Obesely Speaking

The brain and obesity

4 Essential Marital Bed Death Questions

Exploring why couples stop having sex.
Susan Pease Gadoua
This post is a response to Can Couples Be Sexless and Happy? by Susan Pease Gadoua, L.C.S.W.

I have casually observed three stages in marital sex. They are: any place, appointment, and hallway.  In the any place phase, you have sex all over the house at anytime. This is the shortest of the phases, which usually lasts for one year, tops. Then comes the bedroom phase, where you only have sex in the bedroom and only by appointment.  This phase lasts several years. Then comes the hallway phase, which lasts for the duration.  During this phase, sex consists of passing by each other in the hallway and saying, “screw you.”  

This final phase would be “marital bed death”, or when couples stop having sex with each other.  According to the people who study this, there are an estimated 20 million Americans living in sexless marriages. In addition, this is not peculiar to the U.S. It is happening all over the world. Curiously, the United States and Australia are the world leaders in the sexless marriage, which puts an entirely new spin on “Put another shrimp on the barbie mate” and “Yes we can!” Following are some vital questions for those whom it may concern. 

Question 1: Why did we stop having sex?

Most people say they stop having sex because of spousal weight gain, physical, psychological or emotional handicaps, children, work, porn, stress, unemployment, depression, power struggles, menopause, infidelity, erectile dysfunction, vaginal dryness. Although some people blame Obama, Gay Marriage, Affordable Health Care, Women’s Rights, and the Muslims.  

Claiming there is something wrong with a sexless relationship, or the people involved in them is nearly as absurd as blaming marital bed death on Obama. Some say sexless marriages have deeper issues. Deeper issues, and compromise, are the other words for marriage. The people who believe that a sexless relationship is definitely broken and require immediate fixing are usually those who must overlap intimacy, eroticism and biologic reproductive function to achieve ultimate satisfaction.  

Normally, this is what humans do.  However, normal does not mean something is correct, appropriate, vital, mandatory or good, it just means something is common and occurs frequently, e.g. a cold. One only achieves greatness by being uncommon—just saying. Still, humans, like lemmings, are disinclined to not follow the crowd.

For overweight compulsive overeaters, and people handicapped by illness or accident, this answer might be painful and seemingly hard to face, but truthfully, you face it constantly. Therefore, do not be afraid. 

Question 2: Does a sexless marriage mean something is broken?

Again, that depends. If a sexless relationship makes you or your spouse unhappy, then yes something is broken. If not, then it is not broken. You and the person you are in a relationship with are the only people who should be involved in defining the terms of your engagements.   

Question 3: Is it fixable?

Billi, the cheerleader, wants to say yes, everything is fixable, but Billi the scientist knows that is not true. For example, if you are a married heterosexual couple and one of you decides he or she is gay. And some debilitating diseases and extreme psychological and emotional impairments are not fixable. However, most thing are fixable, and those that are not, you can usually adapt to. Again, only you can decide this. This is as it should be because only you and your spouse can fix it. 

Accurately determining what is fixable and not fixable depends on how accurately you identify the reason(s) it is broken. Obviously, reasons addressable by pills are more readily fixable.  Couples counseling can resolve other issues, sexual surrogates, and swinger’s clubs can rectify many problems. There is a place for everything, including sex workers, strippers and Internet porn. It is contextual and depends on you, and your spouse. The key is not being afraid to fix what needs to be fixed. If you need a fly swatter buy a fly swatter. If you need a jackhammer, rent one.  

Question 4: Do I want to fix it?

Again, this answer depends on you. For compulsive overeaters, whom I presume to be a large part of this blog’s audience, if weight is the issue this answer is tricky. No, you do not want to remove excess weight for your spouse. Remove it for you. Thinking you need to lose weight for a man or woman is the type of subjacent self-worth that causes emotional eating. You might as well tattoo welcome on your chest and lie at the door of the bedroom.  

Also, humans place too much importance on having sex. Biology and sociology drives this tendency in humans. The scientific fact is if you are not trying to mate, which most of us are not, having sex is not essential. If you can achieve the satisfaction that you receive from sex in other ways then why is there a problem? It is a problem because Cosmo, Oprah, Dr. Phil or some “self-help book” tells you otherwise. Are these people putting any clothes on your back, food on your table, or sleeping in your bed? I hope that you have answered no to those questions. Thus, neither they, nor I, know what your needs are or what is right for you. You are a human not a lemming, remember that. 

Overly prioritizing sex also occurs because of the rich dopamine rewards in the Ventral Tegmental Area (VTA) of the striatum, which is a part of the brain’s reward system that releases dopamine when it receives signals from other parts of the brain and body that you are fulfilling basic human needs, such as breeding, bonding and feeding. However, the VTA is a subcortical structure, and thinking does not occur in the subcortices of the old mammal brain. 

Hence, the signal processing is basic and based on the biologic presumption that when you use your reproductive organs in a reproductive fashion that you are procreating, subsequently causing dopamine release in the VTA. What the VTA cannot process is that you are using birth control, having gay sex or sleeping with a blow up doll. This is why we overlap biologic reproductive function, intimacy, and eroticism, i.e. to trick the VTA into releasing dopamine on a false presumption. 

The take home message is simple. Sex is not that sacred or inextricably tethered to intimacy and eroticism, unless we tell ourselves it is. I suspect marital bed death is rising because humans are evolving and developing spiritually. More evolved minds and developed spirits would naturally be disinclined and less dependent on overlapping biologic reproductive function, intimacy and eroticism to achieve ultimate satisfaction. In essence, that would define higher human evolutionary status: residing in the trade winds of the present, opposed to the doldrums of evolutionary reproductive biology. Remain fabulous and phenomenal.  

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Billi Gordon, Ph.D., is  Co-Investigator in the  Ingestive Behaviors & Obesity Program, Center for the Neurobiology of Stress, David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.

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