'What was your wedding night like?"
When the intrusive question popped up on Reddit recently, marrieds were quick to overshare. While a handful boasted about getting it on in full wedding regalia, many others readily admitted that no action was had.
"We stayed up and watched Dumb and Dumber in the hotel room," one spouse wrote on the community website. "He helped me out of my dress and we drank champagne, ate a Mars bar and watched music videos until we passed [out]," remembered another. "For the first time in my life I said, 'Can we just cuddle tonight?' I was too drunk," confessed a third.
The unscientific survey hinted at something many newlyweds already know: When your wedding day takes a year to plan and stretches out over 20 exhilarating hours, there can be little left over for the wedding night. Today, this supposedly romantic occasion sees brides and grooms getting trashed with their guests, wolfing down leftovers and gleefully counting money envelopes in bed before sleeping the most epic sleep of their lives. In other words, not very much consummating at all.
"The wedding is a big party to celebrate a life milestone but the actual act of having it consummated has gone the way of the dodo," said Karina Lemke, a Toronto-based wedding planner. "Weddings are now expensive, multiday events. By the time the wedding day rolls around people are pretty well dead – they sleep."
While consummation on the wedding night is still very much relevant among those in orthodox religious traditions, most newlyweds have nothing remotely resembling a chastity pact, having lived (and slept) together for years. "The older the bride and groom, the less likely they are to feel any need to engage in this as a way of sealing their marriage vows," said Lemke, who was six months pregnant during her nuptials five years ago (on the big night her husband went as far as extracting her out of her Spanx).
Today, many newlyweds are out of the honeymoon phase and into the farting-in-front-of-each-other phase. As a friend of Lemke's put it, "After six years together, there were no new moves for the wedding night to try out."
It wasn't always so. Two decades ago, Lemke, then a florist, would routinely get wedding night requests from grooms. "They'd ask me to do rose petals, candles and nice little treats for the wedding night. That's pretty well gone."
A 2013 poll of 2,128 British newlyweds found that more than half didn't have sex on their wedding night. Sixteen per cent of brides passed out exhausted, 10 per cent of couples argued during the reception and 7 per cent stayed up late to party with their guests. A quarter of grooms and 13 per cent of brides got too sauced.
Which brings us to another libido zapper: the open bar. "The men are just falling over drunk by the end of it," Lemke said. "I have had calls from brides in tears because her husband is so drunk that he's absolutely useless and belligerent and this is not how their wedding was supposed to go."
Throughout history, things haven't gone as planned on the wedding night, though for different reasons. Elizabeth Abbott, author of A History of Marriage, said before people married for love – a relatively new phenomenon – they married for social, financial and political standing. Virgin brides were offered a "morning gift" of money for consummating their marriages overnight. Couples in arranged marriages would often put sex off for weeks: "Some wives were too young, they were scared and they didn't want it at all," Abbott said.
Other newlyweds weren't virginal, meaning the wedding night didn't exactly present a first. "We know from records calculating weddings and births afterward that there were a lot of fourth-month pregnancies," Abbott said.
Another hindrance to consummating the night of? Guests – very rude guests. The French folk custom of charivari saw wedding revellers singing, fiddling, blowing horns and banging on pots and pans outside the newlyweds' door. The tradition originated in the Middle Ages to ward off evil spirits. It also sprang from the community's need to control the process of marriage and to chastise those in inappropriate unions, including widows remarrying too soon and older grooms taking up with too-young brides.
In parts of rural France, drunken guests would break into the bridal chamber and pull the couple out of bed and onto the floor. In England, guests escorted the husband and wife to the bedroom, where they played crude games, rousing them with more loud music first thing in the morning.
"Historically, the wedding night was a total mess," Abbott said. "Far from giving the bride and groom privacy, the guests would do everything they could to invade it."
These days, newlyweds who manage to fool around on their wedding night may just willingly broadcast it themselves. Witness the odious trend of "morning-after" photography, with man and wife lying in a rumpled bed or entwined in a foggy shower stall. These intimate portraits are sometimes posted on social media feeds for friends and family to suffer through in silence. Writing in New York magazine, Kat Stoeffel noted the "psychic trauma sure to be inflicted upon the child who encounters mom and dad's sexually sated faces on the Internet."
Beyond being pathologically showy, "morning-after" photos also ring a bit false, if not abusive to the photographer forced to bob and weave between your pillows.
For those with no tangled sheets to Instagram the day after the big day, is anything lost? If you pass out in a pile of Mars bar wrappers on the first night of your marriage, is it a bad omen? Or does the new wedding night reflect the new realities of marriage: that it's about two people who know each other very well becoming a team, not about anyone scoring a virgin?
People are being adults about it, said Lemke. "They know that they have their whole lives together."