Four years ago, US pastor Paul Wirth created a stir when he asked married couples to do the deed – wait for it – 30 days in a row, in a bid to tackle the nation’s 50 per cent divorce rate. He reckons a stable relationship needs a spiritual, emotional and sexual connectionThis sounded like a great challenge for my partner, M, and me. We’ve been together for four-and-a-half years. We used to rip each other’s clothes off daily (our record is five times in one day), but it had tapered off. For a while I was mildly depressed, we were having issues and our sex life had dived to once a month – maybe.
Which, considering the way I was feeling, turns out to be pretty normal. According to a study in the Journal of Sex Research, partners having relationship wobbles were also more likely to experience sexual dysfunction. Things finally levelled out at around once a week. And considering that 46 per cent of you told WH in a Women’s Health/Men’s Health sex survey last year that you want sex two or three times a week (myself included), something needed to change.
So would a hot and heavy month make a difference? Sex expert Dr Elna Rudolph says that 30 days of continuous sex would get you addicted to it again.
“Dopamine, the neurotransmitter associated with your brain’s reward centre is released when you have sex,” she says.
So an overdose gets you used to that “Yes, please!” feeling and you land up craving the hormone, and therefore sex, more often.
Michele Weiner Davis, author of The Sex-Starved Wife, has another theory: the more you have sex, the more likely you’ll be to produce testosterone, one of the primary hormones responsible for sexual desire. Time to try it out!
Week one: comedy showMy partner and I had discussed this venture at length – he’d been a bit dubious at first, but after quite a bit of persuasion, he came around to the idea. But once we’d set a date to begin our experiment, he got nervous and tried to back out, resulting in fits of laughter every time we attempted intercourse.
We managed one night before I got sick and couldn’t have sex. So sick, in fact, that I had an emergency appendectomy. Clearly, this was not meant to be. I was put on bed rest for a week, but it was three weeks before the pain had subsided enough to even consider getting naked again. Of course, three weeks without sex resulted in navy-blue balls and my bloke was champing at the bit. Time to do it again.
Week one: attempt twoNow that I knew what M’s reaction would be, I opted not to tell him when we were starting the challenge again. We’d been at it for four days when he suddenly asked, “Hey, this isn’t like you – we’ve started the 30 days again, haven’t we?”
Considering he hasn’t had sex four days in a row since the honeymoon period wore off, I’m surprised it took him so long to figure it out – testosterone was likely clouding his thoughts.
It was quite difficult for me to concentrate on anything besides the big scar on my stomach; in fact, I kept trying to cover it up with my hand, as it seemed so prominent from my vantage point. Even though M had seen my scar dozens of times, my body image had taken a nosedive. If I wasn’t expected to complete the 30 days this is the point at which I would have quit.
In 2011, a study in the Journal of Sex and Research found that negative evaluations of the body and self-consciousness during sex are associated with a tendency to avoid sex. But by avoiding sex, these negative views are perpetuated. Why? If you aren’t having sex, there’s no opportunity for these views to be invalidated; for instance, by your bloke telling you how beautiful you look.
So it was a good thing I had to keep going, and it helped. By week three, I barely noticed the scar. M said he’d never noticed it anyway – he was too busy focusing on other things.DOWN: My body image prevented total enjoyment.
UP: We made it through four days before the threat of “the challenge” got in the way.
Week two: Keeping things interestingSeven days in, we were in a rut. Dr Rudolph says this is common. “Expect to get bored if you plan 30 rounds in missionary with the lights off, just before you fall asleep,” she explains. “You need to do something fun and different every day.”
So we tried alternative areas of the house, including the floor (make sure you have cushions). And I set the alarm 30 minutes earlier to give M a great wake-up, but pressed the snooze button too many times. Pity – Dr Debby Herbenick, author of Because It Feels Good, says: “Having sex in the morning releases the feelgood chemical oxytocin, which makes couples feel loving and bonded all day. Morning sex can also boost your immune system by enhancing levels of IgA, an antibody that protects against infection.” Who needs vitamin C?
Other health benefits of sex, for you and him, are almost as good as the sex itself. One 30-minute roll in the hay burns about 836kJ (not enough to skip your evening run, but it’s a start). Plus, the horizontal hustle can bring about temporary headache relief. And good news for your bloke: according to the Journal of the American Medical Association, the more he ejaculates, the less likely he is to develop prostate cancer. Enough reasons for us!DOWN: We fell into a rut.
UP: We moved things out of the bedroom.
Week three: Rediscovering loveBy this stage, we’d become lazy. So bad that we actually played Rock-Paper-Scissors, to see who would do the work. I lost. “Couples generally lock into a few things they know work and stop experimenting,” explains Dr Ian Kerner, author of 52 Weeks of Amazing Sex, a book of weekly sexy scenarios.
“But the brain is the biggest sex organ and any time you try something new, you’re stimulating the brain’s natural desire for novelty.”
As much as we complained, once we started, we actually enjoyed it. A study in the Journal of Sex Medicine found that, while 15 per cent of women only engaged in sexual activity if they felt sexual desire at the outlet, 31 per cent typically or always accessed desire once they were aroused. I was definitely part of the latter. I can’t say there were fireworks, but rather familiar, intimate lovemaking.
At the end of the week we went out for dinner with friends. They were intrigued by our experiment, but couldn’t understand why we were so over it. As much as we tried to explain how 30 days of sex can be exhausting (not to mention boring), the men didn’t get it. The women, of course, sympathised, rolling their eyes whenever their boyfriends asked if they could try it.
“On the bright side, at least you have three men jealous of you tonight,” I said to M as we left the restaurant, to which I received a heart-warming reply: “I don’t care about that. It’s not about the sex anymore; it’s about being close to you.” Ironically, that turned me on.DOWN: Bored – and tired!
UP: We reconnected on an emotional level.
Week four: The final countdownAfter the laziness of week three, the realisation that our experiment was coming to an end caused us to shift into high gear. We obviously couldn’t carry on with Rock-Paper-Scissors – we needed something fun to get us through the week. So we resolved to try something different every night.
Ever heard of Battleship Bodies? It’s like the old board game Battleship, but instead of ships, you draw your body on a grid and mark off five of your erogenous zones. Your partner then guesses which grids you’ve chosen and, if he hits the spot, he’s allowed to touch that body part. It’s hilarious and breaks the ice for things to come.
This week also included watching porn, something we had done previously. But when I tried to twist and flick my nipples like the woman on screen, I gasped with pain, not pleasure (note to self: you’re not a porn star). Sensual massages were on the list too. I’m lucky that M enjoys working the knots out of my back and neck, but as a means to an end, these massages were so much better.
And that’s not all we did. As I was climbing into my car to go to a friend’s house on the second last day, we realised we hadn’t had sex, so we did it right there, against the car. Seriously hot – and very unexpected. The final night, M was so exhausted, he mistook the ties of my hoodie for my nipples, commenting, “Wow they’re so hard tonight.” The resulting laughter meant we could barely function, but at least we ended the challenge on a happy note.DOWN: We were worried we’d go back to our old ways once the challenge was over.
UP: We experimented with games, porn and massage.
The upshot of the sex challengeSo how else can frequent sex benefit your relationship? Research conducted at the University of Leuven in Belgium indicates that sexual wellbeing is an integral part of life satisfaction. So, essentially, sex makes you happy. What’s more, a study in the Journal of Sexual Medicine found that open communication led to more fulfilling sexual relationships.
Dr Rudolph agrees: “The communication skills a couple acquire in a time like this are priceless,” she says.
But when you’re struggling to share your thoughts with each other, problems can arise. In fact, the WH/MH sex survey revealed that 28 per cent of you feel the biggest mistake your partner makes in bed is not communicating enough; for men, this was a whopping 41 per cent! So how do you get around it?
For starters, Dr Rudolph advises: “Tell each other what you liked about each session; that way, you can carry the benefits of the 30 days into the years to come.”
So we made an effort to communicate. Our previous habit was to arrive home, cook dinner, watch TV, then I’d read in bed and fall asleep, and M would join me later. Being forced to spend time with each other was a relationship changer. We found time to talk – really talk – about work, family, life and, most importantly, us. We both feel like we did a few months into our relationship; perhaps not as carefree, but certainly happy.
As the final day drew to a close, we lay cuddling. “I’m really going to miss this,” said M, “but instead, can we skip sex until we’re actually horny?” I agreed, thinking we’d be taking at least a week off from the bedroom antics. Needless to say, two days later, we were ready to go again. Sometimes, all a relationship needs is a little mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.