This month, Claire Rush reviews two books: Just Do It: How one couple turned off the TV and turned on their sex lives for 101 days (no excuses) by Douglas Brown and 365 nights: A memoir of intimacy by Charla Muller,
Work to be finished. Phone calls to be returned. Clothes to be cleaned. Emails to be sent. Kids to be reared. For many people, ours day can seem like one big to-do list. Sometimes ‘real’ life is not just conducive to romance or sexual intimacy. In fact this week, 43 per cent of 20,379 Guardian readers said they had not made love in the last four weeks in a recent poll.
So how do long term couples grapple with the mundaneness of everyday life? Apparently have a sex marathon and then write a book about it. After many happy, but busy married years together with their spouses, American authors Douglas Brown and Charla Muller have written two separate books about their solution – literally ‘just doing it’ for 101 days and 365 nights respectively.
And did they actually fulfil the challenge? Despite illness, arguments, kids and tiredness, yes they did!
Both books illustrate different, but similar experiences and it was interesting to read them from the different gender perspectives. In 365 Nights, Charla writes more from a faith-based viewpoint and there are Bible studies to accompany her book (available from her website). Douglas is definitely more illustrative (and adventurous) in his descriptions of sexual intimacy with his wife Annie in Just Do It. I didn’t feel they were titillating or gratitutious (although some may not agree with the tools they used to spice things up). At times, Douglas’ own awkwardness about describing their adventures under the sheets radiates through his writing.
I am fascinated with issues surrounding human sexuality and I approached the books with a number of questions. Do the books perpetuate or debunk gender stereotypes? How important is sexual intimacy in marriage? What is stopping couples in maritial relationships from making love in the first place? The Enduring Love survey by the Open University found that mothers were four times more likely to agree with the following statement – ‘My partner wants to have sex more often than I do.’ In fact, 40% of mothers agreed or strongly agreed with this statement compared to only 10% of fathers.
It appears that unequal distribution of domestic labour is probably one of the biggest barriers for some women to overcome before they can even think about entertaining a whiff of romance. This definitely seemed true for Charla; she admitted that she often found herself making excuses to avoid having sex with her husband due to tiredness from housework. In fact, although the marathon is her idea – a special birthday gift for her husband – it seemed that it was borne out of guilt and her perception of failing in her wifely ‘duties’. In this respect, I felt that 365 Nights perpetuated gender stererotypes. Perhaps Charla wasn’t failing to perform her wifely ‘duties’? Perhaps her husband was failing in his commitment to her? Failing to support her in the home? Not building anticipation and excitement as her lover?
In contrast it was refreshing to see Douglas understand the importance of his marriage being an equal partnership with Annie inside and outside the bedroom. Over the 101 days, Douglas and Annie worked together to build a more egalitarian marriage – sharing work, managing a house and childrearing (as they called it!) Annie and Douglas were very intentional about building intimacy and giving the marathon 100 per cent. In fact, they transformed different aspects of their lives to help them not only fulfil their quest of 101 days of making love but actually enjoy and benefit from it. They booked nights away, got a babysitter more often, took up yoga, ate more healthily and groomed themselves more. They changed their bedroom from a place they slept in to a place that they actually wanted to spend time together in. It is interesting to see how small decisions can have such a huge impact on creating an environment for sexual intimacy.
The key, it seems, is to be intentional.
And it paid off.
Although both maintain that they were happy before their marathon, Just Do It demonstrates that daily sexual intimacy transformed Douglas and Annie’s relationship and not just between the sheets. They laughed more. They touched more. They dated more. They talked more. They thought of each other more. They lived more. They served each other more.
My reflections? As a newlywed (married to Chris for 16 months) and part of a couple who is still in our honeymoon period, it was interesting to read the experiences of husband and wives who are far ahead of us on their marriage journey. The books are not literary masterpieces but they give plenty of food for thought. Used in the way it was intended, sex is an amazing and an incredible gift from God intended to bond two people together. (However, it should be noted, having more sex is not the answer to all marital problems).
For me, the experiences of Douglas and Charla also raised more questions particularly surrounding human sexuality. Recent research suggests that it is a myth that men biologically have a higher sex drive than women. In fact, Daniel Bergner's What Do Women Want? demonstrates our society has suppressed female sexuality. It would have been interesting to see Douglas and Charla tackle this issue.
For me and my marriage - it has made me want to be intentional about ensuring our honeymoon never ends.
But what about you?
- When was the last time you spoke to your spouse about sexual issues?
- Are you facing any sexual intimacy barriers? Are working towards removing them?
- Are you serving each other equally inside and outside the bedroom?
Dr Claire Rush is the Participation & Advocacy Co-ordinator for Girls' Brigade England & Wales, chair-elect of Girls' Brigade Europe and a trustee of Sophia Network. She loves travelling, books, movies, DVD box-sets, swimming and is married to Chris. Claire writes here and you can follow her on twitter @drclairerush.