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Not Tonight, Honey


WebMD Feature from "Esquire" Magazine

By Sarah Mahoney

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You’ve Said It. You’ve Heard It. How To Put That Excuse To Bed—And Get Back In The Mood

Be honest. How many times have you turned down sex this month? Even the best marriages have sexual cold fronts and everyday problems—like a crushing work deadline, a sick parent, or an acting-out teen—that can put the chill on romance. But when sex evasion turns into a daily habit, marriage can become an arctic zone. After all, there's room for only so many nights of "Do we have to? I've got a bad headache" before serious problems set in.

"It helps many couples to think of sex as a bank account," says Lana Holstein, M.D., author of Your Long Erotic Weekend . "If you just got back from a vacation where you had lots of time alone, then saying ‘I'm too wiped out tonight' isn't a problem. But if you haven't had much sex in the last six months, then it took your husband some courage to ask. If you say no, that can be damaging."

And both partners, not just the avoider, are harmed. "The spouse with more desire feels rejected, and the spouse with less desire feels coerced," says Barry McCarthy, Ph.D., author of Rekindling Desire: A Step-by-Step Program to Help Low-Sex and No-Sex Marriages .

If you're the avoider, try putting yourself in your husband's shoes. Says Dr. Holstein, who coaches clients at Miraval Resort in Tucson, AZ: "When a wife turns down sex, what does she want her husband to do instead? Should he go masturbate? My clients usually say, ‘No, I don't want him to do that!' Nor do they want him to spend an hour on a pornography Web site."

Another reason to say yes when your husband makes a move: It's good for your health. "Sex, and the cuddling that comes with it, releases all kinds of chemicals women need," says Dr. Holstein, "including mood-boosting hormones like dopamine, norepinephrine, and oxytocin." What's more, a study from Wilkes University in Wilkes-Barre, PA, found that couples who had sex regularly had higher levels of disease-fighting antibodies than those who didn't.

So it's time to outsmart your excuse-making self (don't listen to her—she's probably just grouchy from wearing sweatpants too often). Here, six common cop-outs, and what to say instead—to your husband and yourself:

"Didn't we just do it last week?"

Mismatched desire is one of the most common complaints marriage counselors hear—but experts say that the excuse is pure baloney. "Two different people will never have exactly the same desire, drive, and timing," says Rick Warren, the founding pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, CA, and author of the best-selling book The Purpose Driven Life . "Sometimes you have to make love for the benefit of the other person, even though you may not need it yourself at the moment."

"There's no such thing as the right level of desire. Normal is usually whatever the desired frequency is for that couple," adds Gerald R. Weeks, Ph.D., chairman of the marriage and family therapy department at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. (In case you're curious about what other couples consider normal, here are stats from University of Chicago researchers: About 38 percent of married women have sex a few times a week; 47 percent a few times a month; and 15 percent a few times a year.)

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