Sex on tap is supposed to be one of the great benefits of being in a relationship, but sometimes it can be more of a pain than a pleasure. When you have to get up early, then spend the day juggling your job, friends and family, making love can end up feeling like a rushed, must-do chore to squeeze in between removing your make-up and ironing your work shirt. Add to that the nagging worry that you’re not doing it often or long enough, and it’s hardly surprising couples’ sex lives can tail off. Increasingly, experts are suggesting a new solution – rather than trying harder, how about not trying at all?
A sex ban to improve your love life may seem like a contradiction, but radical problems require radical solutions. ‘We’ve become obsessed with performance, so sex just becomes about bumping together genitals,’ says leading sex therapist Andrew G Marshall, author of I Love You But I’m Not In Love With You (Bloomsbury). ‘Also, couples are often tired, so they get stuck in a trap where they either have full intercourse or nothing. If we’re too exhausted to perform, we end up not having sex. And when we do, we rush through it.’
Marshall advises taking penetration out of the picture for an entire month, and he’s not the only expert who’s on the sex-ban wagon. Why is it such a popular approach? Well, it’s basic human nature that when we can’t have something, it becomes a hundred times more desirable. I’ll never forget the compensatory smooching sessions with an ex when bouts of cystitis took sex off the agenda. Although not a voluntary break, it worked wonders at re-igniting our passion. We were both suddenly desperate for the very thing we knew we couldn’t have. For those of you secretly relieved at the idea of a sex-free month, such a ban immediately frees you from feelings of guilt and pressure – not exactly great libido boosters. ‘By adopting a ban, couples are putting boundaries in place and these remove all the pressure. This is particularly helpful for those complaining of low desire,’ says counsellor Mo Kurimbokus.
But it isn’t about going without physical intimacy – a sex break is about approaching it all differently. ‘There’s nothing wrong with doing other stuff,’ says Marshall. ‘The idea is to break patterns in order to discover new things.’ Instead of lazy late-night coupling, a sex ban forces you to discover fresh ways to find pleasure. ‘We no longer see foreplay
just as a build-up to sex; we start to remember that it’s enjoyable in its own right. It allows us to find new ways to enjoy our bodies – from kneading to gentle slapping. It’s all about using your imagination, which is the best sexual tool of the lot,’ explains Marshall. ‘You’ll be giving yourself more choices than the usual bump and grind.’
It was during such a self-imposed ban of sex that Cara, 25, discovered the joys of gentle bondage. ‘My relationship with Rob was going through a rocky patch and we weren’t sure whether we still wanted to be together,’ she says. ‘We thought that if we took sex out of the picture, we’d be able to see things more clearly. One night we started playing with a silk scarf I’d been bought as a present. I never realised it had so many uses! It was draped over my clitoris, wrapped around his penis and then, finally, around my wrists. We played for hours and it was delicious.’ Marshall approves: ‘It’s all about playing and being creative. Sex can be too grown up for your own good.’
Just getting back to basics may be helpful. ‘A sex break forces us to learn the skill of touch,’ says Kurimbokus. Remember the explosive effect of those hot and heavy teenage kisses? Be prepared to experience the ‘less is more’ effect once again. ‘If you spent half an hour having your ear nibbled, you’d probably be more turned on than if you were having sex swinging from the chandeliers,’ says Marshall.
BORN AGAIN VIRGINS
Sometimes, just a massage can do the trick. By the time Rebecca, 29, and James, 26, were put on a sex break by their counsellor, their sex life was almost non-existent. ‘Like most couples, we couldn’t get enough of each other in the beginning. But then we moved in together and all our energy went into making a home. By the time we’d finished decorating, our love life was over, too. The counsellor gave us sex homework. The first week we were only allowed to give each other sensual massages, which meant everywhere but the genitals. We took it seriously and religiously. For the second week’s homework, we were allowed to touch each other everywhere but still not have sex. We lasted two days. Within half an hour of the second session, we were at it like rabbits. Things have been fine ever since!’
Both Marshall and Kurimbokus stress that a sex break is just as advantageous to men. ‘Even if a man is impotent, it gives him a chance to be sexual without the pressure of penetration,’ says Marshall. ‘And while quickies are a release for men, ultimately they’re not satisfying for them either.’ Kurimbokus has seen men becoming more sensual. ‘Before, all the emphasis was on full intercourse, which might have been one of the things putting his partner off, but as he becomes more in touch with his emotions and learns the importance of touch, the woman feels more relaxed about intercourse,’ he says. Taking a sex break can also unite you as a couple.
‘You start working as a team to find a way around the ban,’ adds Marshall. ‘You feel special towards each other and this helps recapture the feelings of the early days in the relationship.’ By refraining from sex, you are also building up that sense of anticipation you felt in the beginning. You can fantasise about sex with him all over again.
A sex break can boost your own self-esteem, too. Emily Dubberley, author of Things a Woman Should Know About Seduction, asked her man for a ‘bedroom pause’ quite early on in the relationship, when she felt the sex was overshadowing getting to know each other. ‘It gave me confidence in the relationship when he agreed to it and showed me how much he really liked me. l realised he liked everything about me and didn’t just see me as a sexual partner.’
lf all these reasons have got you gagging for a sex break, remember that it has to be mutual. ‘I’m not in favour of unilateral withdrawal – it might result in bitterness rather than you sharing a sexual journey,’ says Marshall. Agreement to a sex break is essential and stops resentment building up. ‘It becomes a decision that you’re making together rather than a situation where you’re repeating "I’m not in the mood,”’ says Dubberley.
Of course, you could go all the way and have a complete ban. Fascinating fact: under Orthodox Jewish law, a woman may not have sex with her husband (or even touch him) during her period, and for a full seven days after. This, so the thinking goes, means that husband and wife won’t tire of each other. The author of Kosher Sex (Main Street Books), Shmuley Boteach, says we should all be doing it. ‘Allow your sexual steam to build up. Let yourself become an obsessed sexual being who thinks about your spouse constantly and wishes to release all that pent-up sexual desire with him or her.’
Whether it’s a total ban or a month of glorious foreplay when the time comes to vanquish your born-again virginity, Dubberley advises making it an occasion.
‘Go on a date first, and then soak in a bath together and try to hold out for as long as you can resist. Finally, look into each other’s eyes at the point of orgasm, see each other without your masks and share that special moment.’ So, while the thought of a sex ban might have some of us gasping in horror and the rest of us sighing with relief, once the ban is over, it looks like we’ll all be gasping and sighing from sexual pleasure instead.