Clinical psychologist Dr. Samantha Rodman talks about the pros and cons of scheduling sex
Scheduling sex is a tricky issue. I do recommend this to couples struggling with mismatched libidos (read: almost all of them, after the honeymoon phase), but I myself have never done it in my own marriage, at least not explicitly. Many happy couples with very different sex drives get along fine without scheduling sex, and many unhappy couples schedule sex and remain unhappy. There are many ways to schedule sex, and many couples try one type of scheduling, get frustrated, and conclude that it doesn’t work at all. Here are some of the problems with scheduling sex:
1. It isn’t romantic.
Just because I’m a couples counselor doesn’t mean I’m a Pollyanna. I know scheduling sex, particularly for unhappy couples, is about as romantic as scheduling a root canal. But worse, because root canals are one and done, not every Saturday for the rest of your life.
2. What if you can’t agree on how often to schedule it?
You know what the secret problem with compromises is? Instead of both people ending up happy, neither person ends up happy. This is often the result when a man who wants to have sex three times a week and a woman who wants to have sex basically never compromise on one time a week.
3. Yeah it’s scheduled, but the person who wants it more still has to push for it and the person who doesn’t want it still pretends it’s not on the calendar. Same pursuer/distancer pattern, different arena.
4. The person who’s having sex more than s/he wants to feels increasingly resentful and frustrated.
Women who have tried scheduling sex, in the absence of feeling empathy and love more generally from their partners, can end up feeling like hookers. Additionally, since “love and affection outside of sex” (or whatever they want from their partners) isn’t on the calendar, they feel like the relationship is a one way street.
5. The person with the higher sex drive feels pathetic, like a dog being thrown a bone.
Men commonly say to me, “If she needs to schedule me in like a chore, I can find plenty of women who are happy that their husband wants to have sex with them.” This anger comes from deep sadness and insecurity over feeling completely unwanted and like a burden to their wives.
So, if these are all of the problems with scheduling sex, why do I still recommend it? The answer is that scheduling sex can look very different for different people. Here are the types of couples that tend to thrive with this approach:
1. Practical people with limited time.
Yes, there are differences in these couples’ sex drives, but overall they both still want to be having sex. And they just can’t fit in the time without effort, because they have small kids, or crazy work hours, or anything else. These people often look forward to a set-aside time for sex.
2. People who are collaborative in other aspects of their marriage.
If a couple is overall feeling connected and close, but one partner just always avoid sex due to a lower sex drive, scheduling sex can feel like a team-oriented approach to getting sex back on the radar. If you take a team approach to your marriage, scheduling sex can work for you.
3. Couples where the lower sex drive partner is a Highly Sensitive Person who likes to prepare him or herself for what’s coming.
Scheduling sex can ensure that this lower sex drive partner knows what’s coming and can prepare herself (or himself) and have the best chance of getting into the mood.
4. Couples who schedule things for the lower sex drive partner, too.
For example, if the lower sex drive partner likes date nights, then there is a date night every Friday. Then sex every Saturday seems a lot more palatable.
5. Couples where the higher sex drive partner is appreciative of the scheduling.
When scheduling sex is necessary, most often one person could take or leave sex entirely, for many reasons, including marital dissatisfaction, low hormones, monotgamy, poor body image, sexual side effects from medications, or anything else. If the higher sex drive partner openly acknowledges (via empathy) that it’s tough for the lower sex drive partner to have sex at all, rather than seeming disappointed with the need for scheduling, then scheduling sex goes a lot better.
6. Couples where the lower sex drive is thought of as the issue, rather than the marital dissatisfaction.
For example, when I am nursing, I have a very low sex drive, like many women. There are hormonal and evolutionary reasons for this- for child spacing. Other people have low sex drives due to depression, or low testosterone, or ageing, or anything else. If the low sex drive itself is an issue, that can be seen discretely, then scheduling sex can be seen by the couple as a practical way to address the other partner’s needs. However, if one partner feels that his/her low sex drive is due primarily to unhappiness in the marriage, scheduling sex rarely goes well.
Here are a couple of ways to help make scheduling sex go better for you and your partner.
1. Start viewing one partner’s low sex drive as the issue, separate from the marital issues, or else shelve sex entirely.
If you have someone with a reasonably high sex drive that just isn’t having sex with you because she’s so angry and bitter, then counseling is needed to deal with the deeper problems. However, many people can, with some effort, start seeing the sex drive issues as distinct from the marital issues. There can be two issues: resentment in the marriage, and, separately, low sex drive. Low sex drive can actually be increased through regular sex. Resentment in the marriage can be helped via counseling. If you try couples counseling, and, in parallel, try to increase your frequency of sex, this can work well and you feel like you’re attacking the issues on two fronts simultaneously.
2. Implicitly schedule sex, versus explicitly.
Knowing “Friday is the day for sex even if I’m exhausted/the kids were up all night/I have a headache” doesn’t work for me or for many people. Instead, try something like, “If I wake up before you and the kids on any given weekday, I will initiate sex with you” or “Any naptime that the kids are all asleep at once is game time” or “Weekends are our time.” Making the window wider may actually increase the number of times you have sex because it’s not so much pressure. This only works if the low-sex-drive partner is fully committed to reframing in this way, and doesn’t try to wiggle out of ever having sex.
3. Let the low sex drive partner initiate sex 1-2 times a week on his/her schedule.
This is a schedule-bound variation of my suggestion here to have the low sex drive partner always initiate. This way, there is more spontaneity, and the low sex drive partner can get the ego boost of seeing how happy and surprised her partner will be when she initiates sex, rather than seeing him sulk and complain when she is less than enthused about the weekly date.
4. Schedule more things for the marriage, too.
If you’re going to counseling once a week, having sex once a week, having date night once a week, and having an emotional check-in (30 minute conversation once a week about how you each feel about the relationship) once a week, you will really feel like you’re working hard on the marriage in all possible directions. You will also feel less like, “I’m having sex that I don’t want and what the hell is my partner doing?”
5. Have an open conversation about how sex could be more excited or pleasurable for the low sex drive partner, and actually do what the person says.
If your wife wants you to take out the trash, give her a back rub, and not talk dirty during sex, then do these things. The main problem with this is that the low sex drive partner often is too shy to suggest any of this. So, if you’re the low sex drive partner, write your partner an email titled, “I would like our scheduled sex more if . . .”
6. Start a freebie system.
Freebies go both ways. If you’re the high sex drive partner, say, “Hey, if you’re not feeling it this week, I’ll give you a free pass to not have sex with me.” If you’re the low sex drive partner, add in some extra times over a month. Both people are thereby showing that they are committed to their partner’s happiness, not just to the schedule.
7. If you’re the higher-sex-drive partner, start being more objective.
Even if your wife says she won’t sleep with you because she’s angry with you, it’s also probable that she just has a lower sex drive than you. And if she is openly saying she’s tired, has no sex drive, or has limited desire after kids/when nursing/when pregnant, take her at her word. Her low sex drive doesn’t mean you’re not attractive. If you can emotionally detach more from your partner’s low sex drive, you can be more empathic and loving, which will ironically get you more sex.
Dr. Samantha Rodman is a clinical psychologist in private practice, the founder of DrPsychMom.com, and the author of How to Talk to Your Kids About Your Divorce. She lives in Maryland with her husband, three kids 5 and under, and a dog. This post originally appeared on her website as Scheduling Sex: What Works and What Doesn’t.