Bed Death: Coming To A Relationship Near You?
The Debrief: What happens you're loved up, but your sex life has all but disappeared?
Ahhh, new relationships: that frenzied rush of lustful, near-constant sex and total inability to keep your hands off each other. It’s a distant memory when, several years later, you find yourself living together, peeing with the bathroom door open, and spending your evenings sat on the sofa in your pants, watching box sets, rather than shagging like there’s no tomorrow.
But what’s it like when sex goes out the window altogether, and how much sex is actually ‘normal’ in a long-term relationship?
‘Bed death’ is the horrifyingly named phenomenon of being in a ‘sexless relationship’ and was originally coined as ‘lesbian bed death’ in the 1980s, following research into the number of lesbian couples having sex less than once a week (think Piper and Alex towards the end of OITNB season three).
Obviously, though, it’s not exclusive to lesbian couples. We spoke to two loved-up but low-sexed women, and two sexperts, to find out what it’s like when your relationship enters the ‘dead bedroom’ stage.
Emma*, 29, has been with husband Jason* for four years, and they married ten months ago. ‘For the first month we were together, we had sex daily, and after that it dropped back to a few times a week,’ she says. ‘Once work picked up for him, and the stress increased, it dropped down to about once a month, although there was a period where we didn’t have sex for seven months,’ she adds.
Likewise, 25-year-old Jody* and her girlfriend Isabel*, 24, started out having sex ‘whenever and wherever we could’, but now get it on about once a month. They've been together six years, and Jody says, ‘We're really happy and well suited; our relationship feels like it will be “right” forever.’
Much like Emma and Jason, she says their sex life ‘petered out a bit over time, as we got more used to each other and started living together’. For them, it's been ‘a natural progression’, and Jody’s pleased they’ve found ‘a pattern and a routine that works for us’.
She says, ‘Our relationship has evolved as it’s gone on and we have become much closer. We have sex on a less regular basis now, but we’re still intimate regularly – showering together, kissing all the time, and always very touchy feely, which feels completely right and natural for us.’
Plus, she adds, ‘When we do have sex, it’s still as phenomenal as it was at the start – it will last for hours, involve multiple orgasms, and be really amazing, so we do still have great chemistry.’
For Emma, though, the situation’s been a bit trickier: ‘I love sex and could have it daily or every other day. I like experimenting and trying new things, so the lack of sex is definitely frustrating.’ The stress of Jason’s job is a big factor in their relationship. ‘He has a very high-powered job and is basically on call 24/7,’ she explains.
‘We’re getting to a place where we’re trying to understand what the other needs – like that first thing in the morning is the best time for him to feel relaxed enough to have sex. It’s a process, but I think as long as we both keep communicating, I feel good about the future of our sex life,’ she adds.
Despite how both women feel now, the lack of sex has caused friction in both their relationships. ‘The change was initially difficult for me to understand,’ says Jody. ‘It was led by Isabel, so I felt for a little while like I was being rejected, and wondered if this was a sign she wasn’t interested in me sexually and we were just becoming friends again.’
For Emma and Jason, ‘It has had a very negative affect on our relationship. We fight sometimes for no reason. Often I won’t even want to be around him, particularly if I am really craving sex. I feel needy, and I know I’m crowding him and pressuring him for any physical attention, which doesn’t help things at all.’
She adds, ‘It’s difficult to feel secure about the way you look to someone when they’re not interested in sleeping with you, and it’s hard to compromise on something that feels so fundamental to a relationship. But we’re opening up the dialogue, and I continue to try and be patient.’
For Rachel Hills, author of The Sex Myth, part of the problem with ‘bed death’ is the term itself. ‘Bed death implies the relationship has suffered a sexual death, which obviously few people want, and it seems to produce anxiety over sexual frequency more than anything,’ she says.
‘Sex is seen as a measure of how well your relationship is doing, and of how attractive you are, so a decline in sexual desire is seen as a harbinger of the death of the relationship.’
However, she adds, ‘It’s unrealistic to expect everyone to be able to maintain the same sexual interest years into a relationship. It’s very typical to have less sex when you’re a couple of years into the relationship than you did in the first few months.’
Another problem is around the definition of a ‘sexless relationship’, Rachel says, ‘Obviously a relationship without sexual intimacy would be undesirable for most people, but having sex once a week or once a month is not “sexless” – it’s just having less sex!’
If you are concerned, though, Krystal Woodbridge, a psychosexual therapist, and trustee of the College of Sexual and Relationship Therapists (COSRT), says, ‘Communication is huge, because lots of couples don’t talk about sex when they’re not having it. You need to get away from blame and resentment, relax into physical touch that isn’t sexual, and find ways to prioritise and make time for each other.’
‘It might be that you feel like you “should” be having lots of sex all the time, and obviously that’s not the case, so it’s about determining what’s normal for you and what you’re happy with.’
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Picture: Rory DCS
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