A recent study by Carnegie Mellon University revealed that increasing the number of times a couple has sex doesn't help resolve intimacy issues between them or make them happier. We try to gauge what Mumbai’s stressed out couples are doing between the sheets
Kangana Ranaut's latest hit, 'Tanu Weds Manu Returns', is a sequel to the first, where the plot is boy-meets-girl, falls-in-love-and-gets married. The film looks at the couple's married life, four years after they tied the knot, and begins with them telling counsellors that 'the spark' is missing from their relationship. So what exactly is this spark? Is it just increasing the number of times that a couple has sex? A recent study conducted by researchers at the Carnegie Mellon University shows that increasing the frequency of sex actually led to a drop in desire and enjoyment.
Where's the spark?
"Sex in relationships and marriages definitely is a cause of concern too, but it is not due to the frequency that a couple may lose interest," believes Dr Anjali Chhabria, Psychiatrist and Psychotherapist, Mindtemple. She continues that the frequency is decreasing definitely due to the extremely stressful lifestyles, social pressures or harmful habits (smoking, drinking, drugs). Chhabria also reasons that with marriage, a couple is likely to lose interest in sex with the same partner everyday, if the couple chooses to keep it monotonous without any spontaneity or surprise element to the sex act. "It's important to keep the spark alive, especially in married couples, so one does not get bored with each other. Also, if the couple has been having sex too often initially, they may lose interest but again with the same partner," she spells out.
Mind Life Coach and Psychotherapist, Ameeta Sanghavi Shah, believes that stress in life is because of the environmental stressors, such as noise, traffic pollution and weather, all of which drain one's energy. "Till we, as a culture and government, can do something about these stresses, they are here to stay. The other stress is from various pressures and deadlines that one has to meet and juggling many roles we have naturally or have undertaken. The third area of stress is from our own unhealed past that interferes with the present and makes us relate in a more stressed way to something than necessary," she elaborates.
Managing these three stress zones can help to bring in a more relaxed and balanced vibe in one's relationship and thus, in one's sex life. Shah emphasises, "Our environmental stresses require one to learn to de-stress through yoga, meditation and connecting to nature. Even though our city lacks green spaces, it can happen by simply noticing even the one solitary tree or a bird flying in the sky or a cloud. Stress of pressures and deadlines lies in being able to prioritise, say 'no' tactfully and assertively, stay focused and away from distractions."
Shah, like Chhabria, reiterates that communication in a way that not only sets limits on people but also gets you supported to meet deadlines is crucial. "Healing from past issues makes a person more confident and flexible to adapt to the needs of the present person or situation, All the things that help couples get along also help couples in having a better sex life. Like any area, special care and attention can be given to it, to make special time and also to sort out differences, as intimacy needs can be different for each person," she explains.
What women want
"Women need to be sexually satisfied too. Most men and a lot of women don't know this about themselves too. Women often fake orgasms and only believe in satisfying men. This can only lead to an unsatisfied partner and decrease sexual intimacy. Make sure both of you satisfy each other's needs and urges. There is no harm if a woman initiates sex. She needs it as much as a man," Chhabria reminds.
About the study
Carnegie Mellon University researchers asked 64 couples aged between 35 and 65 to take part in an experiment to discover if more sex improved their relationships over three months. One half were told to keep their love lives the same as normal, while the other half were asked to double episodes of intercourse. They were questioned about their happiness levels and how much they had enjoyed sex during the period. The couples instructed to increase sexual frequency did have more sex but over the period their happiness levels fell. The researchers found that couples instructed to have more sex reported lower sexual desire and a decrease in sexual enjoyment
Do's and don'ts in between the sheets
>> Couples can ensure that they take time to get away, even for a few hours or a few days, as suits one's situation, to calmer environments, away from pressures of keeping up performance or image, and just being themselves. It's not so much about having fun as being able to be relaxed, as having fun is also a pressure in the present times. Holidays become a pressure to plan and to meet the target of sight seeing, unless simplified to one's situation.
>> Being well groomed and keeping oneself looking attractive, all add to sustaining one's partner's interest, which it is important not to take for granted. Keeping oneself physically fit and in shape plays its part too.
>> Give your partner the preferred attention and genuine small appreciations are valuable, simple physical gestures of affection and intimacy; even special eye contact, light banter, all can add to creating genuine desire. At the same time, demanding attention and appreciation constantly, can wear one's partner down. Desire gets killed also from forced sexual expectation and demands, instead creating lightness around the issue and communicating in a friendly, non- judgmental way and adjusting to each other's moods and energy levels can sort out blocks. Generally, it is not one thing that can damage a relationship but when many things combine it can be dangerous.
>> Showing consideration can also be a turn-on, such as assisting in chores or sharing in the parenting roles so that one looks after the fatigue of the other, such natural assistance can make a partner naturally desirable. Sex planned according to the consideration for each other's deadlines is different from the forced demand for sex , which may feel more pressurising than enjoyable.
>> Couples can use harmonious communication to communicate expectations, negotiate differences in general and sexual needs, and maintain respect even when giving criticism than threats, put downs or comparisons with each other.
>> Acceptance and understanding of one's partner's imperfections and still seeing them in a positive light is important. Thus retaining positive feelings for each other plays a big role in retaining desirability and attractiveness. These will definitely play up in feeling safe from rejection for a couple to feel at ease sexually. Rude behaviour is a definite put-off.
— Ameeta Sanghavi Shah, life coach & psychotherapist.
Stress and the harmful coping mechanisms of dealing with the stress are the real problems that affect an individual’s sex life.
Do not indulge in excessive smoking or drinking or illegal drugs, as it has adverse effects on one’s libido.
— Dr Anjali Chhabria, psychiatrist and psychotherapist.
Urban bedroom realities
36-year-old-Vishakha Shetty has a hectic job and her husband is a restaurateur. “We get different days off in the week and hardly see each other, usually. Our travels have been more of family outings or weddings of friends. The few times that we do have sex, we are not very experimental. Instead of having more sex maybe trying new things would make it more interesting,” confesses the PR executive.
43-year-old Manish Jain, who has been married for six years, blames tiredness and stress for the lack of a more active sex life. “My wife and I had a lot more sex when we were dating each other because we stole more time away from work. By the time I get back from work, I am too tired to think of anything. Our weekends are mostly spent looking after the chores that we have postponed during the week or by catching up with family and friends. We do take occasional holidays and that’s when we have relaxed sex. I think we should just do that more often,” says the investment banker.
“My marriage was arranged, my husband is a very loving person, but somehow, even though we have sex very often, it is predictable. We don’t really talk about it very much. We haven’t discussed what makes us happy,” confesses, 32-year-old, receptionist, Riya Sengupta.
Disclaimer: Names of people have been changed on request