Do couples really need to have 'maintenance sex'?


Typically, we only have to wait for the sun to circle the earth around 132 times before enough time has been deemed to pass between stories offering concerned advice about the importance of ‘maintenance sex’. In Australia, our very own Bettina Arndt has built a career telling women all the ways they’re letting the side down in the bedroom, starting with them being cold fish and ending with confusing analogies about men trying to paddle canoes up dry creek beds.

The latest source of idiocy comes from Melissa Gorga, a woman made famous by the ‘Real Housewives’ franchise and therefore about as qualified to give marital advice as a piece of lint you might find stuck to a Mintie inside an old jacket you never wear anymore. Gorga’s new book, Love Italian Style: The Secrets of My Hot and Happy Marriage was released recently, offering such pearls of wisdom as, “The way I see it, if a wife is a puttana, her husband will never feel the urge to go outside the marriage to actual whores, or strip clubs.” Got it ladies? If you don’t want your husband to fraternise with ‘actual whores’, you have to act like one yourself. By demeaning other women around you, comparing yourself to them and treating them like enemies, you can guarantee that Your Man will stay loyal! He’s like a big ole puppy in that respect.

Gorga goes on to discuss the importance of ‘maintenance sex’, saying “There's real passionate sex and maintenance sex. You need them both for a healthy marriage. Maintenance sex keeps the wheels greased, the lines of communication open, and the fights to a minimum.”

Sadly, this isn’t the most offensive part of Gorga’s book. She and her husband (who was kind enough to share some of his own ludicrous insights in Love Italian Style) have come under fire for blurring the lines between the already distasteful notion of maintenance sex and outright sexual assault. In Joe Gorga’s own words, “Men, I know you think your woman isn't the type who wants to be taken. But trust me, she is. Every girl wants to get her hair pulled once in a while. If your wife says "no," turn her around, and rip her clothes off. She wants to be dominated.”


Oh, okay then.

Whenever one of these stories appear, it whips the reading populace into a frenzy. On the one side are those naturally outraged by the suggestion that it falls to women to maintain harmony in the bedroom. It’s a harmony that appears contingent not on efforts being made by both parties to seduce and entice, but on women to recognise the apparently incontrovertible fact that men need sex in a way that their female partners don’t and that keeping it from them is tantamount to you taking your marriage certificate, fashioning it into a sick bag and then using it to visually demonstrate exactly what it is you think of your husband’s virility by asking him to pull his pants down and then vomiting as soon as his penis emerges. What rarely occurs in this repetitive dialogue is a discussion over why women might not be inspired to service the needs of their male partners, not least of which might be due to the fact it’s treated like a necessary ‘service’ in the first place.

On the other, there are people who willingly accept the notion of maintenance sex as a routine part of married life. Men are more visual, women more emotional. Women punish men by withdrawing physical affection, men are forced to look elsewhere to satisfy their needs. If only women would see the benefits of putting their own needs aside and prioritising those of men, they might be able to achieve the marital happiness that seems to elude them while they contribute more unpaid work to the house and more sacrifices for their families. Or, as Joe Gorga says, “Women don’t realise how easy it is to make men happy. Just give us what we want.”

Certainly, there’s more than a hint of rape apology in the subtext of Joe Gorga’s advice - but then, couples navigate their own territories and most often negotiate their own boundaries. It is perhaps less offensive that the Gorgas find such a model of marriage to be attractive than is their view that other people would do well to learn from it.

Because this is where maintenance sex advice articles and discussions always fall down. Most people have had sex with their partners when they haven’t really felt like it. They may have later ‘gotten into it’ as it were, or simply seen it as a banal chore that needed to be done - but I’d wager there are very few relationships where such sex hasn’t occurred at least once. Amazingly, it might even sometimes be the prerogative of men to have sex when they don’t really feel like it!

It’s the assumption that people don’t know these things, that they aren’t already navigating the terrain of compromise and intimacy in their own relationships, that really grates. We don’t need people like Bettina Arndt and Melissa Gorga of all people to instruct us on how to improve our relationships via unwanted sex. We know these things already, and we make decisions according to our judgment at the time. The only thing anyone needs to maintain when it comes to sex is their own self respect. And the only thing that looks like is doing things because you want to, not because someone else tells you you should.