What To Do If You Have A Sexless Marriage

By Kelly Spears|Updated August 17, 2022

No one wants to admit they're in a sexless marriage, but the truth is that about 20% of couples say they fit the description of having sex less than once per month. Although there's no magic number of times you need to have sex in a marriage, lack of sex of emotional connection, can lead to infidelity.

So what should you do if you and your spouse aren't having sex? Curiosity is important, as reigniting the flame requires getting to the root of the problem.

A Lack Of Intimacy With Your Partner Can Be Frustrating

Why Married Couples Aren't Having Sex

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 the ebb and flow with different stages of life.
  • Unresolved anger

We'll cover these issues in more detail later, along with the different types of sexless marriages and common problems that arise when married couples stop having sex.

First, it's important to realize that a sexual resurgence is possible, especially when couples are willing to seek professional help.

Hope for the Sexless Marriage

In many situations, sex continues to be a taboo topic, but in marriage, it's essential to keep the subject open for discussion. 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 should be absolutely no shame in reaching out for help to repair your lackluster sex life. As sex therapist Vanessa Marin 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, making it nearly impossible to prescribe a specific amount or type of sex to married couples. However, studies show that couples who engage in sexual activity less than 10once per week report lower levels of happiness than duos who are having more sex. Below we describe four types of sexless marriages. You and your partner may fit one many or all of these descriptions:

Rare or No Intercourse. Many couples forego intercourse but still engage in sexual activity. While some people consider these encounters "sex," others characterize their marriages as sexless due to the lack of intercourse.

This can be a problem if one partner is recovering from another relationship or is not as experienced in sex and is trying to “take things slow.” It is also the case if one partner has had heterosexual relationships before and is in their first sexually active same-sex relationship – which involves different kinds of physical intimacy than they may be used to.

No matter what your situation may be, looking at “sex” with a more open mind can help you to get more out of your relationships.

Rare or No Sexual Intimacy. Lack of sexual intimacy can wreak havoc on a marriage, especially if there is no intimacy in marriage. 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 involves an emotional connection that can enrich a couple's sex life. Relationships thrive when intimacy is present. This is also a good place to point out a theme throughout this article: sex and intimacy aren’t the same thing. Sex in a romantic relationship should be intimate but intimacy without sex and sex without intimacy are both possible.

Little or No Sexual Interest. Some married individuals or couples have no desire to engage in sex. In many cases, one partner lacks drive while the other desires more sexual intimacy. Approximately one-third of women between the ages of 18 and 59 lose their interest in sex, and around 15% of men report a loss of interest. It's important to note that males may be less likely to report lack of sex drive, as male libido is often tied to masculinity.

Low-Quality Sex. Sexual problems in marriages aren't always about frequency or interest, but the quality of sexual encounters. For some married people, sex loses its excitement by becoming boring and/or mechanical. Low-quality sex can affect a couple's sex life just as much as no sex at all. Communicating about what you want from sex rather than how often you want to have sex can address these issues. Sex therapy can help you and your partner open up to one another and explore new potential interests and activities that can improve your sexual experiences.

Common Reasons for Sexless Marriage

There are many reasons married couples stop having sex. Common factors include:

Low Sex Drive. Many people simply have a low sex drive. Some folks have never had much interest in sexual activity, while others experience changes in drive due to physical or mental health issues. An individual's sex drive is also bound to hamper if he or she initiates sex with a partner and is repeatedly turned down. If you have no interest in sex with your partner, but you're interested in sex with others, the issue is likely not drive, but a problem within the marriage-perhaps one or more of the issues that we’ll discuss in the rest of this section.

Lack of Emotional Connection. When a marriage lacks emotional connection, the couple's sex life tends to become nonexistent over time. Sexual intimacy is impossible to maintain when partners don't feel emotionally connected. This emotional void often becomes damaging to a marriage, as couples feel distant from each other and often stop having sex altogether.

Poor Communication Regarding Needs. Even within a marriage, many individuals don't know how to talk about sex. Poor communication can result in unsatisfying sex or lack of sexual intimacy. A healthy sex life requires open communication, where partners voices their needs and desires and practice active listening.

Medical Problems. A wide range of medical issues can affect libido and impede the enjoyment of sexual experiences. High blood pressure, diabetes, medications, vitamin deficiencies, hormonal problems, smoking, obesity, and thyroid dysfunction are just a few physical problems that can contribute. We’ve mentioned already – and we’ll mention again – that there are mental and emotional health experts that can help you have a healthy sex life. However, you should also bring your problems up with your regular healthcare provider. It could be a symptom of life factors that could endanger more than just your sex life.

Disability. Some disabilities may cause sexual dysfunction. In the case that intercourse isn't possible, couples may be able to engage in other sexual activities that meet both partners' needs and desires.

Mental Health Issues. Mental health conditions, such as depression and anxiety can keep one or both partners from maintaining a sex life that meets both their needs and desires. Individuals going through a major mental health condition may struggle to find the energy for sexual activity, and in some cases, the spouse may take on a caretaking role, which can put a damper on a couple's intimate relationship. Antidepressant medications can cause erectile dysfunction and vaginal dryness, while anti-anxiety medications can lessen excitement. If you think that a medication – whether for mental and emotional health or other conditions – is causing the problem, bring it up with the prescribing physician. He or she may be able to put you on a different medication or adjust your dose to try to minimize side effects.

Children. Having children can hamper a couple's sex life for a multitude of reasons. Women experience changes in their bodies during pregnancy. Hormones get out of their normal balance, and breastfeeding causes prolactin levels to soar, causing vaginal thinning and dryness, which can make sex uncomfortable or even painful. Raising children also takes a lot of energy. Many parents experience a variety of stress-related mental and physical health problems that can decrease their desire for sex. Plus, if you’re worried about having sex when your children are awake or in the house, it can really limit your windows of opportunity.

Age-Related Factors. As we age, our bodies go through a series of changes. Women often experience a drop in estrogen, while low testosterone can be a problem for both men and women. Older men are more likely to experience erectile dysfunction, while some women experience vaginal dryness. While our energy levels tend to decrease as we age, there is good news: People over 60 tend to have more sexual confidence than they did earlier in life. Still, coping with a sexless marriage can be difficult at any age. particular if other life factors like health issues are also making things difficult.

Unresolved Anger. Unresolved anger may be the reason you and your partner aren't having sex. In some cases, sexless marriages end in divorce, with couples citing sexual problems as a major contributor. In actuality, unresolved anger and resentment may have led to the lack of sex.

Is a Sexless Marriage Really a Problem?

Some may say that as long as both partners are happy in a sexless marriage, there isn't a problem. Intimacy, however, is an important component of any healthy marriage. Plus, an active sex life can help both partners individually in a myriad of ways.

The following issues commonly arise from lack of sex in a marriage:

  • Unhappiness. You and your spouse may be so committed to each other that even without sex, you've decided to stay together. Unfortunately, making a pact to remain married despite an unfulfilling sex life won't safeguard your marriage against divorce. It's possible that lack of intimacy could result in more issues over time.
  • Infidelity. You and/or your spouse may be so unsatisfied in your sexless marriage that you turn to others to satisfy your sexual needs. Extramarital affairs, even with permission from your partner, can exacerbate problems in your marriage. You may both become emotionally disconnected and experience jealousy or lack of trust.
  • Self-Esteem Issues. Both men and women may experience low self-esteem if they don't feel sexually attractive or desired. Cultural messages suggest there's something wrong with us if we aren't engaging in sex on a regular basis. Men in particular may feel extreme pressure to maintain an active sex life to keep up with perceived societal norms.
  • Uncertainty and Instability. If you lack the drive for sex, it's normal to feel that your marriage may come to an end. You may notice your emotional connection dwindling and sense detachment between you and your spouse. When partners begin to distance themselves from each other, the marriage becomes less stable, as each partner desperately tries to get their emotional and physical needs met.
  • Lack of Intimacy. There are plenty of forms of intimacy besides sex, including deep conversation, touching, holding hands, and a good, old-fashioned make out session. Still, sex is a wonderful way to create or build an emotional bond.
  • Blaming and Fighting. Individuals in sexless marriages often become bitter, hostile, or vindictive. They may begin to manipulate their spouses in an effort to gain sex or deny it. The person lacking interest may become overcome with guilt, and the initiator may belittle the guilt-ridden partner rather than openly discussing the problem.

What to Do When You're in a Sexless Marriage

It is possible to increase the intimacy in your marriage and begin engaging in regular, enjoyable sex again. The following tried-and-true tips should help you bring passion and excitement back to your love life.

Take a Caring Approach

Blaming and accusations won't make your spouse 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.” Remember too to stay open to your partner’s views too.

A Lack Of Intimacy With Your Partner Can Be Frustrating

Work on Communication

Effective communication involves much more than words. Nonverbal cues are important, and each partner must learn to deliver their message with their spouse's feelings in mind. There are countless resources for couples who struggle with effective communication. "The 5 Love Languages" will help you and your partner understand and appreciate each other on a whole new level, and "The Seven Principles for Making Marriages Work" is a practical guide for couples with helpful tips and exercises for married duos.

Figure Out Why Your Marriage Is Sexless

Before you can address the sexual problems in your marriage, you first must identify them. Often, the real issues lie well below the surface. You may have been hiding your true feelings for so long that even you don't know what it is you truly feel. If the reason for you and your partner's lack of intimacy is unclear, a couple's counselor can help discover the reason(s) for your sexless marriage. (More on counseling later.)

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. When you take intercourse out of the picture, it decreases pressure and allows you and your partner to meet each other's needs in new and exciting ways. That doesn’t mean that you should avoid intercourse. However, thinking “if it happens, it happens; if it doesn’t happen we still had fun” is a more fun and more realistic expectation than thinking “if there’s no intercourse than we didn’t have a good time.”

Explore Other Ways to Be Intimate

When sexual intimacy is lacking, it's important to connect in other ways. Try sharing stories or look through pictures from your past together, discuss your hopes, dreams, thoughts, and opinions, as well as your triumphs and insecurities. As mentioned previously, intimacy involves much more than sex.

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. Taking up a new hobby or sport can boost wellbeing and help expel pent-up energy. When you're more relaxed, it can make approaching the topic of intimacy with your partner a lot easier.

Deal with Underlying Problems

While sex can certainly cause marital issues, it's possible that the sexual problems are an outward expression of a more pervasive problem in your marriage. Dealing with any underlying issues is imperative to restoring a healthy sexual relationship. If you or your partner harbor any anger or resentment toward one another, addressing these repressed emotions can help immensely.

If your or your partner struggles with low self-esteem, acknowledging, validating, and working through the issue together can also strengthen your bond.

Meeting Sexual Needs Outside the Marriage

Some individuals become so distressed by the lack of sex in their marriages that they consider seeking sex with others. Because the topic can be a major source of heartache and pain, many people don't discuss this option with their partners, and feel immense guilt and shame for straying from their marriages.

Before seeking a partner outside the marriage, individual and/or couple's counseling can be enlightening and life-changing. Below, we cover this option in more detail.

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. Many couples stay in unhappy, unsatisfying relationships for years without seeking help. One tell-tale sign that it’s time to consider moving on or seeking help is when you and/or your partner are considering secret extra-marital affairs. If you and your partner are both committed to making your relationship work, it is possible to save your marriage and rejuvenate your sex life.

How Online Counseling Can Help

Whether your partner is on board with finding a way to improve your sexual relationship or not, lack of intimacy can make you feel isolated and alone. Communication in sexless marriages is strained, and often men and women don't feel comfortable confiding in family members or friends about issues related to sex and intimacy.

In addition to medically reviewed articles like this one, BetterHelp's online therapy services provide convenient, confidential, inexpensive counseling by a caring professional. You may choose individual counseling, couple's counseling, or both. It's completely anonymous, and you may access your secure, encrypted room from the comfort and privacy of your own home (or wherever you feel comfortable). Consider the following reviews of BetterHelp counselors, from people experiencing similar issues. You can also see more reviews for related stories of successful marriage counseling.

Counselor Reviews

"I would refer Helen to anyone that would need to speak to a counselor. She listens and gives excellent advice. My husband and I are the closest we've ever been."

"Karen has helped me to look outside the box to find possible solutions to my sex life with my wife. A most insightful approach which I had partly recognized before but not taken seriously or realized just how I felt about it."

Below are commonly asked questions on this topic:

What percentage of sexless marriages end in divorce?
Is a sexless marriage normal?
How long sexless marriages can last?
What a sexless marriage does to a woman?
What a sexless marriage does to a man?
What does lack of intimacy do to a person?

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