As Joe Wicks admits to booking in weekly love-making sessions with his wife, the experts say it could be key to keeping the passion alive. Claire O'Mahony reports
The Body Coach Joe Wicks has become one of the pandemic's unlikely heroes. The 33-year-old fitness guru has been leading millions through his daily PE classes on YouTube and dedicating the earnings from the videos to the NHS.
But as well as championing the importance of exercise during lockdown, the father of two has also put a spotlight on one of the challenges that couples can face, especially if they have young children: finding some adult time alone.
Joe and his wife Rosie are parents to Indie (1) and Marley (four months), and earlier this week, he revealed on the Made By Mammas podcast that the couple, who married last year, have to schedule sex.
"That time is so disrupted, it's almost like you've got to crowbar intimacy into your week. One night a week, if you can go to bed earlier, it allows you to have that time to talk. You've got to get warmed up sometimes, you can't just jump straight into things," he said.
He's not the only busy A-lister who has acknowledged they need to timetable in sex with their partner. Writing about her intimate relationship with her husband Cash Warren, actress Jessica Alba disclosed: "My girlfriend Kelly shared one life-changing word with me: 'Schedule!' She had transitioned her babies to a consistent 7pm bedtime, so she knew that she could have some grown-up time each night."
The Good Place actress Kristen Bell also admitted she and husband Dax Shepard have to put a date in the diary. "We'll be like: 'Okay, it's been how many days?' We find a night when nobody is coming over and we don't have to work super early in the morning, and then we slot it in."
For any couples trying to balance work, family and life commitments, the idea of putting away a block of time to keep romance alive may appeal. A variance in work schedules can often put a dampener on intimacy, as can different body clocks, such as when one partner is a morning person and the other is more of a night owl.
And when there are children involved, it can seem as if there isn't a second in the day that isn't devoted to feeding, minding and, more recently, homeschooling them, leaving no window for grown-up time.
But for other couples, the idea of scheduling sex might seem decidedly unsexy and turn intimacy into just another thing to tick off on an already long 'to do list'. So what do the experts think?
Clinical sexologist Emily Power Smith is a big fan of scheduling sex. "I think people are worried about maintaining the Mills & Boon myth that great sex must be spontaneous and that in reality tends not to work. It's great for early days when we're all being ruled by our hormones but as we settle into relationships and we celebrate our busyness, sex very easily gets knocked down the list of priorities so scheduling means it doesn't get lost."
Even if you're not initially enamoured with the concept, scheduling sex can be helpful, agrees Helen Vaughan, psychotherapist at Maynooth Counselling and Psychotherapy.
"The theory that you both just go to bed and be in the mood at the same time isn't all that reliable. What I find with clients is that some will not like the idea at first in that they think it should be spontaneous and romantic and off the cuff but I think if you want to get it, you have to plan it," she says.
"When you think about it, if you go for a dinner date or to the cinema, you've to plan it in advance," points out relationship expert and registered psychotherapist David Kavanagh. "It doesn't mean that there's any less enjoyment from the experience of going for dinner or watching a good movie."
And ironically, instead of being a passion killer, the expectation of spending time with your significant other can actually get you in the mood.
"The novelty of getting a message from your partner in the afternoon saying what's going to happen that night can build anticipation, which builds up and causes a chemical that makes us feel happy in ourselves," David explains.
"What people do when they're having affairs is they get very addicted to the excitement part and there's no reason why that can't happen to couples who are married, to have affairs but with each other."
We need to remember, he says, how important sex is to a relationship, adding that one of the benefits of having schedule is that helps people get over the mindset that they don't have time for it, or that other activities, like the children's football practice for example, are more important.
"Neuroscience research indicates chemicals that are released in the brain during sex are incredibly powerful and they're designed to be powerful because they're about getting people to mate and to procreate," he says.
"So the more often a couple is making love to each other, the stronger the bond will be between them.
Helen Vaughan stresses that scheduling doesn't mean things have to be formulaic. "Find a solution that works for you. It doesn't mean you have to do it at a certain time every Saturday night," she says. "You can move it around to suit you and move locations. Go away somewhere - obviously not right now - but come up with ways to vary what you do and where you do it so at least you're switching it up a bit and you've got a bit of variation."
Putting a date in the calendar can be particularly useful for couples where one person has a higher sex drive than the other, which can be a common problem in many relationships.
"If a man or woman wants sex more often than their partner, at least there's a conversation and a willingness to have intimacy when they've scheduled things," David says.
"It mightn't always be as often as they like but someone with a higher sex drive would be happier to have sex every two weeks rather than never because it's not scheduled."
It's worth bearing in mind, that despite your best intentions, life can still get in the way and that planned session might not happen. But that shouldn't deter couples from trying again.
"If a couple agree that 9pm Saturday night is their intimate time but then there's a spat at 4pm and somebody hasn't said sorry properly, then you can't expect things to happen five hours later. There are a lot of contextual factors that impact upon one's sex drive and it's not just about naughty text messages that you got that day," says David.
And if planned sex doesn't happen, it's no more disappointing than sex not happening because it isn't scheduled, according to Emily. "What I know is when people have agreed to schedule sex, they're more likely to turn up and be more likely to be able to hold each other to these appointments, than if it's not planned at all."