Building A Better Sex Life

Richard J. Williams suspects that architects have underestimated a key component of human nature:

It’s odd how little architects have had to say on the subject of sex. If they’re routinely designing the buildings in which sex happens, then you might expect them to spend more time thinking about it. Buildings frame and house our sexual lives. They tell us where and when we can, and cannot, have sex, and with whom. To escape buildings for sex — to use a park, a beach, or the back seat of a car — is a transgression of one kind or another. Most of us keep sex indoors and out of sight. …

According to [sex therapist Esther] Perel, sex wastes time, needs space, and (most intriguingly) is inhibited by too much intimacy. All these things have implications for architecture, which in the West has been coloured by the language of efficiency for at least a century.

His proposal?

For me, the ideal would be some form of co-housing, the best-known example being Sættedammen in Denmark, established in 1972 (with the founding creed: ‘Children should have 100 parents’). It occupies the right space between the wilder forms of intentional community, and market-dominated individualism. It doesn’t explicitly challenge sexual norms. However, by providing shared facilities (childcare, gyms, swimming pools, saunas, rooms for parties), it provides time and space to play, and addresses the deficits that Esther Perel identified as inhibiting our sexual lives (sex loves to waste time, remember).

But I’d add some sort of therapeutic role, too. If we were to live more communally, we would need help to resolve inevitable interpersonal conflicts. The odd thing is that we already strongly value co-housing, albeit in an occasional and time-limited form. University students live like this, and we do the same thing on holiday; both forms seem to provide a better emotional environment in which to explore and develop primary relationships — including sexual ones. If we can accept such communal living for some of our lives, why not the rest of the time? Then we might have an architecture that actually supports, rather than impedes, our sexual lives.