Maintenance might sound more like something you have to do to a car or a property, but the term itself has been increasingly talked about in relation to sex and relationships.
Speaking to OK! Magazine, the 49-year-old, who has been married to financier Ty Comfort since 2019, said that women should have five minutes of regular sex to keep their relationship strong, even if they are not in the mood.
“You can’t say ‘I’m tired’ or ‘I have a headache’ – no! Take one for the team, it’s between five to ten minutes of your life,” she said.
“Men are simple creatures,” she continued, directing her comments specifically at straight women.
“You feed them, give them compliments and sex and they are happy. It’s the best stress reliever.”
Bourret’s comments have been widely criticised, with Dr Pragya Agarwal, a behavioural and data scientist, arguing in The Independent that “no woman should ever have to have ‘maintenance sex’ with her husband”.
But what exactly is maintenance sex, and where did the concept come from?
What is maintenance sex?
Maintenance sex is a term used to describe the concept of having sex with a long-term partner in order to strengthen your relationship, regardless of whether or not you’re in the mood for it.
In Bourret’s interview, she explained that having regular sex with her husband during the first lockdown helped boost her marriage.
She argued that any relationship would be “done and dusted” without regular sex and encouraged women to sleep with their husbands most nights.
“You have to keep it alive,” she said. “If you can settle down from your day and enjoy it, it’s fricking awesome.”
“This phrase was coined by my friend Sali and it recognises a vital phenomenon: the point, in a long-term relationship, when it’s ‘been a while’ – 10 days, two weeks – and neither of you is particularly up for it, but you know, from your deep wisdoms, that you need to ‘do a sex’ now to keep everything ticking over, she wrote in The Guardian.
What does it mean in terms of consent?
The idea of maintenance sex can be problematic when it comes to consent.
While it is consensual sex in the sense that both parties agree to it, the concept is predicated on the idea that one partner is only having sex because they feel obliged to as opposed to simply wanting to.
This has been referred to in some reports as “unwanted sex”, falling under the umbrella of sexual compliance, which has been examined in several studies and found to be prevalent among women.
In one study published in The Journal of Sex Research, it was found that out of 1,519 unmarried university students, 55 percent of women said that they had consented to unwanted sexual intercourse.
Other studies have found similar results and explored the consequences of sexual compliance, with one finding it can lead to poor mental health.
Additionally, one study from last year found links between sexual compliance and attachment anxiety, pointing to deeper-rooted relationship issues.
Why do people think it’s sexist?
Research has found that sexual compliance is more prevalent among women than men in heterosexual couples.
In her article, Dr Agarwal argues that the idea of maintenance sex relies on heteronormative ideals that perpetuate sexist stereotypes surrounding sexuality.
These ideas, she writes, endorse the view that “male sexuality is epitomised by a higher sex drive than women; where their impulses are beyond control”.
She continues: “This notion that women and men’s sexuality and sex drive has an inherent biological difference – and that women’s role is to lie back and be passive, while men are the go-getters – is also seeped into our medical and biological textbooks.”
The concept, therefore, presents women as passive in their sexual relationships, while men are presented as dominant.
It also taps into sexist views surrounding the female orgasm, which, as Dr Agarwal writes, is barely ever acknowledged in textbooks on sexuality, while the male orgasm is almost always explored in depth.
“The failure to acknowledge female orgasm beyond its role in fertilisation reinforces the myth that women have much lower libidos than men,” she continues.
“That they are the ones responsible for setting acceptable boundaries, that any sexual aggression and misdemeanour on the part of a man is because of his naturally higher sex drive, thereby absolving men of responsibility for their actions.
“The misrepresentation in these scientific textbooks bolsters the illusion that female sexuality is only for the purposes of reproduction.”
Why might maintenance sex not actually boost a relationship?
While it might seem like a tip for sustaining a long-term relationship, the idea of maintenance sex is not one endorsed by dating psychologists, who argue that it belittles women and raises concerns surrounding intimacy.
“We need to examine why women might feel it’s necessary to see sex as something that needs to be maintained rather than enjoyed,” says dating psychologist Jo Hemmings.
“We all know that our libido is affected by many aspects of our lives – from medical and health issues to the menopause and other hormonal fluctuations – and that the more we are exposed to a stimulus, the less exciting it seems.
“It may become monotonous, dull or feel like a chore. And that to me seems to be the essence of ‘maintenance sex’ and why it feels not only wrong, but counter-intuitive.”
If you are having sexual issues in a long-term relationship, Hemmings suggests communicating that to your partner in the first instance, particularly if you haven’t felt as sexually compatible as you might have once done.
“There are many ways in which we can address flagging desire and arousal, from role play and finding new positions to toys that stimulate our senses,” she says.
Non-intimate activities are crucial, too. “Plan date nights, get the kids to go to a sleepover, light scented candles, put away your phone and close that laptop,” she advises.
“The idea is that this will foster a sense of psychological intimacy. But don’t simply have ‘maintenance sex’ because you think that will keep your partner happy.
“Ultimately, it may well spoil spontaneous or great quality sex moving forwards, because our minds will start to associate sex with something that we need to do, even if we’re not in the mood. And that is not part of having a healthy sex life.”
You can read Dr Agarwal’s article in full here.
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