I have an analogy that I like to use to describe my sex life: summed up, me and sex are a little bit like me and the gym.
n general, I like going to the gym. But then there are the times when it's just about the last thing on my mind - I'm barely keeping on top of work and parenting and making 7pm boxercise is often far too ambitious. I skip a couple of sessions because I'm feeling fat, hungover, or just "not in the mood" and suddenly my routine's gone out the window.
Yet the funny thing is, no matter how reluctant I am to hit the gym after a drought period, I am always - without exception - glad I went afterwards. "You will never regret a workout," is an oft quoted motivational message plastered on changing-room walls. And as I've come to realise after challenging myself to have sex every single day for a full month - you never regret jumping into bed with your husband, either.
Our daughter - a first born - arrived a little under two years ago. Six weeks to the day after labour, and amid a flurry of night feeds and disjointed sleep, we began having sex again. It was a pattern that continued fairly uninterrupted for the first year or so of our daughter's life.
But more recently, things have begun to wane. We've been together since our late teens and have always had plenty of time for sex, so I certainly never imagined being unable to recall the last time I was naked with my husband. But there were weeks when the demands of an energetic toddler drained us both to exhaustion. We prioritised too readily the potential for an extra 30 minutes of sleep over all else.
Last summer, a spreadsheet compiled by one frustrated spouse went viral, hitting headlines around the world. The document was structured around three separate headings: Date, Sex?, Excuse. Emailed to his wife shortly after she left for a 10-day business trip, it alleged that she repeatedly rejected his advances with a series of half-hearted excuses, including "I might be getting sick", "I'm exhausted", and "I'm watching a show (Friends re-run)". In total, the document showed that the couple had sex just three times in the month.
The ensuing debate largely centred on whether you sided with him or her, but it also raised some interesting questions about sex and marriage: how much and how often can be considered 'normal'?
One recent survey found that most Irish people aged 25-34 have sex three or four times a week. But could I be even more ambitious than that? Could I set the ultimate sex challenge: sex every day for a full month to dust off the relationship cobwebs?
Carolyn Evans lives in South Carolina with her husband and two children, and is the author of 40 Beads: The Simple, Sexy Secret For Transforming Your Marriage. She explains that five years ago she came up with an idea. "For his 40th birthday I gave my husband the gift of 40 straight days of sex on a whim," she explains. "But the next morning, I panicked." So Carolyn tweaked her original offer, instead gifting 40 beads - "each one good for a roll in the hay". She now says it was a decision that ultimately saved her marriage. "I always tell women: sex can take less time than unloading the dishwasher. So why not just get to it and enjoy all the benefits your relationship gains from making that physical connection?"
And there are lots of other benefits to consider too: one Canadian study last year found that with just 30 minutes of sexual activity, men could burn 100 calories while women could burn 70. Indeed, the British Heart Foundation suggests that 30 minutes of daily sex is as good for you as walking the dog.
Women can tone their pelvic floor too without having to always resort to tedious Kegel exercises, while men may reduce their risk of contracting prostate cancer. Furthermore, in addition to any physical benefits, the release of mood-boosting hormones during sex can lower stress and increase the production of brain cells.
The thought of daily sex for 30 days straight is, admittedly, overwhelming from the outset, but blinded by optimism, I sign up enthusiastically anyway...
My husband and I begin midweek and have sex in the evening before going to sleep. Ordinarily, we would have probably whittled away 20 minutes or so on our phones before drifting off - in hindsight, hardly something that should be prioritised. By the end of the week, I'm pleasantly surprised at how, well, easy it's been to slot in some alone time. Indeed, on day seven I count a total of ten occasions when we had intercourse!
It makes me reflect on how marriage changes intimacy. For better or for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health - and that includes in the bedroom too. Children can absorb your time and energy in almost every possible way. Accidental celibacy can emerge amid nappies, restless nights and endless colic. Now, even after just a week of my 30-day challenge, I remember why couples also need to put their relationship first every once in a while. It's not being selfish, if anything it's being sensible. Because whatever way you look at it, attempting to indefinitely prop up a sexless marriage is ultimately a losing battle.
By day eight I feel that having sex is becoming less of a conscious decision - we're just doing it. I'm impressed at how quickly we, well, get into it. Having sex every day proves absolutely that the best possible way to boost your libido is to get jiggy with it as often as possible. Having very little sex, in contrast, has the opposite effect.
Interestingly, I feel better about my body too. All the attention that's been showered upon it makes me appreciate my imperfections that little bit more.
Admittedly there are times - just a handful, mind - when I probably would be more drawn to an extra ten minutes in bed (or an extra ten minutes of Homeland, or an extra ten minutes to check my email) but the "do it anyway" approach needed to navigate the 30-day challenge keeps me focused.
Need proof? Parenting websites are full of discussions about marriage and sex once babies arrive. There are a few women who sheepishly hold up their hands and admit it's been "a while". "My poor husband," some of them exclaim. "I feel so sorry for him, but I'm just too tired." To that I say: "Forget about the poor husband, what about poor you?" Women should feel all the normal things you expect a healthy human being to experience in a relationship: desire, lust, passion, and longing. If these things are absent from your relationship, it's probably time to take a cold hard look at the reasons why.
Sex doesn't have to take all day - it doesn't have to be this grand Hollywood-worthy marathon session. By week three, we're mastering the art of morning sex: bringing the alarm forward by ten minutes can work wonders, and there are few better ways to kick-start the day. Aside from the physical pleasure that comes with regular intimacy, my husband and I truly feel incredibly connected. I never felt alienated from him, but having the same amount of sex that we had in our early 20s has given us renewed waves of love and affection for one another. At times, we manage sex more than once in 24 hours - three and four times occasionally! Having regular sex has also taken the pressure off having to orgasm every time - sometimes I enjoy the act itself without having to achieve a mind-blowing climax (though thankfully there are some of those, too). If you only have sex a few times a month, understandably you're going to want orgasm from each of those encounters, but by upping the ante you're more able and willing to go with the flow, concentrating on alternative sensations and exploring new pleasures.
As we near the end of the month, an old Joan Rivers joke that always makes me smile comes to mind. "For New Year's," she said, "I resolve to make love 365 times this year". She describes her husband Edgar's comeback as: "Great, put me down for 12."
Could I extend my sex challenge out to a full year? In a word, no. I now need to adapt my 30-day achievement into real life. And I reckon for me that is going mean sex four or five times a week. Though if I feel that we're slipping back into old habits, then I'd have no hesitation embarking on a similar programme. In fact, I see this becoming something of an annual tradition.
Forget trying to find fulfilment in the things that cost money. The best way to improve the quality of your day-to-day life is by making sure that you're regularly having sex with the man or the woman that you married.
"Sex is what brings us together," says author Carolyn Evans. "It's also the number two problem - behind money - that drives us apart. The physical connection reinforces the emotional connection. Without it, you're just good friends."
She adds: "The problem in our too-busy-to-be-bothered culture is that we're finding less and less time to figure out the 'when' around sex in our marriages. And then we wonder why the marriage is falling apart."
Increased libido, feeling more in love, more connected, feeling happier in body and mind: my marriage wasn't falling apart, but it's been overhauled by the simple act of sex - regular sex, sex that's been prioritised rather than shunned. And it can do the same for you.