LET'S BEGIN with a different kind of word association game, shall we?
When I say the word "married," what is the absolute last word that pops into your mind?
How about, oh ... "lust"?
Those are two words you don't see linked every day, right?
Yet "Married Lust" is the title of a new book that just crossed my desk, written by Pamela Lister, a contributing editor to Redbook magazine. The subtitle, by the way, is: "10 Secrets of Long-Lasting Desire."
Look, I don't know how it is with you. But when you get to be my age and someone hands you a book with "lust" in one title and "desire" in the other, you tend to sit up and take notice.
For the record, as a married guy, I'm all for lust and desire.
So instead of chucking this book into the pile with all the other dopey books people send me -- the last one was about giving your cat a massage, honest to God -- I got on the horn with Lister, who lives in central New Jersey.
Lister turned out to be a 44-year-old woman with two kids who sounded funny and down-to-earth and who writes Redbook's "Red Hot Sex" column. So naturally, the first question I asked her was: How do I get a job like that?
No, I'm kidding. The first thing I asked her was what prompted her to write "Married Lust." She said it originated from two large online sex surveys Redbook conducted two years ago.
The first asked married men aged 25-45 the question: "What's the one thing you'd change to make your sex life even better?"
"We were hoping to get 500 responses," Lister said. "Instead, within two weeks, we had almost 5,000 men respond."(Think about that: Five thousand responses. Me, I get depressed when I log on and have to wade through 30 e-mails.)
Anyway, the response was so great that Redbook then asked married women in the same age category the same question. Again, the magazine received nearly 5,000 responses.
What happened next was like in the cartoons. It was almost as if a little light bulb switched on over Lister's head. And she thought: book proposal!
By the way, Lister says the top two answers from both men and women to what they'd change to make their sex life better were: spend more time with my spouse ("More time means better sex," says Lister) and make my spouse the priority.
"Do you want to hear the top male surprise answer?" Lister asked.
Absolutely, I said. We're on The Sun's dime here.
"Men wished their wives would initiate sex more."
Pamela, Pamela, Pamela, I said. I could have saved you a ton of research time on that one.
No, I didn't really say that, either. But it did strike me as something from the "Duh!" category, although Lister said what made it surprising is that there was no check-off answer for that in the survey. In other words, the male respondents had to write that in on their own.
Top female surprise answer?
"Yes, women want more romance, more one-on-one attention," Lister said. "But the main thing they want is for the husband to help out around the house more. What a concept, right? If you help out more often, you'll get [lucky]!"
Did I mention I do much of the vacuuming and ironing around my house? And that I'm an absolute saint when it comes to helping with the kids? I should probably mention that.
Anyway, Lister took these 10,000 responses and used them to answer the eternal question for married couples, posed on the book's jacket: "How do you stay hot for each other when the thrill of the chase is over, the mystery is gone, and you've got a couple of kids underfoot?"
Off the top of my head, my answer would be: Cocktails, anyone? And what time does the sitter get here?
But Lister says there are lots of ways to maintain desire in a relationship and lists "10 Secrets," with the First Secret being: enthusiasm.
Let's get out there and participate! she says in so many words. While more than half the women Redbook surveyed said they were content with how often they made love, Lister writes that "a whopping 68 percent of the men crave more -- no matter how much they're getting now!"
I know, I know ... big surprise, right? But Lister's point is this: "Men want women to want and love sex as much as they do."
The rest of the book lists the other nine "secrets" of long-lasting desire, including variety (I think I began hyper-ventilating during this chapter), adventure (ditto) and confidence.(Here's an interesting note if you have kids around the house and don't want them seeing you reading a book with such a racy title: the book jacket is reversible.)(Yes! The reverse side, for more discreet reading, is a bland beige cover with the eye-glazing title: "Modern Tactics in Higher Education." The only reason my kids would pick up a book with that title was if they needed something to throw at each other.)
Anyway, Lister says the most surprising revelation to come out of the Redbook survey is how happy married couples are sexually.
Almost three-quarters of both the men and women respondents said they have as much or more desire for their spouse now as when they got married.
"Despite occasional shortages or even blackouts of desire," she writes, "most people are pretty happy with their sex lives and only want to make them better."
Now if you'll excuse me, I've got to go straighten up the kitchen.