If you’ve ever thought about having sex, but went to bed instead because you were exhausted from taking care of your children, you are not alone. A study was recently published in the science journal Archives of Sexual Behavior where they came to this conclusion: “American adults had sex about nine fewer times per year in the early 2010s compared to the late 1990s.”
Well, the “declines in sexual frequency were similar across gender, race, region, educational level, and work status and were largest among those in their 50s, those with school-age children, and those who did not watch pornography.”
The two largest contributing factors to the decline in sex were not being in a relationship and helicopter parenting.
Yes, helicopter parenting.
Scheduling our children’s playdates, making sure they arrive and leave safely, spending Saturday mornings as the team parent at soccer practice, only to zip on down to gymnastics practice in the afternoon, and making sure we never let them out of our line of sight at any moment ever, all of it being managed by mom and dad, seems to have really zapped our libidos.
No surprise there.
If this frustrates you, I totally understand. I’m bothered by it too. Last year, I published an essay in the Washington Post about all the things my children might be missing out on because unsupervised play is frowned upon. I grew up in a rural part of Utah and had to travel a good mile to get to my nearest neighbors with kids. But by the time I was 9, I was allowed to do that on my own. In fact, learning how to ride a bike was a rite of passage. It felt like my parents were saying, “You can now travel without me, so go on and do it. Be home before the street lights come on.”
But that isn’t the case with my children. We don’t let them wander alone. Mel and I arrange everything for them. We have a system: Our kids ask to play with a friend, we call the friend’s parents, and a playdate is arranged. When I was a child, there was no such thing as a playdate. It was more of a “wander the streets until you find someone to play with” sort of thing.
But what I didn’t realize is that while I was out looking for adventure, my parents were getting busy. Or at least that’s how it seems after reading this study. But the more I think about it, perhaps they weren’t getting busy right then and there as I wandered the neighborhood looking for friends. Perhaps they were simply focusing on their own needs, and the needs of their relationship, rather than focusing every living second on entertaining their children, so that when nighttime came around they had the stamina to get busy.
Part of the problem isn’t time, necessarily. Honestly, in the grand scheme of things, sex doesn’t take that long. The quickie was invented for a reason.
The problem is actually having the energy to put into the action of having sex. Samantha Lutz, a psychologist told CNN this about the “parenting effect” on sex: “A lot of parents feel like they’ve already done about 50 things they didn’t want to do that day, like getting up at dawn, and dealing with their child’s tantrums. Adding sex to the menu just seems like too much. So we turn to things like Netflix to unwind, which leads to immediate gratification with zero energy expended.”
Try to tell me you haven’t been there…
I know my wife and I have. It’s basically Netflix without the chill.
Ultimately, what this new study concluded is that parents in 2017 are getting screwed, and not in the way we’d like. But I think it also means, in the broader sense, that we are simply not indulging in any sort of self-care. We are in a time when everything is about the kids, and it’s clearly having an impact on our other important relationships. A decline in sex is simply an indicator of that. It signifies an imbalance. We expend all our focus on our children, leaving little for our partners.
So what can we do about it? That is an answer I’m not sure I can give. In a time when parents can get reported to the police for allowing their children to play unsupervised in their own backyard, helicopter parenting has gone from a parenting style choice to one of social obligation. So obviously our commitment to micromanaging our children’s lives is no longer an option. I doubt that our schedules, or the pressure, are going to lighten up any time soon.
Some advice that I often see on list of ways to make sex a priority in marriage is to make your marriage a priority. We might just have to take our hands off the parenting wheel wherever possible. We might have to find ways to cut back, so that we can find time for each other. It might mean getting a sitter, or it might mean not getting our children involved in so many extracurricular activities (so we parents have time for our own “activities”). It might even mean scheduling your relationship, sex and all, as carefully as you schedule your children’s lives. Whatever works!
But to be honest, I don’t know the answer. I’m with you, and feel like I’m between a rock and a hard place when it comes to being a good parent in 2017, while also maintaining a healthy relationship, sex life, and everything that comes with it. But what I do know is that making your marriage a priority doesn’t make your children less important. It means you realize the importance of your relationship in relation to your children and their overall well-being. A healthy relationship really is the backbone of a strong family, and it’s pretty difficult to have a happy and healthy relationship without giving it the time and dedication it needs to flourish.
So I’m going to show this study to my wife. I’m going to discuss it with her, and let her know that we are not alone in our struggles to manage our relationship and parenting. We are going to look at more than just sex. We are going to look at our time together as a whole. And then I’m going to discuss ways we can pull back as parents, so that we can strengthen our marriage. Parents of 2017, you might want to do the same.