After 14 years together, Douglas and Annie Brown were a typical couple approaching middle age while raising kids and leading careers. But where was the time for sex? In an outlandish experiment, the Browns decided to give their marriage a jolt — by having lots and lots of sex. Here, an excerpt from "Just Do It: How One Couple Turned Off the TV and Turned On Their Sex Lives for 101 Days (No Excuses!)."
Like you, I’ve enjoyed my share of days I like to think of as “most excellent.” My daughters’ births, for example, are hard to beat. I recall a long spell at the Jersey shore in the early 1980s when the waves kept rolling in, glassy and lovely, and I surfed until it grew dark. There was a dawn-to-midnight rendezvous with my brother, when we hiked in alpine splendor and topped it off with green chile cheeseburgers, beer and hammocks. And then there was the otherwise forgettable day the year I turned 40 that my wife Annie said seven words that changed our life together in a most excellent way.
This smashing day began in Florida, where I had just finished a week-long conference dedicated to sex, popular culture and the media. I am a reporter, and at the time sex ― pornography, strippers, sex addiction, you name it ― was one of my principal areas of coverage.
A flight, which is never something I celebrate, devoured most of the afternoon, but things lifted when Annie arrived to pick me up at the Denver airport. Her signature style, which she calls “messy sexy,” was in full flower — thick auburn hair pinned loosely to the back of her head, with big strands falling to her shoulders; groovy patterned blouse exposing a hint of cleavage; tight jeans and her favorite Israeli sandals and red lipstick. Her grin and sparkling eyes said: “Welcome home, lovey!” And then I peered in the back of the minivan and there was Joni, nearly 7, and Ginger, approaching 3, their very beings quaking with: “Daddy! Daddy! Daddy!”
That night, after we’d put the girls to bed, Annie and I, as usual, slipped into something comfortable: for Annie, threadbare pajamas emblazoned with faded roses, for me, blue sweatpants with five pockets that I’d been wearing for at least 15 years (I champion pockets whenever I get a chance; I have announced to Annie no less than 486 times since we began dating, “I love pockets!”). Two front pockets held cotton handkerchiefs because I didn’t go anywhere without cotton handkerchiefs (thus, perhaps, my obsession with pockets). I believe I loosed a long “aaaaaah,” a sound familiar to people who frequent hot tubs, as I slid my sweatpanted legs beneath the covers, pressed my back into the pillow with squat arms behind me, and prepared for an hour or two of reading before drifting into slumber. Soon, Annie squeezed her cute little body between the sheets too and, like me, propped herself up against a poofy, armed pillow (these pillows are known as “husbands,” for reasons that defy rigorous analysis, unless one concludes that husbands are things into which wives lean, a conviction that, I assure you, will be challenged by many who will say, “If that’s the reasoning, then they should be called “wives.”).
And so we sat, side by side, cocooned in snug and quietly reading in our little house in our new subdivision on the prairie in Denver. At some point, I started talking about things I remembered about the conference, most of which survived like alien dreams in a relentlessly tropical setting. One solemn detail, however, remained crystalline.
“Get this,” I said. “One guy from Denmark talked about how men who are involved in relationships but haven’t had sex in 100 or more days actually bond over their sad predicaments. They form ‘100 days clubs,’ or something like that. At least that’s what I thought he said. I had some trouble with his accent.”
“The sexless marriage, it’s a big Oprah thing,” said Annie. “Two careers, kids, middle age, a bunch of years together. It can complicate the sex life.”
Yes, I thought. It can.
We’d been together for about 14 years, married for nearly 11 of them, with kids for almost 7. We both worked. Excellent sex had decorated the first half of our relationship, but its quality and quantity had declined as we approached our mid-30s. Careers and age shifted our end-of-the-day enthusiasms from carnal athletics to pulling sheets to shoulders and whispering “goodnight.” Two pregnancies and infancies had provided us acceptable rationales for begging off sex for longer and longer periods of time. We’d never abstained for 100 days, but in those sex-challenged zones between the third trimester and infanthood, we’d probably gone six weeks without doing it. Now, more than three years after our second daughter was born, we’d never fully recovered. We did it about once a week, if we were lucky.
Our union was not suffering. We rarely fought, and were attracted to similar things: cooking, hiking, playing games. We could talk together for hours without growing bored. Our children, the stars of our lives, drew us close. But I cannot paint over the fissures and rough patches, what the real-estate people call “wear and tear,” that had crept into the house of Doug and Annie. Sex, for example, had turned into a mere adequacy, an activity relying more on recitation and rote than free-form play. The panting excitement that electrified the early days of our relationship had developed into something else; not a snore, or a sigh, but maybe a hum, a sound suggesting contentment and harmony. And you know, there’s a lot to be said for contentment and harmony, but I think you will agree with me here: zest, sparkle and free-wheeling passion have their moments, too.
Money, or its lack thereof, long ago had introduced tensions in our marriage, most notably after Annie stopped working during her third trimester with Joni. Between that exit from the working world and the genesis of Annie’s 100 days idea, we had moved five times and Annie had given birth to two daughters, four years apart. One modest salary, as a result, grew awfully stretched between bills, saving for house down payments, and doubling the size of our family. This left a pittance for things like dinner dates and vacations, and it led to most of the sharpest exchanges between Annie and me during those years together.
The latest move, from Baltimore to Denver, also contributed to the “wear and tear.” I’m close to my extended family, most of which lives in southeastern Pennsylvania. When we lived in Baltimore, we routinely spent time with my parents and my brother, with a sister-in-law and nephews and cousins and uncles and aunts. Annie and I had moved so many times that I thought another one would come easy, but it was not to be. Homesickness plagued me in Denver, and never had I been so curdled with guilt. The move had physically estranged Joni and Ginger from routine contact with my family’s warmth and love, an event that flooded me with heartache: I’d hurt my kids and I’d harmed my parents by accepting the gig in Denver. The move upended Annie, too, removing her from a happy nest of friends and our lovely house that we had bought for a pittance. At the same time, though, it delivered her back to the West, a region she adored, and shortly after moving to the Mile High City Annie scored her first real job in seven years. While I talked incessantly about returning to the East, Annie resisted. Here was another crack in our foundation.
Finally, the previous seven years or so had hinged on our turn from carefree-couple without kids to something altogether different: parents. Our children, for good reason, commandeered the center of our life together. This was not something to lament, but it was something we should have examined with greater care. Things had changed, some not for the better. A little recognition and attention might have helped.
In short, while the house of Doug and Annie remained sturdy, it could have used a little updating, some renovation, a ration of what a certain kind of real-estate professional might call “pizzazz.”
“It’s a big problem for a lot of people, I think,” said Annie, knitting a purple hat with a green top, a cap meant to look like an eggplant. “A challenge. How do you squeeze in sex?” I returned to my magazine for a few moments, and then Annie turned toward me, grinning. “I’ve got an idea,” she said. “Why don’t we start our own club, only we’ll reverse it? Instead of not having sex for 100 days” ― here come those delicious seven words ― “let’s have sex for 100 consecutive days.”
I waited a few beats, studying Annie. I could tell she was serious.
What a most excellent day! I thought.
And then: That’s insane.
Excerpted with permission from "Just Do It: How One Couple Turned Off the TV and Turned On Their Sex Lives for 101 Days (No Excuses!)" (Crown) by Douglas Brown.