The Master Bath: Where Romance Goes to Die

Whose brilliant idea was it to reinvent the bathroom as a steamy and sensual lovers’ retreat? When you’re married, all you really want is some privacy.

You see it in all the glossy shelter magazines—the idealized master suite with its huge bedroom, maybe a sitting area included, connected to a master bath with a toilet, perhaps a bidet, and two separate, same-size sinks, either side by side or back to back. Sometimes the space is big enough to haul in an easy chair and a reading lamp, though I’ve never been certain who’s expected to use them—when or why.

Throughout the wasteful ’80s and ’90s, bathrooms exploded in size. I remember writing about spa baths that were big enough for a massage table or opened into an adjunct spaces containing a StairMaster. The idea was to make the master bath an all-in-one retreat, where a couple could relax and renew body and spirit together.

Shower stalls expanded to include two sets of shower sprays—one overhead, several body sprays, and one handheld for each partner—plus a built-in bench where, presumably, a woman could sit and shave her legs while a man was splashing his way through a vibrating massage shower.

Bathtubs got bigger too, and two was the number that plumbing-product manufacturers were promising: Jacuzzi-style bubble-making in a tub for two. Some of today’s soothing water beauties have music piped in along with built-in, water-shielded TVs, plus the smell of some wonderful blossom or herb as a result of an infusion of aromatherapy.


In talking to couples about their wonderful new bathrooms, I try to learn tactfully if they do actually retreat there together. Some do, particularly when their kids are out or have left the nest. But most say that individual schedules make bathing or even showering together a rarity.

“I think we crossed a line the day I took a s**t while she was in the bathroom brushing her hair.”

One homeowner whispered to me, “Yeah, we used to take baths together all the time and once we actually, well, did it when we were in there. But the truth is, I’ve gotten kicked in the balls so many times while soaking there with my wife that I try to avoid the experience.”

But, of course, the new master bath is so big that one partner could shower while the other is shaving; one could soak while the other is showering; one could be applying makeup while the other is sitting on the, er …


That brings to mind a question I’ve never asked anyone I interviewed. I always wonder about it, and whenever it crosses my mind, I think back on a guy I knew in college whom I met for a drink right after he got married. After a few, he became quite candid about the so-called period of adjustment that tends to bring a couple down to earth—not always gently—after the honeymoon.

This guy was very serious about his marriage and the demands it placed on him and his bride, specifically about the intimate turn each of their lives had taken.

I was bold enough, at one point, to ask if a turning point in their marital relationship occurred when they two of them were able to achieve orgasm simultaneously.

“Nah,” he said, shaking his head, “we did that all the time. First date, even. She’s a great fuck. Me, too, I guess.”

So? “Well,” he said confidentially, lowering his voice, “I think we crossed a line the day I took a shit while she was in the bathroom brushing her hair.”

Then he went on: “But, the truth is, when I’m sittin’ there, doing my business, I kind of like being alone. And you know what? I think she feels the same way too. When she’s in there, I wait till she comes out. For any couple who live together, a little bit of privacy can go a long way.”

Amen to that.

About Mervyn Kaufman

Mervyn Kaufman became an essayist and short-story writer after a long career as a writer and editor in the field of consumer magazine publishing. Merv is the author most recently of The Shamrock Way, the history of Arizona's biggest and most enduring food-service company, and coauthor of the Gary Stevens memoir, The Perfect Ride.


  1. My dad’s master bath has WC!! They all need WCs, or else, why??? oh, and 2 shower heads…that have streams that meet in the middle, with decent PSI.

  2. I like the idea of the toilet being in it’s own little room. I want a big show, a big tub and 2 sinks. But I want the toilet separate.

  3. Oh wow! Very insightful — I guess women think differently…. I always thought of the Master Bath as an extension of the Master Bed, I was REALLY excited that my shower has a seat in it! Silly me!
    (I happened upon this site and really like reading your perspectives!)

  4. Mervyn Kaufman says:

    Tom, your comment brought to mind an anecdote shared with me, years ago, by a colleague whose tales of sexual prowess were always pretty dazzling. He recalled that, while still a Columbia undergraduate, he used to take his girlfriend for an overnight at the Belleclaire, which is a great 19th-century pile on upper Broadway. Today it’s a residential hotel; then, I guess it happily received transients.

    Anyway, Hank described how he and his partner would take off their clothes in the giant bathroom, smear themselves with Jergens’ Lotion, then get into the tall, long, footed bathtub and have sex (I don’t think love had anything to do with it). After regaling me and others repeatedly with this sticky tale, he did finally confess, “I gotta tell ya, fucking is better in bed.”

  5. I believe that there’s a level of intimacy that I will never want with another person and that level of intimacy begins and ends with either of us defecating. I choose to believe, all evidence to the contrary, that no woman I’ve ever spent or will spend “quality time with” has ever pooped. Let me maintain some mystery.

    Furthermore, if you can both get some warm water and safe, solid footing, shower sex is pretty excellent. The weird thing you have about needing to wash “afterwards” is basically done and done. Three cheers for the occasional recreational use of a very expensive bathroom!

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