How Much Does Sex Matter?

When you’re dating after divorce, does the quality of the lovin’ really count? Even the experts don’t agree! Here, how to decide what’s right for you.

By Sara Susannah Katz

y friend Jenny had just returned home from her fourth date with Kyle, a pediatrician she’d met online. She was beginning to think he might be The One. I thought so, too; they had had so much in common—right down to their annoying habit of quoting lines from the movie The Princess Bride.

But tonight’s date, Jenny confessed forlornly, would have to be their last. Why? The sex was awful. After surviving a lousy
As the emotional connection strengthened over time, so did the attraction.
marriage filled with lousy sex, my recently divorced friend wasn’t about to get involved with another lousy lover.

Wait a minute. Is bad sex a good reason to abandon an otherwise spectacular sweetheart? Surely there’s an alternative to ending the relationship altogether?

Maybe, maybe not. Even the experts don’t agree on this one.

Why you need fireworks from the start
“If a couple isn’t compatible sexually, it will only lead to other problems as the relationship progresses,” says Linda Franklin, a life coach and an expert on aging boomers. “Sex is a great healer, and if it’s missing, frustrations and anger build up twice as fast.”

Post-divorce daters, says Franklin, shouldn’t have to settle for less-than-satisfying sex. “This is a time for them to re-evaluate what they really want for themselves and from a potential new partner. If you want fireworks in the bedroom, then by all means, look for someone who can provide that. Be honest about what turns you on and don’t be afraid you will scare off a new suitor. If he or she scares that easily, chances are it won’t work out anyway.”

A lot depends on where sex ranks among your priorities. “If sex is really important to you, then you won’t tolerate poor sex, no matter how great everything else may be,” says psychotherapist Ann Fry. Toward the end of her marriage, during the rare times she and her husband had sex, it was “lonely and awful. I thought I was dead in that department.” Eventually Fry met a man who resuscitated her interest. “I’d never had sex like that. It truly made a difference in the quality of our relationship.” Now she believes that “if sex isn’t good, frankly, the relationship will not work for me. At age 62, I’m a sexy, vibrant dynamo. I want to make up for all that I missed.”

When you should be willing to work at it
Other experts are more optimistic. They insist that sex is a skill and bad sex is no reason
“Sex is a great healer, and if it’s missing, frustrations and anger build up twice as fast.”
to walk away from someone who could be the love of your life. “We are not all born with the knowledge about how to please our partner, but like anything else, this is a talent anyone can learn,” says Alvera Vayzer-Milberg, a psychologist who specializes in human sexuality. “There are always books, videos, workshops.” If those don’t help, “you can always take charge of your own satisfaction,” she says. Ultimately, it’s not sexual compatibility that keeps couples together, insists Vayzer-Milberg, but well-matched personalities. “Those are the relationships that last longest.”

“Sex can get better,” agrees dating expert Joan Allen, author of Celebrating Single and Getting Love Right: From Stalemate to Soulmate. She points out that some medications for blood pressure, diabetes and depression can have a wilting effect on the libido. “But if the person is healthy and not on medication, chances are once the relationship grows stronger with trust and commitment the sex can improve.” Her prescription? “Practice, practice, practice—and a lot of communication, both verbal and nonverbal.”

Adjusting to your new post-marriage (sex) life
Patience is also a virtue, especially when it comes to post-divorce sex. “Divorced daters need to consider the fact that if they were with a spouse for many years, sex with someone new will feel different,” notes Andrea Syrtash, host of But different shouldn’t be confused with bad. “One of my clients really liked her new guy, but he was much shorter and smaller-framed than her ex—she was used to her former husband, who was big and tall, so she couldn’t immediately warm up to this new body type.” But as the emotional connection between them strengthened over time, so did the attraction.

So be patient with your lover. But be patient with yourself, too. “People coming out of divorce sometimes feel emotionally starved and often jump into bed too quickly in order to soothe a damaged ego or shattered self-image,” says Jessica Lippman, an adjunct faculty member of Northwestern University Medical School and author of Divorcing with Children. As retro as it sounds, maybe you should get to know someone before getting naked.

As for my friend Jenny, she’s single again and back online, and she says she’s holding out for someone who can make her toes curl—and quote The Princess Bride.

Sara Susannah Katz is the author of Wife Living Dangerously. She also wrote Happen magazine’s featured series “Single in the Suburbs”.
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