In defence of scheduled sex

Following the discovery that 51% of Brits have not had sex in the past month, sex and relationship counselling service Relate – who commissioned the survey – this week said that couples should not shy away from planning sex if that’s what it takes to get them going again.

In conjunction with their latest book and ahead of a full report, which the charity is due to publish next month, Relate suggested that couples who feel their sex life is not all it could be try to incorporate sexy time into their schedules.

The general consensus among the British commentariat and their Twitter followers seems to be that a sex schedule sounds like a passion killer.

Personally I think it sounds hot.

While several critics have made some excellent points, chief among them being the fact that if people prioritised sex more, saw it is a crucial, pleasurable, physically and psychologically beneficial activity in the way they do exercise or eating, they wouldn’t need to schedule it, there seems to be an underlying assumption that scheduling sex is anathema to enhancing your sex life.

Because what could possibly be less sexy than a schedule?

(Quite a lot of things, actually. It is probably safe to assume, for example, that the situation prior to the decision to schedule sex was less sexy. In fact pretty much any situation that leads to you not having as much sex as you’d like or not having the kind of sex you’d like is arguably LESS sexy than an attempt to address or change that.)

For starters, I don’t know where this notion that you only schedule boring things comes from. Or for that matter, the notion that things become boring when you schedule them.

Admittedly a lot of diary notes consist of things like work or medical appointments, reminders to buy groceries and lists of various life admin tasks. But we don’t only schedule the boring or obligatory aspects of our lives. We schedule dates with partners, dinner with friends, Sunday lunch with family, parties, holidays, birthdays, barbecues.

Is sex not as important – or fun! – as those things?

Any other hobby or leisure activity would be built into our day, or week, or month without a thought. A run before work, a yoga class or a game of squash. Nobody thinks it strange if you arrange a set time to have dinner. On the contrary most people would agree that a planned, organised dinner, whether with friends or a partner, is among the more pleasurable ways to eat. The preparation, the anticipation, the cooking process itself (if eating in), the getting ready process (if eating out), the way you have a light lunch in order to retain your appetite for later, the drinks beforehand to relax, the nibbles to whet your appetite. It is generally acknowledged that all this serves to enhance the eating experience.

Why can’t the same principles apply to sex?

For me one of the hottest parts of sex (in fact, maybe the hottest) has always been the build-up. Anticipating sex, thinking about it, talking about it (writing about it!) – these things are a huge part of the experience. So I just don’t understand how the idea of planning, arranging, agreeing upon – indeed, scheduling – can be universally considered “unsexy”?

Ritual is and has always been a part of sex, historically and cross-culturally. This doesn’t and hasn’t always resulted in positive outcomes and it certainly doesn’t work for everyone and in every situation but then there are literally no kinds of sex for which this would be the case. Sexuality is complex and people’s experiences and interactions with it even more so.

However, perhaps because of the perceived negativity surrounding the idea of ritual (it’s a curtailment of freedom, it represses creativity, it is associated with religion and is therefore blasphemous, outdated or simply weird) and the fact that there is a consciousness and deliberateness to it that the British mainstream finds embarrassing, we seem to have shied away from it as a legitimate expression of sexuality.

Despite – or indeed because of – this, ritual forms a large part of BDSM sex all along the spectrum. There are plenty of ritual elements even in the lightest forms of kink and it is a mainstay of erotic fiction from pop trash to acclaimed literature.

Ritual in sex doesn’t have to mean being strapped to a table while hooded monks drip wax on your naked body (although there’s no reason why it shouldn’t, as long as everyone involved is having a good time). It can also mean simply agreeing to have sex at a certain time in a certain place with a certain person or persons. In the same way scheduled sex doesn’t have to mean exactly twelve minutes of penetrative sex after Newsnight on a Wednesday (although again, if that’s what you need to get you off then fantastic). It can also mean simply arranging a date – an evening, a weekend morning or afternoon – where the main activity is not talking or eating or drinking but fucking.

An entire section of your week dedicated to sexual pleasure? If that’s not something to look forward to, I don’t know what is.

Aside: I think it’s worth taking a moment here to acknowledge that not everybody wants to have more sex. Or indeed any sex. There are plenty of kinds of relationships that do not involve sex or involve sex only occasionally or which involve sex in some circumstances and not others. It is a flawed assumption that no sex or low sex = unhealthy relationship. In fact, there are plenty of people who really like sex but are happy to forgo it temporarily or in certain circumstances and there are also plenty of people who have no interest in or desire for sex at all. There are people who are interested in sex but are consensually non-sexual with their partners. And, on the flip side, there are also people who have no interest in it themselves but will partake in it for the benefit of their partner. All of these are perfectly healthy relationships.

As usual what it boils down it is consent and communication. As far as I can tell, any relationship that has successfully communicated and negotiated its emotional and sexual needs, desires, and boundaries to the satisfaction of all parties, is a healthy relationship.

However, since the original Relate advice, as well the subsequent commentaries are addressed to those who are having less sex than they would like or less of the kind of sex that they would like, and are unhappy about this, it makes sense for my intended audience to be the same.

So let’s continue…

There is a sense that only people with dried up, boring sex lives should need to schedule their lovemaking. I find this baffling. The idea that scheduling sex is something people resort to rather than something they would choose to do is incomprehensible to me.

From early on in our relationship Juarez and I have scheduled time for sex. Agreeing to spend Saturday afternoon having sex and then having the whole week to talk about, plan, and get excited about it has never seemed to me anything but a complete turn on. (That’s not to say that we won’t have sex in between. Scheduling sex does not preclude you from having non-scheduled sex, unless that’s part of the fun for you.) For me, anticipation is a crucial element of what turns me on.

Once we took a day off work and there are few times I’ve felt more sexy than I did that morning “commuting” over to his house in my pre-agreed outfit, my head full of visions of what was to come.

Dried up? Please.

In any case, when did spontaneity become the be all and end all of hot sex?

Spontaneity is valued because it denotes, among other things, passion, lack of inhibition and intensity.

But while sex certainly can be passionate, uninhibited and intense, it is not always so. And it doesn’t have to be. Furthermore spontaneity is neither prerequisite for nor a guarantee of these things.

Rhiannon Lucy Coslett writing in the Guardian talks of “the time you did it bare-bottomed in an open cornfield” but she acknowledges this fantasy may be the result of “too many BBC costume dramas”. The truth is, that idea of instantly arousing, mutually satisfying sex doesn’t really exist for most people. While my experiences of impromptu sex (for example outdoors, on a walk, at a party etc) have for the most part felt fun and naughty, I certainly wouldn’t put them up there with my Best Ever Sex occasions.

You may well disagree of course. Maybe for you spur-of-the-moment sex is the hottest kind and you’re sitting there thinking “What the hell is she on about? I regularly have sizzling hot sex at barely a moment’s notice.” If that’s the case, then nice work. Anyone who’s figured out what turns them on and is able to pursue it in a confident, consensual way, gets an *impressed face* from me.

But there will also be a lot of people for whom this is decidedly not the case so to glorify spontaneity as somehow the ultimate form of sexual expression is at best unhelpful and at worst genuinely damaging.

In any case, sexual spontaneity doesn’t have to refer to a lusty, chafing romp in the woods or a breathless, messy grappling on the kitchen floor. It could be a lazy Sunday afternoon in front of the telly in which snuggling turns to sex. It could be that moment when you get into bed with your partner and, having not previously been thinking about having sex, find yourself initiating it or responding positively to your partners initiation. It could be an unexpected half hour when the baby is finally asleep in which you swiftly but gratefully masturbate each other to orgasm. All of these situations could be totally hot and completely satisfying. Or they could be frustrating and boring. It entirely depends on you, your preferences, and your relationship.

But more importantly, none of this provides a sensible argument against scheduled sex.

Everybody’s sexuality finds its limitations in everyday life whether it’s because of work, family commitments, culture, religion, or simply geography. Spontaneous sex is not always practical or possible so whether that’s the kind of sex we prefer or the kind of sex we believe we ought to be having, the fact is it’s not always going to be a reality for us.

So why not give the alternative a try. Come on, pull up your Google calendar and let’s hatch a plan…

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One thought on “In defence of scheduled sex

  1. What a load of dross!

    No, just joking, a really good article Francesca (excuse the beginning I’m just bowing to peer pressure as this is basically how every comment feed seems to start now!).

    I think you make a lot of brilliant points and I actually remember at the beginning of my relationship when my partner and I both worked at the BBC sending her an, admittedly slightly tongue in cheek, calendar invite for sex that evening. But, silly as it was, it definitely felt pretty sexy. It felt less sexy however when I was reminded that our formidable PA to the head of department was copied in on all calendar requests… Eek.

    I do wonder as well if part of the reluctance to embrace (or at least admit to) scheduled sex is not just the issue of spontaneity vs planning but also a slight superstition of quantifying, demystifying and containing the sexual act in any way as it is often described as an expression of a couple’s love. And so by saying, ‘I think we might have a half hour free next Tuesday my darling’ are we in some way owning up to the fact that even the very act of ‘making love’ has now become a functional part of the week.

    I’m not saying I agree with that but I think the key for whether scheduled sex is hot or depressing is not so much the act of scheduling in itself but more the health of your relationship and the security you both feel in your love for one another.

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