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The Bean Jar Theory of Married Sex

26 March 2008

There's an old theory about sex in marriage, you may have heard it? It goes something like this.

On the day you get married put a bean-jar by the bed. For the first year of married life put a bean into the jar every time you have sex. After your first wedding anniversary, take out a bean every time you have sex. The bean jar will never be emptied in your lifetimes.

Reactions to this folk wisdom are generally evenly split. Those in their first year of marriage will laugh and say "No way, that will never happen to us!" and those who have been married a while will be nodding sagely and saying "Uh-huh, that's the way it is."

The good news is that this theory is hokum, baloney, codswallop! The bad news is of course, that it can sometimes feel as if it's true.

Let's look at the mathematics first. To begin with we need to decide how many times a couple will have sex in the first year of marriage. Lets assume they really are devoted to each other and to this challenge and so manage an average of 3 times a day over all 365 days of the year (we'll ignore leap years for this challenge!). That's 1095 sexual encounters.

Lets also assume that they're going to be married for 40 years. They could be married much longer but lets be conservative. 1095 / 40 = 27 times a year on average. Or about once every 13 days (say twice a month).

The married among us are nodding again, that sounds about right. Except that this couple have gone from making love 1095 times a year to 27 times in the subsequent 40 year marriage - a drop of 97%

It doesn't sound very realistic. What if we instead said that each year was 80% of the last?

  • Year 1 = 1095
  • Year 2 = 876
  • Year 3 = 700 (Whoops! Overdrawn!)

No good. We run out of beans just 2 years in. What if each year was half the last?

  • Year 1 = 1095
  • Year 2 = 548
  • Year 3 = 274
  • Year 4 = 137
  • Year 5 = 68
  • Year 6 = 34
  • Year 7 = 17
  • Year 8 = 9
  • Year 9 = 5
  • Year 10 = 3 (We're out!)

Go ahead and experiment with the numbers yourself. The mathematician J. Martin did in 1970 and his conclusion? The numbers just don't add up.

That's the good news. The bad news is that our experience sometimes feels like the bean-jar theory. Why? What can we do about it?

The psychologists have their theories but I don't think you can do better than go and read what women are saying about this phenomenon.

Be sure to come back and post a comment here telling us what you think!


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