Money, Sex, and Romance: What Is the New Normal?

When it comes to relationships, we all wonder if we are having a “normal” amount of sex, if our idea of a “happy” family life is the same as our friends and neighbors, and whether our marital disagreements harbingers of doom or are just par for the course. In part we are voyeuristic and want to know what others do behind closed doors, but mostly we’re just insecure.

This curious unease with personal life isn’t new: In the movie Kinsey, a big-screen drama about the eponymous king of sex surveys, dozens of students line up outside the professor’s office in 1940s with a variety of questions. “Is my vagina abnormally shaped?” “Is my penis smaller than most?” “Is it unusual for my partner to . . .”–to which Alfred Kinsey, played by Liam Neeson, answers:

All excellent questions. And they all have the same answer: I don’t know. From the sexual standpoint it’s hard to say what’s common or rare because we know so little about what people actually do, which leaves most of us feeling anxious and guilty. Am I interested in the right things? Do I do things the normal way? One of the ways to find out what people do is to find out what they have done, so please, take the time to fill out these sex questionnaires. Try to be as accurate and honest as you possibly can. This will only work if you tell the truth.

Kinsey published in the 1940s and 1950s. The 1960s brought us Masters and Johnson’s reports and the 1970s introduced us to the female side of things in the Hite Report. Since then, each decade has brought a new large-scale survey, mostly of which focus on sex practices but not relationships. Finally, we’ve got a large-scale online survey that tells us what couples are inside and outside the bedroom—from communication and political disagreements to romance and relationships with the in-laws.

In The Normal Bar: The Surprising Secrets of Happy Couples and What They Reveal About Creating A New Normal in Your Relationship, wellness entrepreneur Chrisanna Northrup and sociologists Pepper Schwartz, PhD, and James Witte, PhD, present results from an international online survey of more than 100,000 respondents to tell us what respondents report as “normal” in their relationships. Some findings are obvious (happy couples don’t nag or diminish each other, unhappy couples often have sex less frequently) but other findings might raise eyebrows.

  • Money doesn’t buy happiness: 72 percent of respondents rated their relationship on the happier level of the offered scale with almost no correlation to financial income.
  • There IS a magic number for sexual frequency: Happy couples report having sex three to four times a week. But only 40 percent of couples surveyed said they are having sex that often.
  • Men want more romance: 44.1 percent of men and 28.7 percent of women say it bothers them “a lot” that their partners aren’t more romantic.
  • Politics doesn’t matter, but communication does: Two thirds of couples surveyed disagree on political issues, but only 9 percent say it causes a big strain in their household. But among men in unhappy relationships, it’s not more sex they are after . . . it’s more communication.

In addition to presenting statistics in readable text and with creative graphics and graphs, Northrup, Schwatz, and Witte offer tools to boost create a new and positive normal in your relationship. While the self-helpy parts of the book overstress the simplicity of relationship change–daily behavior modification of even the smallest things is very hard for most of us–talking points on how to increase communication and suggestions to build intimacy will benefit all couples.

Professionally, I love this book because it gives me a slew of new statistics to share with my students. Personally, it’s a great segue to talk those thorny issues marriage—sex, chores, in-laws, and beyond. As I read and took notes, my husband couldn’t stop reading over my shoulder.

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