One of the great burdens which our romantic culture
has imposed upon long-term relationships
is the idea that love and sexual fulfillment, must always,
if things are working as they should, fit neatly together.
This beautiful and hugely convenient idea
raises a passionate hope that over many years.
Two people will not only like and help one another,
manage their domestic finances reasonably well,
perhaps raise a family, have enjoyable holidays,
understand one another ’ s problems,
schedule cleaning rotas,
put up with each other’s failings,
see each others ’ parents and friends,
and pursue their careers in harmony,
but they will also be devoted and exciting sexual partners,
endlessly entwining and recombining,
sometimes being gentle and slow,
at others, brutal and urgent,
travelling together on a shared, lifelong erotic adventure.
It’s this sublime idea that begins to torment us
when, as is the case in almost every relationship,
sex starts with time to get at once
less intense and less frequent,
more cautious and more frustrating,
more at odds with daily life
and eventually definitively more daunting as a prospect
than reading a book,
watching the news together
or simply going to sleep.
This can appear nothing short of a catastrophe,
a sign of monstrous failing and very often a prelude to a break-up.
And yet the problem is not ours alone.
It is simply that almost everything that can make love go well
seems primed not to make sex go well and vice versa.
We are afflicted by a fundamental misalignment
in the qualities of character and spirit
required by good sex on the one hand
and successful love on the other.
A relationship cannot survive in the long term
without tenderness, soberness,
practical intelligence and selective resignation.
We have carefully to fathom another’s motives,
explain our moods, overcome hurts and sulks
and assume a mantle of predictability.
Sex on the other hand, in its most dramatic, thrilling versions,
demands that we be heedless, decadent,
perhaps cruel or untenably submissive.
It can involve the crudest language
and moments of sublime degradation.
In having to suffer from feelings of inadequacy around
what happens in long-term love,
we are the victims of major cultural failure,
the failure of our surrounding culture to continually stress
a realistic picture of an unavoidable tension
between two crucial yet incompatible themes of existence.
In a wiser world, we would collectively admit
that the very rare cases where love and sex did run together
were astonishing exceptions
with no relevance whatsoever to most of our lives.
We would instead learn to pay admiring attention to those
who had accepted with a reasonable show of dignity and grace.
that the natural price of long-term togetherness
is a decline in the quality and frequency of sexual contact.
And that this is, in a great many cases,
a price very much worth paying.
Our Sex book explores how sex truely operates.
and that far from thinking about sex too much,
we haven’t begun to think about it nearly enough.