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They have sex about three times a week, which might strike many as enviable, considering that John and Jane—who are in their 40s—have been together for nearly two decades. Based on s alone, one might wonder why they need couples counseling at all. But only one of them is happy with the state of play. Or frequency.
Or different. Jane has bought lingerie and booked hotel stays. She has suggested more radical-seeming potential fixes, too, like opening up the marriage. But her sexual struggles in a long-term relationship, orgasms and frequency of sex notwithstanding, make her something else again: normal.
And that disparity tends not to even out over time. In general, men can manage wanting what they already have, while women struggle with it.
Marta Meana of the University of Nevada at Las Vegas spelled it out simply in an interview with me at the annual Society for Sex Therapy and Research conference in Somehow I, along with nearly everyone else I knew, was stuck on the idea that women are in it for the cuddles as much as the orgasms, and—besides—actually require emotional connection and familiarity to thrive sexually, whereas men chafe against the strictures of monogamy. But when the researchers controlled for that variable, it turned out to have no impact.
Read: Multiple lovers, without jealousy. Many women want monogamy. The psychiatrist and sexual-health practitioner Elisabeth Gordon told me that in her clinical experience, as in the data, women disproportionately present with lower sexual desire than their male partners of a year or more, and in the longer term as well. What does it all mean for Jane and the other straight women who feel stultified by long-term exclusivity, in spite of having been taught that they were deed for it and are naturally inclined toward it?
What are we to make of the possibility that women, far from anxious guardians of monogamy, might on the whole be more like its victims? But refracted through data and anecdotal evidence, Jane seems less exceptional and more an Everywoman, and female sexual boredom could almost pass for the new beige.
Read: Why are young people having so little sex? Women cannot be pigeonholed; the glory of human sexuality is its variation and flexibility. So when we speak of desire in the future, we should acknowledge that the fairer sex thirsts for the frisson of an encounter with someone or something new as much as, if not more, than men do—and that they could benefit from a gray-zone hall pass, too.
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