The White Lotus raises the subject of ‘morning sex vs evening sex’ – but why does it matter?

Characters played by Aubrey Plaza and Will Sharpe in the new season of ‘The White Lotus’ are experiencing a common dilemma, writes Olivia Petter. What happens when a couple typically experience sexual arousal at different points in the day?

Monday 31 October 2022 06:30 GMT
‘It’s hard to sync up sometimes, right?’: Will Sharpe and Aubrey Plaza as Ethan and Harper in ‘The White Lotus’
‘It’s hard to sync up sometimes, right?’: Will Sharpe and Aubrey Plaza as Ethan and Harper in ‘The White Lotus’ (iStock/HBO)

There is a scene in the new season of The White Lotus that will make you squirm. Actually, there are several – such is the excellence of Mike White’s writing in the follow-up to his razor-sharp 2021 satire about a batch of badly behaved and very wealthy holidaymakers. This one, though, is particularly agonising. Because it’s about sex.

Employment lawyer Harper (played with astute severity by Aubrey Plaza) returns from breakfast to find her husband Ethan (Will Sharpe) masturbating. She is surprised. “You know I sometimes get horny after I run,” he reasons. When Harper asks why he didn’t wait for her, Ethan replies: “You don’t like morning sex.” It’s tense, particularly when the issue resurfaces later over dinner with Ethan’s nauseatingly smug friends, Cameron (Theo James) and Daphne (Meghann Fahy).

Ethan reveals that he and Harper have been trying to have children. “The problem is I’m more of a morning-sex guy, and Harper is not a morning person. She’s a night person. But by then, with work and stuff, I’m always fried.” Harper shoots him a stern glare; the rest of the table look uneasy.

It’s an awkward moment, one that highlights the importance of sexual compatibility in relationships. After all, if one of you prefers to have sex in the morning, and the other favours the evening, when, as Cameron later posits, are you going to have sex? “It’s hard to sync up sometimes, right?” suggests Daphne. Indeed it is.

While research into this specific issue is sparse, one survey conducted by Illicit Encounters in 2021 found that the optimum time for most men to have sex is in the morning, specifically at 7.30am. Women, meanwhile, reported feeling most sexually aroused at 10pm – just before they go to sleep. As a result of the split, the survey found that 64 per cent of women and 38 per cent of men sometimes have sex with their partner when they don’t feel like it.

The findings were supported by another survey conducted by Lovehoney, which found that the majority of men want to have sex in the morning, at some point between 6am and 9am, whereas women want to have sex later at night.

“From a biological perspective, most of us are primed for morning sex, as sex hormones such as testosterone and estrogen are released in increasing quantities in the morning, and there is increased blood flow to the genitals in the morning,” explains Dr Daria Kuss, clinical psychologist and associate professor at Nottingham Trent University. “This means that sex can be physically experienced as more pleasurable in the morning.” However, people obviously have personal preferences based on varying lifestyles and careers.

Take 37-year-old Felix, who explains that morning sex simply doesn’t work for him. “I haven’t brushed my teeth, I’m still finding my bearings, and I just don’t feel like I’m at the top of my game,” he explains. By the evening, however, things are different. “I feel like I’ve got more energy then, and there’s also a chance you’ve been out for a drink, so inhibitions are sometimes slightly removed, which can be a confidence booster.”

As Daphne points out in The White Lotus, having children can drastically change when you want to have sex, particularly if you’ve spent the day doing childcare. “I prefer mornings just because I’m exhausted by the end of the day,” says Lisa, 41. “Plus I have back problems, but always wake up with no pain, so it just works better.”

Similarly, 38-year-old Jess says she is too tired in the evenings. “I had more sex with previous partners, who were morning people. But now I’m with an evening person, we just don’t have sex as often.”

Aubrey Plaza as Harper, Will Sharpe as Ethan, Theo James as Cameron, and Meghann Fahy as Daphne in ‘The White Lotus’
Aubrey Plaza as Harper, Will Sharpe as Ethan, Theo James as Cameron, and Meghann Fahy as Daphne in ‘The White Lotus’ (Sky/The White Lotus)

Evidently, there is no clear split between the sexes on the matter, meaning that whether you’re a morning or an evening person is more likely to depend on your lifestyle than your biology. That said, extensive research has been conducted into early risers versus night owls – something that is dependent on circadian rhythms and chronotypes, ie when your body is best suited to sleep and wake up. Sexual incompatibility is one thing, but sleep incompatibility is another altogether.

For Felix, both were an issue. “I have been with a partner who is vehemently a morning person, when it comes to sex and daily life, because she went to sleep much earlier than me,” he says. “But I adapted. I think ultimately most people will adapt because, even if it’s not the optimum solution, if you don’t you just won’t have sex with your partner.”

In some cases, though, claiming sexual incompatibility because you prefer to have sex at different times of the day can be a way to disguise a deeper issue within the relationship. At least, this is the suggestion in The White Lotus. “Differences in chronotypes can be worked around,” explains clinical psychologist Dr Madeleine Roantree. “Most couples, especially if they have children, have to navigate the time in busy lives anyway. Just because you like to get up early in the morning doesn’t mean you can’t have sex at night, or vice versa. If differing chronicity is a lasting issue, I would wonder whether sexual intimacy is being avoided altogether.”

When considering sexual compatibility, it is important to focus on three main elements: need fulfilment, communication and satisfaction

Other issues at play could relate to the relationship as a whole, which affects the way you both feel about sex. For example, there could be trust issues due to a previous infidelity, which might hinder intimacy. “It might also depend on how physically attracted partners feel toward each other, their libido levels, and attitudes towards sex more generally,” adds Dr Roantree.

Indeed, with a little compromise, surely any issue of incompatibility can be easily rectified so long as there aren’t other issues at play. The key, says intuitive psychologist Dr Carmen Harra, is communication.

“Speak to each other openly and honestly and explain why it is that you enjoy sex more at a certain time,” she suggests. “I encourage the couple who has opposing sexual preferences to take turns – a few times in the morning, a few times at night – as a compromise. I also advise them to let their guard down and not think so much about the time [but rather] the fulfillment that sex provides. Push yourselves out of your comfort zones and enjoy sex with your partner in different positions and places, which will make intimacy more memorable and heighten your arousal for the future.”

Additionally, it might be worth having conversations about the nature of your relationship and your current dynamic. “When considering sexual compatibility, rather than focusing on daytime preferences, it is important to focus on three main elements: need fulfilment, communication and satisfaction,” adds Dr Kuss. “These can be enhanced by having regular and open conversations and increasing intimacy in the relationship.”

As for Harper and Ethan, it would seem that their issues transcend those in the bedroom. Frankly, that’s something to be grateful for. Because as pleasing as it might be to see two nauseatingly happy people having amazing sex on screen, it’s far more compelling to see them constantly sparring out of sexual frustration, one acerbic takedown at a time. Let’s be thankful they’re just TV characters.

‘The White Lotus’ airs on HBO in the US and Sky Atlantic in the UK. It is also available on Now

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