If you decided to have sex every day, would your relationship benefit?
Two long-married couples decided to find out. When lovemaking fell off their respective "to-do" lists, they ditched the sweats, bought sex toys and books, stepped up exercise, lit candles, and took trips. Then they chronicled their "sexperiment" in two recently released books, Just Do It: How One Couple Turned Off the TV and Turned On Their Sex Lives for 101 Days (No Excuses!) by Doug Brown and 365 Nights: A Memoir of Intimacy by Charla Muller with Betsy Thorpe.
But will daily sex really help a relationship that's hit a rough patch? Some experts say yes; others aren't so sure. As for the two couples who tried it, the Browns and the Mullers, both say the experiment strengthened their marriages in -- and out -- of the bedroom.
Charla Muller had been married for eight years to her husband, Brad, when she embarked on what she calls "the year of the gift" as a way to celebrate her husband's 40th birthday Rather than fixing anything wrong in her marriage, she writes that frequent sex made her happier, less angry, and less stressed.
Doug Brown's wife, Annie Brown, initiated the offer of daily sex after hearing about sexless marriages on Oprah. He had a similar revelation after they started having daily sex. A feature writer for The Denver Post, Brown writes of releasing "an avalanche of flesh pleasures upon our relationship."
"There's a special sense of being desired that only comes from sex," he tells WebMD. "You can be good at your job or at sports, but the daily confirmation you get through sex is a super feeling."
(Is this something you’d ever try? Why or why not? Talk with others on WebMD's Sexuality: Friends Talking message board.)
Reversing the Downward Sex Spiral
According to the National Opinion Research Center, the average American couple reports having sex 66 times a year. Newsweek has noted that 15% to 20% of couples have sex less than 10 times a year, which is defined as a "sexless" marriage.
Familiarity, advancing age, work pressures, the challenges of raising a family, and household responsibilities all conspire against regular sex among many otherwise loving couples who feel too harried to get physical.
When Doug Brown and his wife began their experiment in 2006, they were juggling two kids and two jobs. Married for 14 years, they averaged sex three times a month. And he admits he had performance anxiety.
"I felt I had to be a porn star or an Olympic gold medalist. That melted away with [daily] sex. We learned so much about each other. Sex became much more playful and that translated into a more playful union. We regained an electricity that wasn't always there before."
They also lost their inhibitions and embarrassment about the subject and gained confidence. "Now we can talk about anything."
The Mullers had a similar experience.
"I didn't realize how much not being [regularly] intimate stressed our relationship," Charla Muller tells WebMD. "I was a bit of a dodger, because I felt pressure to make it fabulous, because who knows when it will come around again? Now I'm not willing to give it up again."
She says an unexpected benefit of daily sex was the kindness it required of the couple.
"I wasn't expecting that. I thought we would only have to be really nice after hours. But we both had to bring our best game to the marriage every day. That was an important part of what went on behind closed doors."
The Science of Frequent Sex
Helen Fisher, PhD, a research professor and member of the Center for Human Evolutionary Studies in the department of anthropology at Rutgers University, says couples trigger sex drive, romance, and attachment -- along with their attendant hormones, testosterone, dopamine, and oxytocin -- with regular sexual activity.
Fisher is an advocate of frequent sex.
She says that in some hunting and gathering societies, such as the Kung bushmen in the southern Kalahari, couples often make love every day for relaxation. Unlike our time-pressed culture, there is more leisure time.
"Sex is designed to make you feel good for a reason," says Fisher. "With someone you love, I recommend it for many reasons: It's good for your health and good for your relationship. It's good for respiration, muscles, and bladder control. It's a fine antidepressant, and it can renew your energy."
"Regular sex actually increases sexual desire in the couple," she tells WebMD. "In other words, the more you 'do it,' the more the individuals will seek it. You develop a desire that wasn't normally there. The act itself is reinforcing."
But she points out that sex doesn't have to be "mind-blowing."
"I encourage couples to have 'good enough' sex. This sets realistic expectations and often lowers anxiety. Sex is like pizza: even when it's bad, it's usually still pretty good. On a scale from one to 10, good-enough sex is between 5 and 7."
Doug Brown admits that he and his wife were tired on many nights. But, he says, "Once we started, we got in the mood. We were never sorry we did it."
Scheduled Sex: Good for Your Relationship?
"The two married couples who document having sex on a daily basis are great role models for other couples who want to take their relationship to a higher level of intimacy," says Ava Cadell, PhD, founder and president of Loveology University and a certified sex counselor.
Cadell's six-week course called "Passion Power" includes a commitment form, a questionnaire, and daily sensual exercises to help couples deepen their bond. "When a couple makes a commitment to explore and expand their sexuality together, they become 100% fluent in the art of love, intimacy, and sexuality. They can stay in lust forever."
But some experts think scheduled sex can backfire.
Pepper Schwartz, PhD, a professor of sociology at the University of Washington in Seattle, says, "Whether or not it works, most couples can't do it. Those who do maintain that kind of schedule have either a sexual appetite of Olympian proportions or have at least one partner who finds that as their most important way of staying connected and the other partner has tremendous grace and goodwill. There are no couples I have ever met that are in that good a mood, or have that kind of energy every day. So this is a model that will appeal to few and be practiced by even fewer."
But, she concedes, staying sexually and emotionally connected on a frequent basis has merit.
"Sexual attraction and sexual arousal bring to bear two very important hormones, dopamine and oxytocin, both of which create bliss and bonding. Even if the lovemaking session started out with only a modest amount of interest, once arousal starts, these hormones create attachment, pleasure, and intimacy. So while everyday sex isn't necessary, frequent sex is a great bonus and even an essential part of most couple's commitment and happiness with one another."
Stress management expert Debbie Mandel, MA, thinks such sex might be a bit "gimmicky" and could lead to dissatisfaction.
"In many cases, abstinence makes the heart grow fonder. You don't have to abstain for a long period of time -- a few days off creates anticipation and eagerness. You might love steak, but having it every night diminishes the gustatory pleasure. Habituate yourself to regular sex, but don't ever let love become a routine, a robotic obligatory habit."
Doug Brown disagrees. He says setting up a period of time -- be it a long weekend, a week, or a month -- is a way to jump-start a sagging sexual relationship. "It should be possible for any couple to do it for a week and for it not to be a chore. It's free and it's fun. Why not plan it and take advantage of it? Anticipation is a big part of sex."
Having sex every day may be unrealistic for most couples, but if you and your partner want to ramp up your sex life, experts offer the following tips for success:
Increase in increments. Muller recommends couples start by doubling their frequency. Then doubling it again in six months.
Re-examine your sex life -- often. Though they now average sex three times a week, Doug Brown says his wife recently told him they need a "tune-up," or a mini-marathon of sex.
Act on your desires. "Whenever you have the urge, says Macari, head straight for the bedroom. The more time [that elapses] between having the idea and following up and you'll lose motivation."
Fake it till you make it. Several experts agree: Even if you aren't in the mood, once you begin, you'll enjoy sex.