Our lives beyond the bonkathon
Might many couples benefit from self-enforced intimacy? Yes, says Annie Brown. "Just make the time. Focus on each other, if only for one night a week."
'I can't believe we did the whole thing. We had little kids, too – our days were just exhausting. Annie and I were both shattered. How did we do it?" says Douglas Brown. Do it they did, though: every day, for 101 days. Charla and Brad Muller, though, did better: they managed the full 365. Can you imagine?
Sex, every day, for a whole year. Even when you're knackered. Even when you are barely speaking to each other. Even when there are lots – and I mean lots – of things you would rather be doing.
Shortly after their respective, self-imposed marathon sex ordeals – perhaps inevitably – two books appeared. One was called Just Do It: How One Couple Turned Off the TV and Turned On their Sex Lives for 101 Days (No Excuses!) and the other 365 Nights: A Memoir of Intimacy.
But all that was five years ago. So how are things going now? What effect have these two barely imaginable bonkathons had on the couples' relationships? Are they all still at it?
In short, the answer is yes. "Not once a day," says Annie quickly, down the line from Denver, Colorado. "I'm 45 now – the menopause is starting to rear its ugly head. In terms of life cycles, I'm definitely on the other side of my sexual peak. We try for once or twice a week but we have a really small house and the kids don't have bedtimes any more. There are weeks we don't manage it.
"But you know what? If we hadn't done 101 days, I don't think we'd understand the importance of sex in our relationship. That's the real thing.
"When you're in the tunnel of child rearing and career building, that whole side of things just tends to get put on the back burner. People really don't understand that sex is the glue that keeps you together. The physical in a relationship is the foundation it's built on."
Doug, a journalist on The Denver Post, agrees.
"We did still have a sex life," he says. "We communicated pretty well. But life just got in the way. Work, money, kids. It's easy to lose that time for each other in a relationship."
The couple set off on their 100 consecutive days of sex – it turned into 101 but that's another story – after Doug covered a sex conference for his paper, at which he discovered the existence of a support group for men in relationships who have not had sex for at least that length of time. It was Annie's idea to reverse that. But Doug says the experiment is still paying dividends.
"If couples get along well, at a certain point they can become just pals. Then the sex thing becomes kind of weird. But if you force yourself to do it, you realise how special sex is, how unique," he says. "And if that leaks away in a couple, it's really sad."
Self-enforced intimacy, Doug says, created "a familiarity between us – but in a good way. A kind of mutual comfort. Each knows what the other likes. And it's led to it not feeling strange or shaming for us to suggest things. There's just a physical ease there, a naturalness. That's stayed with us. It's great now when we both know it's going to happen. It kind of feels like coming home. And it has really taken away the pressure."
That's a bonus, especially for a man, says Doug. "Before, there was always that pressure to perform . . . But when we did the 101 days, all that just kind of melted away. You realise you can't be on stage every day," he says.
Charla, who works in marketing, says that Brad, a salesman, feels pretty much the same way. (As, mind, does she.) "You're no longer in it to win it every time," she says, on the phone from Charlotte, North Carolina. "Doing what we did for a year removes all the embarrassment and awkwardness from the whole thing. It truly was a transforming year for us in every respect."
Five years on, the biggest lesson from this couple's 365-day marathon – the project was Charla's gift to her husband for his 40th birthday – is that if "intimacy every day may not be a long-term sustainable model, neither is no intimacy at all".
The point, says Charla, is that: "We all tend to have this picture that sex has to be spontaneous and romantic. But when you have kids and laundry and work and all the rest, the reality is that there's just not much in your life that happens spontaneously.
"You have to plan for it, schedule it, consciously make a time and a place for it to happen. We thought having to pay all that attention to it would somehow distract from it, make it mundane. But it didn't.
"The other thing that year made me realise was that men don't need it more than women. Men might want it for different reasons. But I learned that I wanted it too."
The fact is, Charla says: "Everything just gets better when sex is a vital part of your relationship. He's happier, you're happier, the whole house is happier. A daily kindness enters your relationship, a level of attentiveness for each other. It's almost like you're dating again . . . That's a real discovery."
So, um, how often do they manage it these days? "Not every day," she says, primly. "But enough to keep a smile on both our faces."
Doug thinks many couples might profit from a bit of enforced coupling.
"It's just so easy not to make that time for each other," he says.
"And even easier now. Five years ago, there were laptops; now there are tablets and smartphones, too. We have a conscious agreement that it is not acceptable to lie in bed and tap on a screen."
Annie's advice? Just make the time. Focus on each other, if only for one night a week."
A good massage, Doug says, can do the trick just as well these days.
"Mind you," he says, a shade wistfully, "when we were doing the 101 days, there was a whole bunch of times when we did it outdoors. We haven't done that since. I kind of miss that."
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Making it count
HAVING sex every day is only a good idea if both partners are keen to do it, says a Sydney clinical psychologist and sex therapist, Serena Cauchi. "It's all about compromise and whether your partner's willing and if you have the time and energy," she says.
While many people have sex very often at the start of their relationship, research suggests that most straight people have sex less than twice a week, Cauchi says.
She warns not every couple can achieve daily sex. If there is an imbalance in sex drive, it is important people don't put pressure on themselves or their partner, she says.
"Sometimes you'll do it because your partner wants to," she says. "But it often causes conflict because there are other things in your life."
"It's better to have good-quality sex than to have it every day, probably."