The Soho Sex Column: Can you have a good relationship with no sex?
This week, our resident sexpert Olivia Petter tackles the big issue: how often are couples actually having sex?
Friday 17 June 2022 By Olivia Petter
How often do you guys… colour?
This is not the last time I will be quoting from Sex And The City in this column – frankly, I’m surprised it’s taken this long. For those who may not recognise the reference, may I direct you to a scene from the 2008 film in which Miranda Hobbes asks her coupled-up friends how often they’re having sex – ‘colouring’ is the child-friendly metaphor of choice given the presence of Charlotte York’s three-year-old, Lily.
Unsurprisingly, the sexual siren of the group, Samantha Jones, is colouring very regularly (‘I would use every crayon in my box’). Charlotte and her husband, Harry ‘make love two or three times a week’. Carrie Bradshaw, the most prudish sex columnist on the planet, refuses to answer. Miranda, however, reveals that she is going through a ‘no colouring phase’. Hence the question and her anxiety about how her friends – and their crayons – compare.
For whatever reason, how often you and your partner have sex is viewed as a measure of the success of your relationship. Multiple times a week is healthy, anything less raises eyebrows. Of course, in Miranda’s case, it’s for good reason, as we later discover that her husband, Steve Brady, has cheated on her. But going through a dry spell doesn’t always mean there’s something rotten in Denmark. In fact, I’d like to posit the idea that it rarely does.
Let’s be honest, with any couple, once you’re out of the ‘obsessive shagathon, god I fancy you so much phase’, sex falls lower down on your list of priorities. It’s nothing to do with the success of your relationship. It’s just that, at some point, you remember you have lives outside of each other’s bedsheets.
This is very normal. The problem, though, is that we attach so much meaning to the frequency of sex in a relationship that when a dry spell inevitably comes around, it can feel like a physical and emotional failure. And the worst part is that you almost always blame yourself: what did I do wrong? Is it my body? Am I bad in bed? The truth is almost always something much simpler.
With exes, there were several stretches of time when I didn’t feel like having sex, and they had nothing to do with my partner. Often, it was down to either a professional or personal crisis, of which there were many last year. The most visceral was grief. It always is. After losing someone very suddenly, a part of my brain and body shut down. Naturally, sex was the last thing on my mind. And it remained so for months.
There were other, milder triggers, too. Like the sporadic spells of insecurity, I – and most women I know – have with their body. The social anxiety that reached new heights during lockdown 3.789. And many more that I won’t get into now.
My point is that none of this is unusual. Because no matter how healthy your relationship is, life just gets in the way. And sometimes that means pressing pause on intimacy. If you’re in that situation now, my advice is not to put too much pressure on yourself or your partner. Try to think about where it’s coming from: is someone overworked? Stressed about family issues? Anxious about their health?
Most of the time, this is an opportunity to get closer to your partner on a deeper, non-physical level. But if it isn’t, and you find yourself feeling sexually unsatisfied and in the wrong relationship, that’s OK too. Just do something about it; life is too short.
The quick-fire round
What are your thoughts on rebound sex?
Avoid. You will wind up trapped in a cycle of self-loathing, questioning yourself and all of your life choices. No shag is worth that.
When is it the right time to rev up your sex life after a break-up?
Working this one out for myself; I’ll let you know.
Got a question for Olivia? Please email firstname.lastname@example.org. All submissions will remain anonymous.
Olivia Petter is the relationships writer at The Independent and author of Millennial Love, which is out now in paperback with 4th Estate