London – The average couple has sex three times a month – which, of course, means some are having much more while others enjoy a lot less.
Meanwhile, an estimated one in 20 marriages is sexless. So just how important is sex in a marriage?
The Daily Mail challenged three married couples with regular sex lives to abstain from making love for a month to see what impact it had on their relationships.
Judy and Chris Fieldhouse have been together for seven years, married for five and have a son, Toby, five. Judy, 37, is an assistant in a firm of solicitors and Chris, 41, is a painter. The couple live in Bradford and have sex twice a week.
Chris says: When Judy suggested we take part in this experiment, I was less than happy as sex is such an important part of our marriage.
Just three days in, I was thinking about what I was missing a fair bit. It was like being on a diet and being told you can’t have sugary foods – they become irresistible. As the week dragged on, my frustration built, and by the fifth morning I was distinctly irritable, particularly as I left Judy in bed to take my early-morning shower. I wanted her so much at that moment.
Judy became a lot snappier too, but I knew she’d see the ban through no matter what. She was particularly grumpy in the mornings during the second week, but I never dared pull her close.
She seemed more distant, too. Ordinarily, sex would be the way we’d reconnect, but suddenly I didn’t know how to reach my own wife. I missed her, even though we were sleeping side by side. I realised there is no substitute for making love. We’d planned a holiday to a lovely place in Northumberland in our third week and I was hoping I’d be able to persuade her to break our fast.
But no. Even after a few glasses of wine, Judy stuck to the rules. I felt hurt. Why was she finding abstinence so much easier than I was?
At least she sent me loving texts during the day and notes, like “Hi babes, how’s work going?” I’d have been worried she’d gone off me otherwise. Rejection hurts, and it affected me badly. I was so happy to wake up on the morning the month was up and pull Judy towards me to make love. I had to be quick, as I was going to work, but was determined not to miss out. Admittedly, it wasn’t our best performance, but it felt wonderful.
I’d endured what felt like the longest month of my life, but one positive is that I won’t take our sex life for granted ever again.
Judy says: Life’s busy as a working mother. But, no matter how tired I get, I always make time for sex with my husband. Consequently, I was terrified a month without sex would do untold damage to our marriage.
At the start of the second week, I was conscious that it wasn’t so much the sex I missed, but feeling close to Chris. I hated the thought of him feeling unloved, so sent text messages, signing them with “lots of love and kisses”.
And while the rational me knew my husband wouldn’t go off with another woman, there was an insecure voice inside, wondering if his eye was wandering.
Also, I became irritable about little things, like Chris leaving the dishwasher for me to empty. Normally he’d happily do this, but during the ban, he’s been leaving it to me much more. I’ve heard it said that men go on strike when sex is withheld - and can now see there may be something in it.
At bedtime, cuddling up to Chris, I had to force myself to think about something other than sex. I was determined not to give in. Chris kept pestering me though, which made me cross. He’d just say: “Hey, you can’t blame a man for trying.”
Toby went to stay with his Gran on the last weekend, and this proved a challenge, as normally we’d take the opportunity to have lots of sex without the worry of him walking in on us.
I made it clear to Chris that it wouldn’t be happening, however. So why was I so annoyed when he fell asleep on the sofa on Saturday night, after one too many glasses of wine?
He was as baffled by my reaction as I was. I can only conclude that my mood is directly linked to feeling desired by and close to my husband.
The day after the ban, Chris woke early and took the first opportunity we had to instigate sex. Although it only lasted about ten minutes, I felt a huge sense of relief.
The experiment has made me realise that without sex, I feel less loved and more insecure, so I’m going to keep on making it a priority in my marriage.
Natalie and Nick Hall have been married for seven years. Nick, 42, a builder, has three children from a previous marriage. He and Natalie, 30, are about to undergo fertility treatment. The couple, from Worcester, have sex an average four times a week.
Nick says: I had a hacking cough so, even though I had grave reservations about the ban, the first few days of abstinence were easier than I anticipated. But by the first weekend I found it very difficult, indeed.
We woke early on Saturday morning, but knowing we couldn’t make love, I got up and went outside to do some work in the garden. I took out my pent-up frustration by bashing nails into a hut I’m building for our rabbit.
By week two, we were very snappy with each other. Little things, like coming home from work and finding the house a mess, annoyed me. It often irritates me that I’m a lot more domesticated than my wife, but, without the opportunity to kiss and make up in bed later, these niggles festered away.
Natalie became a lot more ratty, too, getting annoyed over petty things like not having a clean shirt for work. By the second weekend things were so strained, I tried to improve the mood by doing something Natalie has been asking me to do for a while and redecorated our living room. She was delighted at first, but it wasn’t long before she was complaining about the mess I’d made.
Our two weeks without sex had made us both hyper-sensitive. Seeing my wife as my lover always makes me overcome any marital niggles. But now I was bristling. I hated what had happened to us.
There was only one thing for it - to break the sex ban.
That night, when we both woke up cold in bed and had a cuddle, I made my move and was delighted when Natalie responded.
But she woke the following morning cross with me, saying I’d got her at a weak moment.
So back into the garden I went. I was feeling seriously tempted to build myself a man-cave out there, somewhere I could escape to.
For two long weeks we soldiered on, and I cannot stress what a delight it was to find her using all her womanly wiles to wake me up on the Saturday morning at the end of the ban. We spent the morning in bed making up for lost time.
Going without sex has taught us how important intimacy is in our marriage, and ultimately we feel even closer for having discovered that.
Natalie says: Nick and I have an active sex life – so much so that we’ve broken three bed frames since getting together and now have a reinforced one, made by Nick from reclaimed wood.
I know for some couples that struggling to conceive can be a real passion-killer, but even having had fertility problems, our desire has never dampened. Neither of us ever turns down the other’s advances, so a month without sex was going to be a challenge.
For the first few days I managed, but by the fifth day I had to go out dancing and drinking cocktails with my girlfriends to let off some steam. Meanwhile, Nick began spending an awful lot of time building and clearing brambles in the garden, which was his way of cooling his ardour.
The surprising thing about going without sex was the change it caused to my sleeping patterns.
Admittedly, I am worried about all the hospital tests I’m having, and I do suffer from anxiety. Sex has always been a great, natural way of relieving it.
So when, two weeks into our experiment, Nick made a pass in the night, I felt powerless to resist. It was passionate and it felt amazing to switch off from everything else.
But when I woke in the morning, I was cross with myself - and Nick. Were we so weak-willed that we couldn’t manage a single month without sex? I wanted to prove there is much more to our relationship than physical desire.
I was determined to stay strong for the next half of the challenge, but the lack of intimacy made me feel lonely, sad and unloved.
Tearfully, I told Nick this and he promised to remember to hug and kiss me, without it leading to anything else. This ‘courtship’ phase made us more flirtatious with each other and we laughed like we hadn’t in years. It felt like, with sex off the cards, we worked harder on the other side of our relationship.
The morning after the challenge ended, I woke up feeling excited, but also nervous. I suddenly felt shy about being intimate with my husband after ten years together. But once we got down to it, it was lovely.
John and Yasmin Duggan have been together for 35 years, married for 33, and have two grown-up children. John, 60, was a human resources manager before retiring and now works part-time as a driver, while Yasmin, 65, teaches quilting. They live in South-west London and have sex twice most weeks.
John says: Since those first lustful days when we got together back in 1980, sex has been a significant part of our relationship. Naturally, we’re not as prolific as we were in our youth, but I still consider it a very important part of our marriage, so when we agreed to this challenge, I didn’t think it would be a problem.
For the first six days of our ‘fast’ I barely thought about it. But come Sunday morning, it felt strange to be sitting up in bed chatting about our plans for a new bathroom suite instead of being intimate.
I didn’t give sex much thought during the second week, probably because our relationship is about so much more than sex. We’re soulmates, and would happily spend every day in one another’s company, each of us getting on with our own thing: reading, listening to music or sewing.
By week three, I was still not feeling sexually frustrated, which, I guess, in my younger years I would have been. Still, it didn’t concern me. Even if, for whatever reason, we were unable to have sex again, I’d still want to spend the rest of my days with Yasmin.
Then, towards the end of the month, we both came down with a heavy cold, that left us feeling wretched. Even once the ban had ended, we weren’t in the mood for sex. We decided to wait until we could both enjoy it. Three days later, on a Sunday morning, we finally got around to it.
Snuggled up in bed together with mugs of tea, we started kissing, and then one thing led to another.
It was such a lovely feeling for us both to be giving and receiving pleasure again. This experiment has made me even more certain that we have an incredibly strong bond.
Yasmin says: We’re a very touchy-feely couple. When we’re watching TV or in the car, I like to hold John’s hand or stroke his leg. Our love life is hugely important to me.
If I’m stressed about something I feel much calmer after sex. I’ve always been a sexual person and imagined that, as I got older, that drive might wane, but it hasn’t.
Towards the end of the first week, a song which always makes me think of John came on the radio. I felt so sad about our lack of love-making and questioned whether I’d be able to manage without for a whole month.
On the first Sunday morning, I had to drag myself out of bed and do some sewing to take my mind off getting intimate with my husband.
Halfway through the second week, I had terrible difficulty sleeping. I’ve always suffered from insomnia, but sex relaxes me and enables me to drift off to sleep. Instead, I had to make do with cuddles.
I’ve been told that cuddling releases some of the same feel-good chemical, oxytocin, you experience during sex. I love hugs, but they’re not a substitute for sex.
Whenever the frustration became too much, I focused on a weekend away in Spain we have planned, when I know we’ll make up for lost time.
By the end of the experiment, I was bursting with eagerness to make love to John. But, sadly, we weren’t well enough!
When we got around to it, it was magical. We know one another’s bodies so well after more than three decades together and, boy, did we take advantage of that knowledge!.
Our lovemaking was so much more intense than usual and we lay together in a state of mutual bliss for a long time afterwards.
Going without sex didn’t have a lasting negative impact on our relationship, it just meant we missed out on something we both enjoy – and I never want to do that again.