Last week I opened my local paper and in the Health and Family an article caught my attention: "…sexual marathon helped rebuild their marriage." The article reviewed a couple of books about consecutive nights of sex with their spouse and the positive effect it had on their marital relationship. One of the books is by self professed evangelical Christians from North Carolina, my home state. The wife, Charla Muller gave her husband a gift of sex every night for one year for his fortieth birthday. The title of the book is appropriately 365 Nights A Memoir of Intimacy.
My immediate response to this was bordering on disdain. I have counseled too many couples who have tried to improve and/or save their marriage by having sex in every way and place imaginable. While it probably improved their sex life, I could not think of a single incident where having sex more frequently and creatively saved a marriage. Fortunately the article was well balanced and covered reasonable issues like sexual frequency in marriage is different among couples and individual couples experience of a satisfied sex life is varied. What is good for the goose is not always good for the gander.
Most married couples understand this about sex and have found ways to adjust to a frequency and schedule that works for them. I know my goose has certainly influenced this gander to adjust and, well, learning to do without is a growing experience is it not? Of course, be willing to give when you don't feel like it defines mature self sacrifice. These competing arguments for good will often create some interesting discussions! "Honey, are you sure it is not your turn to be self sacrificing tonight?"
On the thing the article did not mention that is relevant to increased sexual activity and an improved marital relationship is the role of the so called "love" hormone oxytocin. It is released during orgasm in both men and women and is thought to be associated with emotional connection: "This is one of the first looks into the biological basis for human attachment and bonding," said Rebecca Turner, PhD, UCSF adjunct assistant professor of psychiatry and lead author of the study. "Our study indicates that oxytocin may be mediating emotional experiences in close relationships."(Oxytocin: the hormone of love)
Since the late nineties researchers have been trying to understand the role this hormone plays in emotional connection and human attachment and the results have been very interesting. Of course some have been quick to latch on to the thought that we can manufacture emotional connection with a nose spray and you can find web sites selling the concoctions. The scientific results are more complicated and interesting than snorting a quick fix of "a tight connection to my heart" (Bob Dylan song) or having sex as often as you can in hope that something connects.
What is apparent from the research and human experience is that the presence of oxytocin is associated with human attachment. This "tend and befriend" hormone is associated with feelings of pleasure and well being and the more attached and positive your past and current relationships are with significant others the more likely you are to have these positive and pleasurable states from being with them. In other words, the more we have positive and rewarding interactions with our spouse, children or parents the more oxytocin is released in our system. We literally are biologically designed to experience pleasure in taking care of and being close to one another and the more we do it the more we experience it. Sadly, what is also apparent is that those with a history of emotional deprivation have less oxytocin released in their system when interacting with significant persons in their lives suggesting that being with others does not create feelings of pleasure and well being( Monitor on Psychology - The two faces of oxytocin). In other words, they likely do not receive the same comfort and pleasure from intimate relationships.
Our marathon sex couples would not have had such positive results on their relationship from all their sexual encounters if they did not already have a connective relationship. Their increased sexual activity no doubt enhanced their attachment and feeling of well being but it did not cause it. Those that do not have a history of connective and rewarding relationships cannot create connection by having more sex or snorting oxytocin. They have to do it the old fashioned way by risking entering into relationship and experiencing the power of a loving presence. It is what everyone desires and needs so who ever you are with and however disconnected they may feel, trust and believe that you both are seeking the same thing.