Couples: Too Tired For Sex?

<B>Peter Van Sant</B> Reports That The Average Married Couple Is Having Less Sex.

Before the sun rises, Chris Paterson of Leesburg, Va., has already started his hectic work day.

Chris, 32, is a contractor running on little more than three cups of coffee and six hours of sleep – while his wife and two young sons are fast asleep.

By 6:30 a.m., Chris' wife, Tara, is multi-tasking with Adam, 6 and Caden, 2. There are lunches to make, dishes to wash, shopping to do, and a home business to run.

Tara, 30, says her typical day is 16 hours. "There's not a whole lot left after that," she says.

It's enough to exhaust anyone, and the couple admits that sleep is the first thing that's on their minds at the end of a long, tiring day.

Despite our sex-obsessed culture, and despite the notion that Americans young and old are having hotter, better, more frequent sex, the truth is that the average married couple is actually sex-starved.

In fact, there are millions of couples just like Tara and Chris who are too tired and too busy to get it on. Correspondent Peter Van Sant reports.

One survey says that nearly half of all married couples – 45 percent – have sex only 1-3 times per month. And Chris and Tara say they're part of that group.

"Couples are saying they have no time for sex," says Peter Fraenkel, a couples therapist and director of The Center for Time, Work, and The Family at the Ackerman Institute in New York City. "I think many couples are struggling with this. I would even say it's an epidemic."

Sex, the glue that often holds couples together, is usually the first thing to go when couples become overscheduled. And based on Fraenkel's experience, an undersexed couple is a couple that may eventually have troubles.

"When we start to feel cut off from our partners around sex and intimacy, it starts to breed lots of negative feelings and a distance that may lead to more conflict," says Fraenkel.

By late afternoon, Tara has been working in overdrive for almost 14 hours, and with dinner to make and cookies to bake, she says sex is the furthest thing from her mind: "When you haven't had time for yourself, the last thing you wanna worry about is the male libido."

Chris is finally home at 7 p.m. and Caden and Adam are fighting non-stop. Now, the hard labor really begins. "I would love to say that it's just so much fun to have them around all day, but all he [Adam] does is instigate Caden," says Tara. "It's just horrible."

After a day like this, anyone will tell you sex is exactly the stress reliever Chris needs. But tonight, like most nights, is a total bust.

"It's not happening," says Chris. "There's no way I'd ever consider it right now. So sex is just not something that's in the works tonight."

Do Chris and Tara ever talk about it – and wonder if there's something wrong?

"We did go through that. We went through Chris thinking I wasn't attracted to him," says Tara. "I thought something was wrong."

"Rejection, definitely," says Chris. "For some reason, we weren't having sex and I didn't know why."

Have they just gotten used to not having sex? "After Adam was born, it was like once every two, three months," says Chris. "That figure keeps changing," adds Tara.

48 Hours asked Fraenkel to make an emergency housecall. He asks the couple what they think needs to be improved.

"I think some of what could be improved is how to handle some of the anger and frustration with the kids," says Tara.

Fraenkel says busy couples need time to wind down -- away from the kids: "I call it a decompression chamber, creating a little time chamber that you go into to unwind."

"I think the best time to do it is just as soon as I get home," says Chris.

Fraenkel also suggests couples engage in sexy chat and send one another X-rated love notes throughout the day. He calls these "60-second pleasure points."

"Do you ever think about doing something erotic over the phone?" Fraenkel asks the couple. "This is part of what keeps the juice going, the electricity going."

The good news for the millions of sex-starved, exhausted couples across the nation is that a break in sex doesn't necessarily signal the end of a marriage.

"I certainly think that couples can have a great deal of intimacy and not so much sex and that's honest, true, and real," says Fraenkel.

For Tara, being sex-starved is simply part of being a modern-day wife. And she accepts it, at least for now. "It's busy, but very enjoyable," she says. "We still manage to spend quality time together every night. We have dinner as a family every night."

And for Chris Paterson, there are just some things that will always be more important than sex. "I go to sleep with her every night, I wake up with her every morning," he says. "And when I come home, I see her smiling face and blue eyes, I'm like, 'That's my wife.'"