Are You in a Sexless Marriage?

Middle aged couple using tablet in bed
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Physical intimacy is what makes a relationship more than just a platonic friendship. Some couples fall into a negative pattern or habit of letting the physical part of the marriage fall by the wayside. There is a "normal" drop off within the first few years of marriage, particularly after kids come into the picture. But, to let it dry up completely is often a major marital problem that must be addressed.

A married couple can become more-or-less roommates. If both are okay with this, it doesn't call for concern. But, this is rarely the case. Usually, one or both partners are significantly frustrated or hurt by such a circumstance.

A sexless marriage is defined as a marriage with little or no sexual activity between the two people. It is estimated to be about 2 percent of marriages.

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Questions and Tips For Building Intimacy In Your Relationship

Common Reasons for a Sexless Marriage

There are many possible reasons that a marriage becomes sexless: 

Health and Physical Factors

Mismatched sexual libidos (sex drives): Not everyone desires the same amount of sex and sex drive has a natural ebb and flow. When the desire for sex does not coincide, it's easy for couples to fall into the habit of waiting until they are both in the mood.

Childbirth: Women are usually advised by their doctor's to forgo sex for at least six to eight weeks after giving birth. The added stress of caring for an infant, body changes, tiredness, and hormonal factors can also affect a woman's libido after having a child.

Stress: Excessive stress can wreak havoc on your health, including your sex drive. The stress hormone cortisol can also play a role in lowering your libido. In addition to the physical reasons why stress lowers sex drive, the psychological effects of stress can leave you so tired, frazzled, and anxious that you simply don't have the desire or energy for sex.

Erectile dysfunction (ED): Difficulty achieving or maintaining an erection can make it difficult to have sex for a number of reasons. While ED is a common problem, it can also affect a man's anxiety levels, confidence, and self-esteem. Men who have symptoms of ED should always talk to their doctor, as it may be a sign of an underlying health condition.

Hypo-sexual desire disorder (low sex drive): Female low sex drive may be attributed to this condition which is characterized as a lack of or deficiency of sexual fantasies, desires, and activity. A number of factors may contribute to HSDD, including menstrual cycles, the use of hormonal contraceptives, childbirth, breastfeeding, hysterectomy, and menopause, 

Medications side effects: Many different types of medications have sexual side effects. Some drugs that can cause sexual dysfunction include over-the-counter decongestants, some antihistamines, antidepressants, and high blood pressure medications.

Depression or other mental health issues: Symptoms of depression include lack of energy, loss of interest and pleasure, social withdrawal, and depressed mood—all factors that can have an effect on a person's desire for sex and intimacy.

History of sexual abuse: Past sexual abuse can have long-lasting effects that can influence current and future relationships. Emotional reactions such as fear and shame, posttraumatic stress, and distortions in self-perception can have a serious impact on a person's sex life.

Communication and Relationship Issues

When you are in conflict with your partner, it can be difficult to maintain intimacy. You might not feel like talking to your partner, let alone engage in sexual activity. Some factors that may contribute to this problem include:

  • Relationship conflict and arguments
  • Negative feelings toward your partner like anger or resentment
  • Punitive or passive-aggressive withholding of sex
  • Infidelity
  • Power struggles
  • Pornography addiction

Lifestyle and Personal Factors

There are a number of different life factors that can also play a role in how frequently people engage in sex with their partner.

  • Boredom
  • Tiredness
  • Grief
  • Job loss
  • Financial problems
  • Aging
  • Body image issues

Professor Denise A Donnelly spoke with The New York Times about her studies on sexless marriages. She estimates 15 percent of married couples did not have sex with their partner in the last six months to one year. Our own unscientific poll on low sex marriages shows a very high percentage of those taking the poll consider themselves in a low sex marriage. Perhaps this is why you are searching for articles on the topic of marriage! Regardless, you are not alone. "Sexless marriage" is a heavily searched term on the Internet. 

Michele Weiner Davis, author of the book, Sex Starved Marriage explained why a low sex marriage is a major problem in a marriage: "It's when one partner is desperately yearning for more touch, physical closeness, more sex, and the other partner is thinking: "What is the big deal? Why are you so hassled?" When this major disconnect happens, intimacy at all levels tends to drop. It's really about feeling wanted, feeling loved, feeling appreciated and feeling connected and, in this case, feeling feminine. Because of the hurt, they stop spending time together. They stop laughing at each other's jokes. They stop making eye contact. The bond between them really dissipates, and it puts the marriage at risk for infidelity and divorce."

Tips to Help a Sexless Marriage

The first step is to recognize the signs of low sex marriage. Then, you need to determine if this is a problem. Whether you consider a low-sex or no-sex marriage a problem is entirely up to you and your partner.

There is no "right" amount of sex to have in a marriage. What's more important, in many cases, is whether you still have physical and emotional intimacy with your partner.

Don't try to compare your marriage to other people's, because every relationship is unique. While you might come across statistics that make you feel like you and your partner are not having enough sex, research has found that going without sex is more common than you might think. One 2017 study found that more than 15% of men and nearly 27% of women reported that they had not had sex in the past year.

Communicate

Talk with your partner about the issue of low sex or no sex in your marriage. It may be difficult, but it is necessary. Even otherwise strong relationships can have problems with sex and intimacy. It isn't necessarily a sign that your marriage is weak or in trouble; it may simply mean that you need to talk more and carve out more time to spend together as a couple.

If you need help figuring out how to talk to your partner, consider first talking to a professional therapist for ideas about how to approach the subject. It is important to keep the conversation positive and not leave your partner feeling like they are being attacked or blame.

Accept that changing your sexless marriage will not be easy. You both need to make the decision to change aspects of your marriage. Every marriage is different and you need to work together as a couple to figure out what works for you. Don't try to live up to other people expectations or what you think is 'normal' in a relationship. Talk about what each of you wants, needs, and expects and then work together to make it work for both of you.

As you talk, decide on ways you both think you can rekindle your sex life. Making a change will only work if both of you agree to change and work together to find a solution.

Focus On Building Intimacy

Put sex on your schedule. It sounds unromantic, but it can also be very romantic if done the right way. You both will have something to look forward to!

Take up a new activity together. You have to make an effort to renew your love and create that spark you initially had. Novelty and dating help.

Explore other ways to build closeness. Physical intimacy doesn't only involve sex.

Being close, both emotionally and physically, is an important part of a healthy relationship. Spending more time together, whether you're curled up on the couch together watching television or taking turns giving each other a massage, can help.

Other intimacy-building ideas you might try include:

  • Going on a couples vacation
  • Planning a "staycation" at home
  • Going on a scheduled date night each week if possible

Get Help

See your medical doctors to address underlying medical conditions impacted your sex life. There are many solutions that can help, but you must open up to your doctor. They have heard it all and will be able to help if you are honest. 

Try a marriage retreat, workshop, or seminar to help with communication and connection. It can be a great opportunity to focus on building a stronger, deeper marriage.

Consider seeing a professional counselor who deals with sexual issues in marriage. A certified sex therapist would be most helpful in this circumstance. Your therapist can work with you to address any issues in your relationship that are standing in the way of intimacy as well as exploring individual factors that might be playing a role.

Next Steps

If your partner doesn't agree that there is a problem in your marriage and doesn't want to change, you will have to decide if a low or no sex marriage is a deal-breaker for you.

Do not make the decision to betray your partner and become unfaithful as a way of handling your frustration with a lack of sex in your marriage.

Start instead by communicating and exploring ways that you can find the intimacy level that each of you needs.

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