A Redditor posted a spreadsheet that her husband made and sent to her along with an angry note. In it, he catalogued a month’s worth of times he had asked for sex with her, the result, and the very specific explanation of why his wife declined:
Yesterday morning, while in a taxi on the way to the airport, Husband sends a message to my work email which is connected to my phone. He’s never done this, we always communicate in person or by text. I open it up, and it’s a sarcastic diatribe basically saying he won’t miss me for the 10 days I’m gone. Attached is a SPREADSHEET of all the times he has tried to initiate sex since June 1st, with a column for my “excuses”, using verbatim quotes of why I didn’t feel like having sex at that very moment. According to his ‘document’, we’ve only had sex 3 times in the last 7 weeks, out of 27 “attempts” on his part.
I don’t typically hand out marriage advice to people, particularly those I don’t know, but I have some tips here for both man and wife. And before we begin, we should note some important information about the sex lives of married people vs. single people:
One of the most comprehensive studies on the subject, which was released in 2010 by the Center for Sexual Health Promotion at Indiana University, confirmed this, compiling statistics on sexual attitudes and habits of 5,865 people between ages 14 and 94. An average of 61 percent of singles reported that they hadn’t had sex within the past year, compared with 18 percent of married people. Looking specifically at those between the ages of 25 and 59, 25 percent of married people reported that they were still having sex two to three times per week versus less than five percent of singles.
Badgering Is Not Seductive
First up, let’s talk about the man, who is clearly failing in his husband duties. It’s not just that being whiny about sex is about the worst way to go about getting it, although that is part of it. When I talked to my better half about this story, he admitted there have been times when he wanted to document something to prove some point or another. He says he’s pretty sure he could catch me being illogical or contradictory in the long run “but at some point I realized that in order to actually prove any big point it would require lots of effort and documentation and my effort would be much better spent either trying to improve myself or address your concerns.”
Exactly. Any time invested in Excel—and I spent a lot of time in Excel in college and early in my career—is better spent on actually working to improve the situation rather than record your grievances so as to become even more resentful and bitter than you already are.
Also, let’s look at the spreadsheet here:
We’ll get to my advice to Mrs. Sexcel shortly, but if this master accountant had more personal reflection, he would have used the data gathering and analysis operation not to berate his wife but to improve his game. And his game is in serious need of improvement. As a happily married father of three said to me regarding this debacle, “A spouse is not a fancy masturbation tool”:
Being a man means being a man and leading. It’s like dancing. Don’t whine about it. Take time to kiss your woman. Realize foreplay can be an all day activity. Make her feel sexy instead of asking if you can have sex. We can talk about spousal duty, but it shouldn’t be a duty. You’re our wives, not prostitutes whom we should expect to just lay down and spread ’em when the mood strike us. Especially since it’s more fun when both parties are enjoying themselves.
I mean, the fact that this lady-killer didn’t think that he needed to record any information about what led to his “request” for sex is the most telling part of all. It’s not just that asking for sex is kind of clumsy and can be a major turn-off, it’s that the overt or covert request is part of a much larger context called “the entire marriage” that needs to be kept healthy for the dancing in the sheets to be occurring as much as both parties can hope for. The big problem with the Sex-Spreadsheet is that it exists. But if it is going to exist, we need to see much more information about Mr. Smoove’s appearance, hygiene, work ethic, contributions around the house, joke-telling ability, etc. Sex doesn’t happen in a vacuum, buddy (though I’m sure many of you have tried just that).
The Wifely Duty
Redditor throwwwwaway29 should not be posting private emails from her husband on social media and she should almost certainly be having more sex with him.
In 2006’s To Hell with All That: Loving and Loathing Our Inner Housewife, Caitlin Flanagan writes about “The Wifely Duty.” The chapter in question actually first appeared in The Atlantic in 2003. She begins by noting that “sexless marriages” were getting a bit of media coverage. “It has become impossible not to suspect that a large number of relatively young and otherwise healthy married people are forgoing sex for long periods of time and that many have given it up altogether,” she writes.
It’s fascinating that our over-sexed culture is so under-sexed at the same time. The ubiquity of porn use is one problem. Men are wanking off to fantasy women and it’s destroying their desire to have sex with a real one. For women, the lack of interest in sex is probably far less related to porn. Not that they’re not sexual. I’m going to disagree with the late great comedian Bill Hicks here:
You know what causes sexual thoughts? I’m gonna clear the air for you tonight. I’m gonna end this debate, hopefully once and for all while on this planet, ’cause outer space awaits our presence, we are better and more unique creatures than this and all eternity is our playground, so let me go ahead and clear this one issue up once and for all and let’s move on to real issues. Can we? Great. Here’s what causes sexual thoughts. Ready, drumroll: having a d**k.
There’s this belief that men are crude, rudimentary creatures. I used to believe that, too, before I got married. They’re actually insanely complex, or at least my husband is (love you, babes!). They just seem simple if you’re not paying attention. But whereas men tend to be more easily aroused, women require a bit more from sexual partners. (For more on this, see reality, history, all literature, everything.)
But waiting to be ready-to-go is not a good path to sexual happiness. I get that not everyone has a libido perfectly matched with his her partner’s. Flanagan quotes Michele Weiner Davis, author of The Sex-Starved Marriage:
Davis asks, ‘Have you ever noticed that although you might not have been thinking sexual thoughts or feeling particularly sexy, if you push yourself to “get started” when your spouse approaches you, it feels good, and you find yourself getting into it?’ Many of her clients have received this counsel with enthusiasm. ‘I really wasn’t in the mood for sex at all,’ reports one of her advisees after just such a night, ‘but once we got started, it was fun. I really enjoyed it.’
In comments over at Reddit, throwwwwaway29 remarked that she was in a busy time at work and that this was just a temporary problem. Perhaps, although one suspects that the spreadsheet wasn’t developed on a lark but after a period of frustration. But it does speak to how being too busy can keep you from getting busy. I know that feminist discourse is all about the importance of being paid the same for your office job instead of seeking fulfillment in anything domestic, but they forget to tell you that it might mean you and your husband are losing out in the doing-the-nah-nah department. A happy sex life requires cultivation. Having a home that’s a sanctuary from the attacks of the outside world, including overwork, requires effort. Or as Flanagan puts it:
All of this makes me reflect that those repressed and much pitied 1950s wives—their sexless college years! their boorish husbands, who couldn’t locate the clitoris with a flashlight and a copy of Gray’s Anatomy!—were apparently getting a lot more action than many of today’s most liberated and sexually experienced married women. In the old days, of course, there was the wifely duty. A housewife understood that in addition to ironing her husband’s shirts and cooking the Sunday roast, she was—with some regularity—going to have relations with the man of the house. Perhaps, as some feminists would have us believe, these were grimly efficient interludes during which the poor humped-upon wife stared at the ceiling and silently composed the grocery list. Or perhaps not. Maybe, as Davis and her ‘new’ findings suggest, once you get the canoe out in the water, everybody starts happily paddling. The notion that female sexuality was unleashed forty years ago, after lying dormant lo these uncountable millennia, is silly; more recent is the sexual shutdown that apparently takes place in many marriages soon after they have been legalized.
Feminism: ruining erryone’s sex lives one relationship at a time. Just kidding. I think.
Serving each other
Throwwwwaway29 and her husband are missing out by putting their own needs above each other’s. Yes, we are selfishly motivated to have or not have sex. But when we’re not thinking about how to please our spouse, we end up having much less fulfilling sex lives.
You know how most Christian weddings you’ve been to have the same reading from I Corinthians 13? Yes, I find it overused, too. But think about this portion:
4 Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; 5 does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; 6 does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; 7 bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
In some versions, that “thinks no evil” is rendered “it keeps no record of wrongs.” Hard to jibe that one with a Grievance Spreadsheet. But every part of this chapter would be good for the couple to revisit. Love is not about seeking our own, but about serving others. And we find that when we follow this countercultural teaching, our perspective changes from resentment to gratitude.
I hope that the couple can set aside their mutual resentments and turn the relationship in a new direction built on sacrificial love for each other. And no matter what, get that canoe in the water and start paddling happily. Life’s too short to put work—or most other things—ahead of sexual union with your spouse.