If you fell asleep on the big night, don’t worry. So did many other (still) happily married couples.
Emily Lynen, 29, and Amber Lynen, 35, had every intention of having sex on their wedding night.
Alas. After the two exchanged vows on Oct. 21, 2021, in Pasadena, Calif., the wedding party stayed out at a bar until late. Just as the couple was undressing in their hotel room, Amber Lynen’s maid of honor, best friend and brother’s girlfriend knocked on their door … and proceeded to climb into bed with the newlyweds. The visitors stayed for two hours of chatter.
The couple, who live in Cincinnati, took the thwarted plans in stride. “Honestly, the story of everyone ending up in our bed is a great story,” said Emily Lynen, a program manager. (Amber Lynen is a litigation paralegal.) “It’s a memory that I will always laugh about.” She added, “We have the rest of our lives ahead for a night of sex.”
Picture the wedding night, as popular culture has often dictated it: The vows have been exchanged, the champagne flutes are empty and the guests are gone. The newlyweds retreat to their private quarters — finally — for the exhilarating consummation of their marriage. Right?
Wrong — sometimes.
Across cultures, the wedding night has risen to such mythic expectations that even the term “wedding night” has become winkingly interchangeable with “sex.” It can be a night shrouded in mystery — and sometimes disappointment, either owing to anticipation, anxiety or good old-fashioned exhaustion.
According to a widely cited study published by the Guttmacher Institute in 2006, 95 percent of people in the United States have had sex before marriage. There is, of course, the other five percent. In many cultures, the wedding night may mark the couple’s first time attempting intimacy. However, the reality, according to multiple mental health experts consulted for this story, is that many couples do not reach this rite of passage on the wedding night itself, even if they had hoped to.
Carol and Ronnie Gee, retired military sergeants who live in Atlanta, were in the Air Force when they married in 1973. Because they were living on base in Idaho with men and women assigned to separate dorms, they had no private space to consummate the marriage. So they pooled their money to rent a tiny one-bedroom house for the night. Unfortunately, the bed had an old mattress that sagged so much in the middle that sex was a physical impossibility.
“My husband was in the valley while I was lying uncomfortably above him,” Ms. Gee said. And “no way were we going to make love on the nasty floor even after sweeping it and mopping.”
They finally consummated two weeks later when they were assigned a house on the base — one that had a brand-new bed.
“This unusual beginning demonstrated how our union would probably be,” said Ms. Gee, who, like her husband, is 75. “Fun, silly.”
“There’s a lot of pressure for it to be the perfect end to a deeply meaningful day,” said Vanessa Marin, author of “Sex Talks: The Five Conversations That Will Transform Your Love Life” and a licensed psychotherapist specializing in sex therapy based in Santa Barbara, Calif. “After all, you won’t remember the sex you have on a random Tuesday in 2019, but you’ll always remember the sex you had on your wedding night.”
Anne and Eric Lee, who are 45 and live in Philadelphia, married in 2016 after three years of dating. “We decided to wait until marriage to have sex because we wanted to ensure that our relationship was built on a strong emotional connection,” Mr. Lee said.
Ms. Lee, a nurse, and Mr. Lee, an accountant, planned a special wedding night, replete with candles and rose petals.
“The night was everything we expected and more,” Mr. Lee said. “It was an incredibly intimate experience. We still feel that connection today.”
But the night may not always exceed expectations. Cheyenne Taylor, a licensed mental health counselor and sex therapist based in Brooklyn, advised, “If you buy into the idea that sex on your wedding night should be perfect, try to adjust your expectations.”
Which is exactly what helped Dawn-Michelle Lewis, a project manager, and Shresth Sethi, a data analytics consultant, when they were married on Oct. 9, 2022. “I anticipated not having sex on our wedding night,” Ms. Lewis said. “Aside from being sick, we had two wedding ceremonies that day” — one Sikh and one non-religious.
Instead, their wedding night was spent with the bride’s mother helping her get out of her wedding dress after Mr. Sethi had fallen fast asleep. The couple, who are 30 and live in Harrisburg, Pa., consummated the next day. “We’re more morning sex people anyway,” Ms. Lewis said.
Planning can work even for couples who were already sexually active. “We were very strategic in how we wanted the night to go so that we could have sex,” said Ofelia Saba Ramírez of her wedding to Jessica Saba Ramírez, both graduate students, on March 25, 2022. They limited their alcohol and stayed hydrated on their wedding day, also consuming energy drinks to stay awake.
In the end, the couple, who are 41 and live in Los Angeles, had “not the most energetic, but incredibly memorable,” sex, according to Ofelia Saba Ramírez. They felt they were continuing the sexual connection they said is an important part of their relationship, and despite being exhausted, they felt proud of themselves for making it a priority.
“Mainstream forms of pop culture have infiltrated our minds and made us believe that wedding night sex is supposed to be a magical night of earth-shattering pleasure,” said Shavon Gaddy-Dalrymple, a psychotherapist in New York City specializing in couples. “Couples tend to not plan their wedding night sex,” she added, “but have the most expectation around its success.”
Ms. Gaddy-Darlrymple recommended designating a friend to be the wedding night planner, someone who could set up the room the couple will retreat to after the wedding, and help ensure the couple leaves the wedding reception early (and sober) enough that they are not completely exhausted.
However, regardless of the number of opportunities a couple has, they still might not be able to have sex on their wedding night.
Tina Lesley-Fox, 47, and Melissa Lesley-Fox, 44, had three wedding nights — and didn’t have sex on any of them. The couple, who now live in Syracuse, N.Y., were first married on March 6, 2004, but it was annulled the following year after marriage equality was overturned in Oregon. Their second marriage was a commitment ceremony that August, followed by a legal marriage in New York on Aug. 27, 2011, once same-sex marriage was legal in the state.
It helped that they didn’t buy into traditional expectations as a same-sex couple. “We made everything up and organized everything ourselves,” said Tina Lesley-Fox, a director of faith development for a Unitarian church. (Melissa Lesley-Fox is a part-time bookkeeper.)
“We do remember being very tired and excited that we were married,” she added, “and going to sleep.”