It’s NOT the lack of sex that kills so many marriages says BEL MOONEY

It’s NOT the lack of sex that kills so many marriages says BEL MOONEY

It’s NOT the lack of sex that kills so many marriages says BEL MOONEY whose postbag overflows with sad letters from women missing something far more precious

  • Bel Mooney claims TV dramas about sex obsessed middle aged women are false
  • She struggled to suspend her disbelief watching Bodyguard and Wanderlust
  • She says in reality the wife would most likely be in bed reading the latest thriller 
  • She generalises that men want sex but women want affection 
  • Bel argues mutual love is more important than sexual performance or frequency

Our screens are awash with middle-aged sex. And after watching first Keeley Hawes then Toni Collette in the panting throes of sexual ecstasy — in TV dramas Bodyguard and Wanderlust — I’m rather regretting my sheltered life.

At 42 and 45 respectively, these hugely talented actresses play women so desperately hot to trot that they embark on wildly passionate affairs with no thought of the consequences. Which part, at least, is true to life.

People in the throes of passion will always take risks. Yet I remained unconvinced. Do older women really want to rip their clothes off at the clink of a handcuff? Is the average middle-aged woman really obsessed by sex, sex, sex? Sorry, I don’t buy it.

It’s no surprise that Bodyguard and Wanderlust are both written by men. For there’s no doubt men and women have a very different ‘take’ on the importance of sex.

For example, last year the brilliant Irish writer Bernard MacLaverty published Midwinter Break, a much-praised and very moving novel about a retired couple taking a weekend in Amsterdam. They are very different characters; their marriage is troubled; they suffer all the aches and pains of age — along with its melancholy.

Bel Mooney argues new TV Dramas such as Bodyguard and Wanderlust (pictured) aren’t representative of most middle-aged women 

Yet the novelist asks us to believe they have sex two or three times in one weekend. It simply doesn’t ring true — neither emotionally nor physically. I couldn’t suspend my disbelief. Even the finest writing can’t make up for masculine wishful thinking.

In Wanderlust it is Collette’s character who attempts to gee up marital sex. But there’s something innately unconvincing about the male fantasy that wifey will sidle up in transparent baby-doll pyjamas and beg to ‘resuscitate our flat-lining sex life’.

Oh, come on! In real life she’d be more likely to bed down with the latest thriller and a mug of camomile tea.

The trouble with our society’s obsession with sexual performance is that it makes people feel bad about their own lives. That they are somehow missing out. Someone out there is always at it — so the fact that we are content to snuggle up and snore means our marriage is in trouble.

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Sex experts, therapists and advice columnists keep telling us sex is essential in a healthy, long relationship. But is it really?

Millions of older couples treasure their friendship, shared jokes, companionship and are no longer particularly bothered about sex.

Why make them feel there’s something wrong with them?

Of course Wanderlust seems to be posing the perfectly serious question of whether desire can be sustained within a long, monogamous relationship.

It suggests that the act of love will inevitably become tedious when you’ve been together for years. The premise seems to be that it’s natural for both men and women to want more. We shall have to see how this drama about wandering eyes and bodies pans out. But this obsession with sex makes me worried. In my experience it usually ends in tears.

Bel says her thirteen years of writing an advice column have led her to the conclusion that women want affection. She says she has never received a letter from a woman asking for advice on being desperate for sex 

Thirteen years of writing an advice column have led me to the (unsurprising) generalisation that men want sex but women want affection.

I am certainly not saying that older women never want sex. Of course not. But in all these years I have only ever had one letter from a woman in her 50s desperate for sex — and hurt and angry that her husband was not.

Compare that with the countless problem letters I receive from women who are sad and lonely because their husbands never talk to them or show affection. There’s no comparison between the two needs.

But why am I just talking about older ladies? Someone in her late 30s told me that when she gets together with her mates — all of them married with children — the amused consensus is that they are just too darned tired.

All that sex stuff, they say, is great when you’re young and in love, but once the kids are in bed it becomes a, whisper it, chore.

Which woman wouldn’t rather pour a glass of white wine and fancy a young Brad Pitt (again) in Thelma And Louise? Or catch up on Bodyguard, perhaps pressing pause to admire Richard Madden’s fine bottom?

Men and women alike can admire beauty and sexiness in the opposite sex without wishing to do something about it. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

It’s when there is a serious imbalance of desire within a long-term relationship the trouble can start. Some men — though not as many as you’d think — do write to me that their wives have lost interest in sex.

Some are angry, some just wistful for physical affection. I have made all the obvious suggestions — like gifts of flowers, tender words and cups of tea. In other words, woo your wife and she may reciprocate.

Sometimes my male readers become cross (which I also understand) and say all that stuff does no good, my wife is disinterested, cold. ‘But,’ they insist, ’I still love her.’

Bel says real love is more important than sexual performance or frequency and is what sustains a relationship through painful experiences

When the poet Byron wrote, ‘Man’s love is of man’s life a thing apart/’Tis woman’s whole existence’ he was referring to the deepest emotions. I suspect there’s truth in his famous dictum, if we turned it around: ‘Sex is for woman a thing apart/But ’tis man’s whole existence.’

Men are popularly held to think about sex every seven seconds — 8,000 times a day! You might be surprised to learn there is no research to back that claim.

But the trouble with these myths is that if a man doesn’t think about sex once during the day — no, not even when his beloved wife steps out of the shower — he’ll worry that there’s something wrong with him.

Oh, it’s all too much! Can’t we give our libidos — real or imaginary — a rest? Can’t the makers of TV dramas spare us all that pumping-back action? Can’t we stop listening to sexologists who need us to worship the Great God Sex to keep them in work, playing on our anxiety?

Yes, sex is huge fun and sexual passion has provided inspiration for great painting, sculpture and literature. But when men and women — especially the older among us — really love each other, that precious mutuality is far more important than sexual performance or frequency.

It is what sustains a relationship through the most painful experiences — like the sickness or death of a child. It’s why a husband doesn’t notice his wife’s wrinkles or if he does (because she points them out with a sigh) he’ll tell her that he loves them.

It’s why a woman is blind to her partner’s paunch while she laughs at his jokes. Why a man will spoon soup into the mouth of his dying partner of 29 years and mourn her long afterwards.

It’s not sex which turns you into a ‘companionable couple’ (to use Dickens’s lovely phrase) who will take care of each other in sickness and in health. No.

The all-important L-word is not Lust but Love.

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