Ask a man what he wants for his 40th birthday present and the average wife can be assured of a variety of predictable responses. A golfing weekend, maybe something for the garden or even, at a push, the new Coldplay album. But offer him guaranteed sex every day for a year and the answer is likely to prove both surprising and not a little disappointing.
Such was the experience of Charla Muller, a 39-year-old mother of two who made just such an extraordinary suggestion to her husband, Brad, on the eve of his birthday milestone. "He actually told me no. He thought I wouldn't be up for the challenge," she recalls. But perseverance being the key to a successful marriage, Mr Muller was eventually persuaded to accept what they now refer to simply as "the gift" and the couple embarked on their year-long sexual odyssey with admirable dedication.
Their exploits over the year now form the basis for a remarkable new book entitled 365 Nights which is now poised to take the United States by storm. That and a second tome, Just Do It , by Douglas Brown , a Denver-based lifestyle journalist, and his wife Annie, who committed to 100 successive days of marital workouts, are being hailed as either a panacea to the modern lifestyle pressures that render so many marriages sex-free zones, or a prescription for relationship pain.
Both couples are now engaged in separate tours of the talk-show sofas, touting their various takes on the joys of daily coitus. Both books are due to go on sale in Britain later this summer when they are expected to spark a similar debate over the merits of such goal-orientated coupling.
Mrs Muller, of Charlotte, North Carolina, readily admits that the couple failed in their attempts to perform every single night of the year, due to various business trips and New Year's Eve when her husband was "overserved" with drinks and found himself unwilling to knuckle down to his task. But they still notched up 26 to 28 times a month, not bad for a working couple who had been together for eight years and well above the married average of 66 a year. "I would have told anyone before the gift that we had a great marriage. I was married to a great guy and I like to think I was a good wife and there were no problems in that department," she said. The couple agreed a set of ground rules and insisted on keeping within the "spirit of the gift" allowing them to cry off in the event of a genuine headache.
Mrs Brown added: "Sometimes we missed a day and it was never mandatory. But we set a definition of sex that we felt comfortable with although I'm not going to be too specific about what that definition was." The Browns, who, according to their publishers, "literally screwed their way through months of a cold Colorado winter", worked hard at changing the venue to keep them on target. They checked into hotels of varying star ratings, visited an ashram, took to the great outdoors, but centred most of their efforts on that most traditional of arenas – the marital bedroom, which they dubbed the "sex den" in a bid to keep the allure alive. They also used a variety of props including candles, lube, a box of dressing-up clothes, some sex toys and even Viagra – just in case they needed to augment their natural abilities.
Those seeking visceral details of the couple's exploits will be disappointed with the contents of the book. "It is very much G-rated – really pretty clean. I didn't want my parents to be offended," Mrs Brown said. Her husband added: "I wasn't sure if I'd be comfortable writing about it, but by the end of this thing, it was just this wild, kind of madcap adventure. It was a really colourful romp, so I knew we had a good story."
The book has now been optioned by 20th Century Fox for a possible film adaptation.
Both couples report similar benefits from their endeavours and say they now enjoy greater levels of intimacy, not all of it sexual. "We touch more," said Mr Brown. "We would have entire days and maybe had a peck at the end of the night, and that was the only time we touched. During the 100 days, it wasn't just the sex; we were hugging each other, and that has carried on." His wife,a marketing executive, agreed: "What we really learnt is that we have to take care of each other more and pay attention to each other in ways that we haven't since the early days of our marriage."
Yet despite the glowing endorsements, British relationship experts seem reluctant to encourage couples to pursue the same strategy to rekindle their flagging sex lives. Paula Hall, a sexual and relationship psychotherapist, warned there could be "potential dangers" with some using sex to mask underlying problems of communication. "My anxiety is that this may make the couple more functional, but wouldn't necessarily make them want to have sex, that it wouldn't actually increase desire, but that after a hundred days they would say, oh, thank God it's over," she said. She added that a process of "gradual desensitisation" would be more appropriate with couples slowly restarting their physical relationship.
Dr Michael Perring, founding member of the British Association for Sexual and Relationship Therapy, was equally sceptical. "This claim sounds like an eye-catching phrase but I would have to see what they really did," he said.
"There is nothing inherently dangerous in having sex every day, except that it may be time-consuming. The view is that sex is good for a person." Dr Perring said there were many people who wanted sex every day – the problem was finding a partner who could keep up with them.