Double Beds: A Source of Boredom or Conjugal Bliss?

Some married couples loathe to sleep together. According to a recent EU survey almost a third of women over the age of sixty no longer sleep side-by-side with their husbands. Tired of their partner’s fidgeting, snoring, calls for hanky-panky and repeated trips to the toilet, they choose to sleep alone, where they feel sure they’ll get a better night’s rest. Evelyn Waugh, the novelist, was definitely of this opinion, saying that for physical pleasure he’d rather go to the dentist than share the marital bed. Distance for him, and for many others, lends enchantment to the conjugal scene. In Victorian times this separation was favoured by British health gurus, who thought it was vital to open bedroom windows and breath in the gales of fresh air, rather than inhale the stale air expelled from someone else’s lungs. This craze quickly spread across the Atlantic, where it was sponsored by experts like Dr James Graham, the inventor of the nutritious Graham biscuit. The yanks were accustomed to sleeping together, and took some convincing of the merits of twin beds, which they probably thought were best left for twins. The first advertisement for a single bed in the USA stressed that this was now the custom of the British intelligentsia. ‘Never breathe the breath of another,’ was the slogan of their promotional campaign.

Prior to that the Puritans who emigrated to New England had slept together to keep warm, following the advice in Ecclesiastes: ‘If two lie together they are warm, but how can one be warm alone?’ (This advice is omitted from some bowdlerised versions of the Old Testament.) The trouble is that couples are likely to become more amorous when they sleep together. When sharing a double bed couples are exposed to up to six times the level of pheromones, the naturally occurring chemical sexual attractants, which in monkeys are known are known as ‘copulins’. That’s one of the reasons why people who sleep together tend to keep together. Ronald & Nancy Reagan had a close relationship, and hated to be separated at night. When the presidential couple attended a conference in Lisbon in 1985 their advance guard couldn’t find a suitable bed so had one specially made. This was put in storage and became known in diplomatic circles as their ‘European bed’. Two years later it was transported to Venice, where the 76-year-old president was attending an economic summit meeting, and needed the assurance of a good night’s sleep. Shakespeare also had a favourite double bed. People thought it strange that he stipulated in his will that Anne Hathaway, his wife, should have his ‘second best bed’ This was because in Elizabethan times the second best bed was the conjugal bed, the best bed being reserved for visitors.

Nowadays a great problem for holiday makers is often to find a hotel, or cruise ship, that offers a genuine double bed. Hotels like twins because they’re more flexible. They can be used to accommodate children, and friends who don’t want to sleep together, and then pushed together and maybe cross-mattressed to convert them into a double bed. As far as travel agents are concerned you pay your money but you get very little choice where sleeping arrangements are concerned. But this may not suit everyone. Joan Bakewell complained about this compromise solution when she was planning one of her honeymoons. She was going abroad and said: ‘While sun, sea, wine and rest combine to inflame your inclinations, your hotel room will probably open up a rift between you’. The trend, she complained, was ‘universally to twin beds.’ Maybe we should make more fuss. Whom God has joined together let no hotelier drive asunder. I’m a lifelong double bed fan myself, and will return to this subject again, when I want to discuss double beds in the light of modern research in psychology and nuclear physics. (When two people share a bed they’re exposed to more radiation than when they live beside a nuclear reactor, because of the natural radioactivity of the human body.)

Key words: Double Beds; Sleep; Ronald Reagan; Joan Bakewell; Dr James Graham.

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