How A Sexless Marriage Can Affect Couples

Medically reviewed by Melissa Guarnaccia, LCSW
Updated January 13, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

A study on marital conflicts found that 21% of individuals feel that intimacy concerns are a conflict in their marriage. Although some couples may feel healthy without an active sex life, others may struggle and feel it is necessary. For those that find they are struggling due to an inactive sex life or sexless marriage, there are methods of finding support and improving the connection. 

Are You And Your Partner Struggling With Physical Intimacy?

Why Do Couples Struggle With Sexual Intimacy? 

Lack of marital sex could be due to a variety of factors, including:

  • Low sex drive

  • Lack of emotional connection

  • Poor communication

  • Medical problems, like medications that cause low libido as a side effect

  • Disability

  • Mental health conditions

  • Children

  • Age-related factors like hormones 

  • Unresolved anger or resentment

Although these challenges can cause difficulty, sexual resurgence may be possible. In some cases, it may take communication or reaching out for professional support. 

What To Do If You're In A Sexless Marriage

It can be possible to increase the intimacy in your marriage and begin engaging in regular, enjoyable sex again. The following tips may help you bring passion and excitement back to your love life.

Take A Caring Approach

Blaming and accusations may not make your spouse feel more interested in sex. Kindly and considerately communicating your needs and desires to your partner could lead to a healthier, happier sex life and marriage. Consider talking about the whole relationship. Rather than saying, "I want to try this," try saying, "I think this would be fun for us." Try to be open to what your partner has to say. Let them know if you're not comfortable with something they want to try. Consent is a crucial aspect of a healthy relationship. 

Work On Communication

Effective communication can involve more than words. Non-verbal cues may also be necessary, and each partner may learn to deliver their message with their spouse's feelings in mind. There are many resources for couples who struggle with effective communication. For example, the love languages quiz might help you and your partner understand how each of you expresses and likes to receive love and affection. You might also try a workbook on healthy relationship skills. 

Figure Out Why Your Marriage Is Sexless

Before you can address the sexual problems in your marriage, you may need to identify them. The issues might not be apparent or could be unrelated to sex. For example, emotional distress or frequent arguments may make it challenging to connect physically. If the cause of a lack of intimacy is unclear, a couples counselor may help both partners discover any underlying causes. 

Have Sex Without Intercourse

For those who feel that their marriage is sexless due to a lack of intercourse, it can be helpful to pleasure each other in different ways. For example, if you usually only try penetration, you could instead open up the possibility of oral, using toys, or roleplaying a fantasy. 

Some couples might try making out or kissing for long periods to see how long they can go without having sex. Others might try a game like sex dice or read up on new positions. At times, a lack of intimacy may be due to dissatisfaction from one or both partners. Finding new ways to have sex could help you feel satisfied again. 

Explore Other Ways To Be Intimate

When sexual intimacy is lacking, you may find non-sexual methods of intimacy. For example, you could hold hands more often, kiss before work, or write love letters to each other. One study showed that the perceived intimacy and enjoyment of kissing was a factor in how satisfied couples felt in their relationship. 

Find Other Outlets For Your Energy And Passion

If your spouse is less sexually driven than you are, you might find joy and relief in other forms of expression. A new hobby or sport can boost well-being and help expel pent-up energy. When you're more relaxed, it might make approaching the topic of intimacy with your partner easier. Additionally, you may find relief from self-stimulation. Some couples choose to have an open marriage due to differing libidos. 

Deal With Underlying Conflicts

While sex might cause some marital issues, sexual conflicts might also be an outward expression of a more pervasive underlying problem in your marriage. Dealing with any underlying issues could be imperative to restoring a healthy sexual relationship. 

If you or your partner harbor any anger or resentment toward one another, addressing these repressed emotions could benefit you. If you or your partner struggles with low self-esteem, acknowledging, validating, and working through the issue together can also strengthen your bond.

Hope For Sexless Marriages

In many situations, sex can be a taboo topic. However, in relationships, it may be beneficial to have open communication about the topic. In an interview with Huffington Post, sex therapist Kimberly Resnick Anderson explained that couples tend to "collude in silence," refusing to deal with the emotions that have contributed to their lack of sex.

There is no shame in talking about sex. Vanessa Marin, a licensed sex therapist, told Huffington Post, "it's so helpful to have someone there to guide you through these sensitive discussions and give you concrete strategies for getting your sex life back on track." Marin adds, "once you've gotten to a dark place in your relationship, it's hard to work your way out of it on your own. Being able to ask for help is a huge sign of strength."

Types Of Sexless Marriages

What satisfies one pair may not work for another. However, studies show that couples who engage in sexual activity less than once per week report lower happiness levels than those having frequent sex. Below are four types of sexless marriages. 

Mismatched Definitions Of "Sex" 

While some people consider penetration sex, others might characterize their marriages as sexless due to a lack of other types of stimulation. However, the definition of sex can vary per couple, and not all couples can have or desire penetration. Married heterosexual or homosexual couples can have sex with or without penetration, toys, or other forms of intimacy. What "intercourse" means for you can be subjective. 

In these cases, looking at the underlying cause of the concern might be beneficial. For example, perhaps one partner is uncomfortable with the other partner's idea of how sex should occur. Maybe one partner feels uncomfortable with their body. Open conversations about the lack of a particular sexual act can be beneficial. 

Rare Or No Sexual Intimacy 

Lack of sexual intimacy could cause marital conflict if there is no intimacy. If passion and intimacy aren't present, you may see your partner as a friend, roommate, or companion rather than a loving, caring spouse.

Sexual intimacy can involve an emotional connection that enriches a couple's life. Relationships may thrive when intimacy is present. Consider that sex and intimacy may not always be the same. Sex in a romantic relationship might be intimate, but intimacy without sex and sex without intimacy can also be possible.

Little Or No Sexual Interest 

Some married individuals or couples have no desire to engage in sex. In some cases, one partner might lack drive while the other desires more sexual intimacy. Approximately one-third of women between 18 and 59 lose interest in sex, and around 15% of men report a loss of interest. However, some men may not open up about their sex drive due to stigmas about male mental health and masculinity. 

Low-Quality Sex 

Sexual problems in marriages may not always be about frequency or interest but, at times, the quality of sexual encounters. For some married people, sex may lose its excitement by becoming seemingly dull or mechanical. Low-quality sex can affect a couple's sex life. 

Communicating about what you want from sex rather than how often you want sex may address these concerns. Sex therapy could help you and your partner open up to one another and explore new potential interests and activities to improve your sexual experiences. It may also be beneficial to view sex as a common intimate activity instead of a road to personal gratification or orgasm. 

Are You And Your Partner Struggling With Physical Intimacy?

Is A Sexless Marriage A Problem?

If both partners feel satisfied with a marriage that does not include sex, it may not be a problem for that relationship. They may find other ways to show intimacy, such as kissing, cuddling, or spending time together. In some cases, one or both partners might identify as asexual, a sexual orientation marked by a lack of sexual attraction. In these cases, it may be normal for a marriage not to have sex or to have a low amount of sex. 

For others, a lack of sex becomes a problem. In these cases, the following effects of a lack of sex may occur. 

Unhappiness 

Spouses who crave more sex or feel dissatisfied with their sex life might feel unhappy overall with the marriage. They may start to crave outside relationships or struggle with finding an outlet to release sexual energy. 

Infidelity 

You or your spouse may feel so unsatisfied in the marriage that you turn to others to satisfy your sexual needs. In these cases, jealousy, distrust, or divorce may occur. Even in an open relationship, negative feelings may occur on both sides if certain acts are not consensual. 

Self-Esteem Issues 

Partners may experience low self-esteem if they don't feel sexually attractive or desired. They might believe something is wrong with their bodies or their partner doesn't find them desirable. In some cases, they may feel uncomfortable with their partner seeing their body naked or feel that they cannot be vulnerable. 

Uncertainty And Instability 

If you struggle with the topic of sex, you might feel that your relationship could end. You may notice your emotional connection dwindling and a sense of detachment between you and your spouse. When partners distance themselves from each other, the marriage may become less stable. 

Lack Of Intimacy 

There can be other forms of intimacy besides sex, including deep conversation, touching, holding hands, and kissing. Partners might notice that other forms of intimacy drop off when sex is not as present. 

Blaming And Fighting 

Individuals in sexless marriages may feel bitter, hostile, or vindictive. They might have arguments with their spouse about the lack of sex. If one partner lacks interest, they may feel overcome with guilt or believe they're doing something wrong. 

When Is It Time to Move On?

If your partner can't meet your sexual needs, you might begin to question whether you should end the relationship. It might be a sign to move on if you or your partner are considering infidelity or feel the sexual concerns cannot be healed. Additionally, if one or both partners is not sexually attracted to the other as they once were, it may be a sign that they are no longer interested. Although marriages can exist without sex, some individuals feel it is necessary. 

Although you may choose to end your relationship due to struggles with sex or intimacy, you might also reach out to a couples therapist for further support before making a decision. 

Counseling Options 

Whether your partner is on board with improving your sexual relationship, a lack of intimacy may make you feel isolated and alone. You may choose individual counseling, couple's counseling, or both to discuss your concerns. 

It can be normal to have busy schedules. You might consider online counseling if one or both partners struggle to find time for traditional in-person therapy. Online therapy allows couples to get care according to availability, giving them more control over their therapeutic experience.  One study assessed the effectiveness of an online intervention for couples experiencing relationship issues. Results indicated improvements in relationship satisfaction, mental health, and all other outcome scores over time.

If you're interested in reaching out to a therapist, consider a platform like BetterHelp for individuals or ReGain for couples. Both platforms offer a way in to over 30,000 therapists specializing in various concerns, including marital issues. 

Takeaway

Struggling with sex in a marriage may feel challenging. However, it could be possible with specific tools and professional support. Reaching out to a couples therapist or participating in online therapy may help you and your spouse learn how to address your challenges. While there can be many causes of a sexless marriage, there may also be many ways to overcome them.

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