Sex, satisfaction and cuddling. For a lot of middle-aged couples around the world, familiarity seems to be breeding the exact opposite of contempt.
A new survey from the Kinsey Institute — the same outfit that first reported in the 1940s that young adults were having actual sex, occasionally with the lights on — has come out with a new report on couples in the U.S., Japan, Germany and Brazil who have been together a long, long time. As in an average of 25 years, which is presumably enough time to eliminate most surprises and settle any debates about the thermostat.
Most media reports have focused on one particular finding — that men enjoy caressing and kissing. Stop the presses, shut down the Internet, and call in backup! We’ve got cuddlers out there! But as a long-married person myself, I’m more impressed with the big picture.
The survey found that a whole lot of entrenched couples actually seem to like each other. More than 80% of the men and women said they were happy with their relationship, and well over 60% of both genders said they were satisfied with their sex lives.
On average, the couples reported having sex about six times in the previous four weeks. (Yes, I read through the whole study and combed through the tables to get to the really interesting stats.) In the questionnaire, sex was defined as “mutually voluntary activity that involves genital contact or stimulation,” so they weren’t necessarily having intercourse that often.
At least one man in the survey said he’d had sex 81 times in the last four weeks, which works out to almost three encounters each and every day. And at least one woman claimed to have had sex exactly 80 times in the previous four weeks. Perhaps they know each other, and one of them simply miscounted. Regardless, it’s obvious that some couples really have a lot of time on their hands — and they try to make the most of it.
All of the hubbub about cuddling overlooks some of the more interesting trends in the study. For men and women, sex seems to get better over the years, or at least more fulfilling. The average woman who has been with her partner for 40 years is more than twice as likely as the average woman in a new relationship to say she is sexually satisfied. Sex improves for men, too, although not quite so dramatically.
Also, there’s something going on in Japan, where men and women were far more likely than their American counterparts to be happy with their sex lives. It’s worth noting, however, that a government survey from 2008 reported that more than one-third of Japanese married couples had stopped having sex entirely. Perhaps, in some cases, married people are completely satisfied without any sex at all.
Middle-aged romance has been something of an uncharted territory. There have been a lot of studies of relationships gone bad, but the new Kinsey report is one of the few attempts to see how long-term couples are really getting along.
I have been married for nearly 18 years. I didn’t get a questionnaire in the mail, but I can report this: We’re still together. And cuddling is only a small part of the story.