desires. So when I see the words sexy time on my calendar, written inside the kind of loopy heart I used to doodle in high school, I swith off Netflix, light a candle, and turn eagerly towards my husband.