Instead, she believes the secret is partnership.
Mirren was promoting her new movie, Hitchcock, in which she plays the director Alfred Hitchcock’s wife, Alma Reville, who was married to him for 53 years. She supported him throughout his long and successful career, but the relationship was sexless.
“This (issue) is very, very unusual in movies. People get together for reasons other than sex and, although it is important in the beginning for most couples, it’s not what makes marriages last,’’ says Mirren in an interview with Woman and Home magazine.
“But I think the power of partnership in marriage is under-recognised in our society. That’s what makes marriages work, not sex.’’
Is Mirren right? She said a few years ago that she would set her alarm clock early to have time to make love with her husband.
“I agree companionship is very important in a marriage,’’ says Teresa Bergin, a sex therapist at Elm Mount Counselling and Psychotherapy, Dublin. “Friendship, stability and partnership are the bedrock of a long-lasting marriage. But sex is also an integral part of it. We are sexual beings, we have sexual needs, and sex is a form of communication. When it isn’t happening, then it flags up that communication in the relationship is problematic.’’
David Kavanagh, a relationship expert, agrees and says that although the frequency of sex in a long-term relationship may have slowed, research shows the couple’s enjoyment of it may have increased.
“You don’t have to have sex as often as you did when you were younger, but you appreciate it more when you do. It’s like having dinner. As you get older, you appreciate fine food. In your youth, you enjoy McDonalds,’’ he says.
Although sexless marriages exist, Bergin says any couples in this situation should seek help and be honest about what they want and need sexually.
“Once the children have left home, couples can use this quality time to spend on their intimate relationship. I am certainly seeing more older couples who want to use this time to enhance their sexual relationship.
“It may have run into difficulties, and they want to have something that is more intimate and better quality into their later years. They are having more open conversations about what they need for the relationship to continue for another 20 plus years,’’ she says.
Mirren, who has been married to Taylor Hackford, a film director, for 16 years, says that neither of them are romantic, they forget each other’s birthdays, and she would be “completely horrified’’ if he bought her a Valentine’s card.
“That’s not our sort of relationship at all. We pour cold water on that sort of thing,’’ she says.
So can a marriage last without sex and romance? “Oh, no Helen, I am getting annoyed with you now,’’ says Bergin. “Romance is under-rated, it is very important.
“In a long-term marriage, it is essential to maintain the romantic and thoughtful gestures.
“It is an expression of care and we don’t really receive that anywhere else in life, so it is very important to receive it from your partner.’’
You don’t have to be romantic every day, or even spend money on expensive gifts, just be consistent and thoughtful, says Bergin.
“It could be a cup of tea in bed, a sweet note in your pocket, something that shows you are thinking about your partner and you care for them. “It can go a long way in maintaining the intimacy in a relationship,’’ she says.