The unfortunate thing that tying the knot does to your sex life
Whether you lean in or not, most women want it all when it comes to a man. So when you find him and become his wife, you’ll likely feel like your life (or at least the romantic part) couldn’t be better—until you realize something seems to be missing: your libido.
According to a small study of married women published in The Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy, wives tend to lose sexual interest long before their husbands do. [Tweet this fact!] And about 9 percent of women 18 to 44 report being distressed over their low desire, 2008 research found. Before you worry, hear what experts believe may be messing with the Mrs. mojo and how to keep yours going strong long after the honeymoon is over.
What women want has changed. Holy matrimony isn't what it used to be. The female's perspective of a good, strong union is more complicated than ever—and, in some cases, bordering on unrealistic. Psychotherapist and Mating in Captivity author Esther Perel summed it up best in her incredibly popular TED Talk, “The secret to desire in a long-term relationship”:
“Marriage was an economic institution in which you were given a partnership for life in terms of children, social status, succession, and companionship. But now...we come to one person and are basically asking them to give us what once an entire village used to provide: belonging, identity, continuity, transcendence, mystery, awe, comfort, edge, novelty, familiarity, predictability, and surprise all in one.” Oh, is that all?
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Saying “I do” is a major mood killer. Even if you've found your soul mate, it’s just a fact that that lovin’ feeling will eventually fade. “The brain is the biggest erogenous zone for women, and once you get married, the brain stimulation that you got before isn't there because you're together all the time and there's no mystery left—the mental foreplay that you need is gone,” says clinical psychologist Belisa Vranich, Psy.D., a SHAPE advisory board member. In other words, without excitement, women simply can't get excited.
It doesn't help that men tend to get really comfortable in a relationship before women do, so while you meticulously put yourself together for a dinner date, he doesn’t even change his shirt. “It's important to stay beautiful to each other,” Vranich says. And since guys don't have the same societal pressures to keep grooming and looking good, this disconnect can be a real turn-off.
Security trumps sex. So why do women stick around long after it gets vanilla? “Marriage is based on comfort, predictability, and security,” Vranich explains, “which are fantastic for daily life and cuddling, but unfortunately this kills desire, which needs naughtiness, spontaneity, and teasing.” However because we innately need security more than sex, some women are perfectly happy with a sex-deprived (or even sexless) relationship, she adds.
Men get off easier. As you likely have noticed, desire stems from one head in ladies and the other (down south) in gents. His needs can be met with just a bit of short-lived concentration, but the slightest distraction for you can mean an O is a no-go. “Everything from being upset to thinking about something you forgot to do to your feet being cold can deter you from having an orgasm,” Vranich says. If your partner doesn’t think of climaxing as a his and hers thing, sex often becomes frustrating and much less appealing.
Shacking up might be hotter… Before you trade in your kinky boots for house slippers, get this: In a survey by Match.com and the site’s scientific adviser Helen Fisher, Ph.D., a higher percentage of adults said sex is better in an unmarried relationship with a long-term, live-in partner. “The possibility of breaking up means you both need to stay on top of your game, even just a little bit. You need to do just enough to keep it spontaneous and fun,” says Vranich, who’s found in her own practice and research that people also cheat less when they're not locked down. [Tweet this!]
…or say “I do,” for better and for worse. Even if you're not having toe-curling climaxes every night, you can still have your happily ever after. “Last year, we did a study with 1,000 married people, and I was astonished to learn that 80 percent said they would remarry their current spouse,” says Fisher, a biological anthropologist. Seventy-five percent reported they were still madly in love with their partner—and some had been together for more than 25 years.
To make it last, you need to make sure you're getting hitched for the right reasons and never stop investing in one another. “It's important to see each other as independent interesting human beings whom you actually like and not just love,” Vranich says. A little variety—in and out of bed—never hurts either. “Novelty stimulates the dopamine system in the brain, which triggers the testosterone system and can stir up sexual desire,” Fisher says.