Making Time and Space for Sex

Making Time and Space for Sex

When Ed and Sarah fell in love during college, they couldn’t keep their hands off each other. They would leave parties early and often couldn’t wait until they got home, driving down a dark street and jumping into the back seat of Ed’s Chevy instead.

Sex not only was frequent; it was fantastic. To no one’s surprise, their passionate affair led to marriage. Sarah gave birth to their first daughter soon after graduation. Ed landed a good job in management for a manufacturing company and two more daughters followed.

Even with these changes, their sex life remained good. They started a tradition called “romance night.” At least once every two weeks, the kids would be treated to the movies or an overnight visit with a friend. Ed and Sarah would go out to dinner, or, if they were in the mood, they’d stay home, light candles, take a luxurious bath and adjourn to the bedroom.

They then decided to go into business together and bought the neighborhood bar just down the street. That changed everything. As entrepreneurs, they were both working, sometimes as many as 80 hours a week. With the long hours, the late nights and parenting responsibilities, their sex life dissipated.

There just wasn’t enough time. “Romance night” slipped away.

A Lifestyle Challenge

Their story is a familiar one. As a marital and sexual therapist in Santa Clara, CA, William F. Fitzgerald, PhD, sees the repercussions of this lifestyle every day at his practice in Silicon Valley — a hotbed of go-go business activity. He said his region is full of the same type of challenges that people are experiencing around the country. “The pressure is tremendous, and time is at an absolute premium,” said Fitzgerald.

He said work, sleep and sex generally rank high when people are asked to prioritize their days. But, in reality, “Many people only pay lip service to sex and their relationships,” he said. “Sex gets relegated to late at night when couples are tired. So they have a quickie and go to sleep — or they just go to sleep. Eventually, they get a gnawing sense that their sexuality is missing.”

One factor that has made the problem worse has been the increase in two-worker families. With both marriage partners climbing career ladders, it comes as no surprise that there’s a time crunch. Chores and responsibilities don’t vanish just because no one’s home all day.

“We all have 24 hours a day, ” said Nancy Edwards, MSW, a sex therapist in Raleigh, NC. “We get to choose how we’ll spend it.”

Unfortunately, this simple fact can lead to over-planning. Alan Brauer, MD, a Palo Alto, CA, psychologist, noticed many years ago that people “schedule virtually everything in their lives down to the last detail. We plan when we get up in the morning, who we have lunch with and what we eat for dinner. There’s no time for spontaneity in our lives, with the exception of sex. We expect sex to be magical, spontaneous and automatic.”

When sex is magical, spontaneous and automatic, it’s fantastic. Like Ed and Sarah, new couples almost always find time for sex. But once the rapture stage ends, they may settle into predictable patterns and acquire new responsibilities, such as work and children.

“Invariably, sex gets pushed down to the bottom because of time practicalities,” Brauer said.

Identifying The Priorities

It doesn’t have to happen this way. But for couples to reconnect with their sexuality, both partners have to commit time and effort. In their book Hot Monogamy, Dr. Patricia Love and Jo Robinson note that “sensual lovemaking requires generous amounts of time. For many of us, this means we have to make sex a higher priority in our lives.”

First, couples need to commit to making changes. Therapists say couples must communicate effectively and make an effort to find time for sexual play and ongoing acts of affection. First, look for ways to be affectionate throughout the week. Here are some tips:

• Find chances to offer kind words, hugs and love pecks. Find a time for regular nonsexual embracing and holding. A few minutes several times a week can bring a deeper level of emotional bonding.

• Make yourself take a break from your problems, work pressures, deadlines. It’s easy to put your partner — and sex — off when the daily challenges of life occupy so much of your brain power. When you ease the pressure of work from your mind, it’s free to turn to other thoughts, including sex.

• Don’t assume that you know exactly what your partner likes sexually. Perhaps he or she would enjoy experimenting with mutual masturbation, oral sex or other activities you may never have tried.

• Understand the difference between times of nonsexual physical contact and sexual contact — between cuddling and seduction. Your partner may want to be held closely and treated tenderly and enjoy that in itself without feeling required to have sex.

Sex By Request

Brauer advocates a program to help couples assure that they set aside time for sex. He’s written about it in his book: ESO: Extended Sexual Orgasm — The New Promise of Pleasure for Couples in Love that he wrote with his wife, and he introduces it to couples who come to his Total Care Medical Center for counseling. He calls the exercise “sex by request.”

Couples determine how often they would like sexual interaction. “For one partner, it might be once a month while for the other it might be once a day,” Brauer said. If that’s the case, they compromise on the frequency and agree to have sex if one of them asks. The person who requests proposes a specific time with an alternative. “It’s like asking for a date for sex,” Brauer said.

The partner responding needs to give a definite answer or propose an alternative. Each partner may need to get out their calendar to make sure they don’t have any conflicts. If the date can’t happen at any of the proposed times, the couple should talk about it in advance, even if that means setting up an alternative time to talk about the alternative time.

“The emphasis is on communication,” Brauer said. “Lack of communication blocks good sex. “

In Hot Monogamy, Dr. Love quotes Susan Delaney-Mech, a psychiatrist and sex therapist in Plano, TX, who tells her clients to write down their sex appointments in ink. “People tend to erase appointments that are made in pencil, but they keep the ones written in ink,” Delaney-Mech said.

Conditions For Romance

Now that the time is established, there’s no excuse for not being ready. Brauer said it’s important to set up the proper ambiance for sex. He called it “conditions for romance” — flowers, dinner, wine, nice lighting, soothing music. In Brauer’s protocol, each person alternates the responsibility for arranging the specific environment for lovemaking.

Attention to hygiene is important as well. Poor hygiene is a “reason for not wanting to have spontaneous sex,” Brauer said. A woman might not want to brush up to a man who needs a shave, or maybe her feet have an odor from wearing tight shoes all day. Brauer instructs his clients to make sure they are clean. Couples can even make it part of their foreplay by taking a shower or bath together.

When couples make the decision to make a priority of their sex lives, they often reconnect in other areas as well. That’s what happened with Ed and Sarah. After their kids were grown, they followed the advice of their sex therapist and started making time for themselves again. They rediscovered “romance night.” It’s every Wednesday evening. Don’t even bother to call. They take the phone off the hook.

Scroll to Top