It has been one hell of a long V-day -- several weeks long and counting, in fact. What with all those vagina monologues speaking their collective minds across the country -- and sometimes being rudely gagged with "hoohaa" -- well, it's enough to induce a dry spell. But maybe I'm just part of a disturbing undercurrent of women who studies show would rather get a new wardrobe, have a good dinner or even answer their cellphones than make mad, passionate, mind-expanding luv. (Who knows what other studies are on the way: sex vs. a leisurely toilet scrubbing? A chat with the tax accountant? An especially engrossing PTA meeting?)
But amid all the cheesy surveys and hand-wringing talk shows, there has been a bright spot in the discussion of lackadaisical libidos. Last week's review of the Joan Sewell memoir "I'd Rather Eat Chocolate: Learning to Love My Low Libido" (subscription required to read the full article) by Sandra Tsing Loh hit just the right notes of self-deprecating ennui and tart commentary.
Sewell argues that women's libido is an issue because as a society we've all bought into some generic notion of a "healthy sex life" -- modeled on keeping the male libido well served. "No one is trying to lower men's sex drives," Sewell writes. "I don't hear, 'Doctor, my sex drive is too high. Please, do something about it. I feel guilty and ashamed that I don't want less sex. It's killing my marriage.'"
Sewell considers the perspective that women naturally may have a lower libido than men as a result of their hormones -- a notion that may or may not have merit but that I wouldn't touch with a 10-foot speculum. Indeed, the wages of low libido for a man may be even more excruciating, as evidenced by a confessional from one guilt-wracked husband and Salon writer who took comfort in an American Medical Association study that found 15 percent of men ages 18 to 59 have low sexual desire.
Libido wars aside, it's worth looking at the ways sex has become a weird new kind of orthodoxy -- promoted as the solution to so many ills and even illnesses. I ran headlong into this reverse prudery a few years ago, months after having my first child, when a friend who happened to be a male Ph.D. in psychology was talking about another couple we knew and implied that because they weren't having sex multiple times a week, their relationship was as good as toast. When I told him that was no big deal, he seemed visibly concerned: Did I have sex three times a week? No? Twice a week? Say it isn't so! When I admitted that I wasn't keeping track, his face was filled with pity and something hovering between revolt and horror. This was a man who made his living supposedly helping people with their intimate relationships. Luckily, I knew he was a complete loser when it came to practicing what he preached, but had I been his patient and not his friend, his opinion might have convinced me that only regularly scheduled copulation would save my marriage from an early death.
At the time I was too sleep deprived and annoyed to get into it, but reading Tsing Loh, I suddenly know what I wish I'd said: "Even with all the massage oil and E-Zone handbooks in the world, sex is much too mysteriously volatile an activity for even loving men and women to have to have together, all the time ... Rather than trying to rate oneself on one's ability to hit regular marks on an abstract calendar, members of both sexes could well find this to be true liberation."