"Role strain", and how it affects your sex life


Bella Ellwood-Clayton


Photo: Getty images

I'd always thought that what heterosexual women wanted in a relationship was related to their age. Doesn't it go something like this: prior to their 20s, women want a bad boy; during their 20s, women want a bad boy; in their 30s, they want a good father for their children; and in their 40s and beyond, they want a good friend?

Hypothesising aside, what do Sunday Life readers want? Survey results reveal that 70 per cent are in relationships and half are married.

So, you like company. No surprise there. A relationship provides us with someone to talk to, regularly, about all things great and small. And communication is definitely something women want. Being in a relationship also means that we no longer have to go out on Friday nights in shoes that hurt and try to meet someone, which, as we know, can be thoroughly soul-destroying. That said, being untethered and experimenting in the world as a single agent is increasingly desirable to women.

Stats wise, a whole lot of you are having a whole lot of sex: with 23 per cent having sex a few times a week or more (only 1 per cent every day); 17 per cent having sex once a week; and 16 per cent every couple of weeks. These figures are markedly higher than other studies, nationally and otherwise. However, 19 per cent are only having sex monthly or every few months, and 24 per cent have sex never or rarely.


Our survey showed that most women in a relationship felt they were getting enough sex, although half of women aged less than 34 years wanted more. Hear that, gentleman? If you could so oblige ...

As for those in relationships, 45 per cent felt the amount of sex was sometimes a source of conflict. Desire discrepancy, where one partner has greater interest than the other, is more common than not, and often resides at the heart of relationship discord.

It doesn't help that popular culture – and often the medical world – stuffs the idea down our throats that relationships require frequent sex in order to be "healthy". The truth is, there is a wide range of normal, and my own research has found that the importance of sex, its intensity and a woman's desire all ebb and flow throughout her life course, and that there is more to a relationship than its copulation count.

Although women are having their fair share of sex, the survey revealed there were other things they enjoyed more. Like being asleep. Yep. Women's favourite things were rated in this order: sleep (36 per cent), a book (31 per cent), sex (20 per cent) and chocolate (12 per cent). Two questions come to mind: why are we so tired and what are women reading?!

I do know why we're so tired. It's called "role strain": the stress experienced by an individual when incompatible behaviour, expectations or obligations are associated with a single social role. For instance, simultaneously trying to be a good worker, good partner, good lover, good mum, good friend and good cook, and have a house and body that look – you guessed it – good.

Anyway, who says we can't combine our favourite things? A good book, chocolate, sex, followed by sleep? Or better yet, a splurge of activities, starting with our partner tidying the house, an eBay purchase, followed by a massage and then extended foreplay?

The survey found 70 per cent of readers would prefer a "date night" to a girls' night. It is important to make time for romance. After all, date nights are a chance for us to escape the house and wear something pretty. And that's something most of us do want.