When Sex is Just an Activity

The sex-starved marriage

Almost everything around us – movies, magazines, books, even our friends and relatives-approach sex as something you ‘do’. In other words, sex is seen primarily as an activity.

Most people never question this attitude and can naturally assume that if it is something that you ‘do’, you should ‘do’ it well. Prowess and performance can creep into our expectation of sex and make us self-conscious rather than other conscious.

If sex is merely something we ‘do’, it can be reduced to an action we do to someone or have done to us. At some point, both men and women are likely to feel used and guilty. This attitude that ‘sex is just an activity’ is responsible for most of the loneliness and isolation in marriage. For example:

  • Couples become ‘performance orientated’ when we tend to focus on technique and positions. This develops a self-conscious or self-centred disposition. It can result in pressure to perform or experiment sexually, preoccupation with how we look and a loss of confidence. More significantly, it works against an other-centred orientation which is the essence of genuine love.
  • They can see sex as recreation. Because we think of sex as something fun to do, we can treat it as just a form of recreation. People tend to put off recreation until the serious responsibilities of life are taken care of; so sex can be relegated to the bottom of the ‘To Do’ list, after everything else is done. Seeing other activities as more serious or compelling will result in a lowering of the priority of sex in our relationship. We will also put conditions on being sexual: we have to be ‘in the mood’, it must be during leisure time, and everything has to be amicable between us.
  • Objectification of men and women. As sex is just an activity, a recreational activity for our pleasure, our spouse can easily be reduced to the ‘thing’ that gives us that pleasure. And if he or she does not satisfy us sexually, we feel justified in finding someone, or something, else that will.

The Pleasure Principle

All animals, human beings included, are designed to avoid pain and seek pleasure. Clearly, sex is one of the most pleasurable activities in which humans engage. But pleasure is not the purpose of sex. The purpose of sex is life-giving union; it bonds spouses to each other and it creates life. This not to say that the pleasure of sex is bad or to be avoided. Far from it! Sex is intended to pleasurable to encourage us to engage in it, often!

Consider this analogy. Eating is generally a pleasurable experience. The aromas, presentation of the food, the tastes, the atmosphere, the company all combine to create a delightful and pleasurable experience. But it would be incorrect to say that the purpose of eating is pleasure. The purpose of eating is nutrition. The purpose of eating with others is relationship. Both of these aspects give us pleasure and that’s a good thing, but it is not true to say that pleasure is the purpose.

Similarly, the same applies to sex. Pleasure is a by-product, but not the core purpose of it.

The Sex-Starved Marriage

In combination, these attitudes result in sex becoming less frequent, more impersonal and soulless.

It also gives rise to the phenomenon of ‘sexless’ marriages – marriages when sex is so infrequent that it is virtually non-existent.

A sexless marriage is defined as one in which spouses have sex less than 10 times a year. And even in our sexually liberated society, there is a surprising number of sexless marriages – a whopping 15-20% according to some sources.

We’re not fans of setting standards of expected frequency and we’re well aware that there can be very legitimate reasons why couples may not be having sex, even for significant periods, including for example age, health, work-related absence. But all too often, sex becomes the casualty of over-stressed couples locked in a ‘sex for recreation’ mindset. After all, if you’re busy and stressed, who has time for recreation?

Why should this concern us? Is it really any of our business what couples do, or don’t do, in the bedroom? Actually it is our business. Sexual intimacy is one of the key indicators of marital satisfaction, so sexless marriages are more vulnerable to breakdown than sexually vitalised ones. And every divorce is a tragedy – not just for the spouses, but also for their children and the community.

Every Marriage Matters, and that means that what happens in the bedroom is definitely a concern for the community.

Put the sizzle in your marriage


Francine & Byron Pirola

Francine & Byron Pirola are the founders and principal authors of the SmartLoving series. They are passionate about living Catholic marriage to the full and helping couples reach their marital potential. They have been married since 1988 and have five children. Their articles may be reproduced for non commercial purposes with appropriate acknowledgement and back links. For Media Enquiries Please Contact us here

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