What To Do If You Have A Sexless Marriage
Updated July 30, 2019
Reviewer Richard Jackson
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, having that little sex can be extremely problematic. It can cause resentment, lack of emotional connection, and lead to infidelity.
You can take a sexless marriage quiz online or in a magazine, but the only answers you'll get will be so generic that they probably won't help at all. You can ask your friends what to do, but they probably won't know what to do either. So, what do you do if your marriage is sexless? The first thing to work on is understanding the problem, both in theory and as it relates to your own marriage.
Types of Sexless Marriages
The definition of sexless marriage isn't the same for everyone. In a sense, what works for both of you is considered adequate. Experts agree, though, that couples who have 10 or fewer sexual encounters per year tend to have more problems in their marriages. How do you define sexless marriage? Here are three different ways people think of it.
Rare or No Intercourse
While experts suggest that it's the fact of sexual encounters rather than the type of sex that matters, many people consider a marriage sexless if there is no intercourse. These people don't count other types of sexual experiences as being nearly as important.
Rare or No Sexual Intimacy
The real issue at the heart of the sexless marriage phenomenon is whether you're having some kind of sexual intimacy or not. If you rarely ever touch in sexual ways, your marriage is not only sexless, but it is also much more likely to suffer because of it.
Little or No Sexual Interest
Some couples not only don't have sex, but they don't even care whether they have sex or not. When this happens, one partner is usually happier with the situation than the other. In every marriage, one of the spouses has greater desire and one has less desire. As many as 30% of men and 50% of women say they have little or no interest in sex. What you need to remember about this statistic is that men are so strongly socialized to be highly sexual that they're less likely to admit it when it's true for them.
For some couples, the question isn't so much "How often do we have sex?" but "Is the sex good enough to satisfy us?" When sex becomes boring and mechanical, it no longer fulfills its purposes, even if it continues to happen frequently.
Reasons for Sexless Marriage
It may be interesting to know why marriages are or become sexless, but what you probably want to know is "Why is my marriage sexless?" The following are a few reasons why sex may be lacking in a marriage.
Low sex drive
Many people simply have a low sex drive. They may never have had much interest in sex. Or, the lack of interest may happen later, due to medical or psychological reasons. If you try to initiate sex but are constantly turned down, your libido is bound to suffer, as well. One thing to remember is there's a difference between having a low sex drive and not being interested in having sex with your spouse in particular. If you want sex with others but not with your spouse, you don't have a low sex drive. What you have is another problem in your marriage.
Lack of emotional connection
When you lack an emotional connection with your spouse, a cycle can begin that causes sex drive to diminish more and more over time. You don't feel emotionally close to them, so you have sex less often. Then, since you have sex less often, you feel even more emotionally distant from them. The cycle can continue on its ever-increasing path until you don't want sex at all.
Poor Communication about Needs
If you feel embarrassed or simply don't know how to begin talking about sex, poor communication can compound the problem of having little or no sex. You don't know how to tell your partner what you need sexually or how to actively listen to what they're telling you about their needs. One of the best things you can do in this situation is to talk to a therapist to improve those skills.
A wide range of medical issues can have a bearing on your libido and/or your enjoyment of sexual experiences. High blood pressure, diabetes, the medications you take, vitamin deficiencies, hormonal deficiencies or imbalances, smoking, obesity, and thyroid dysfunction are just of the few physical problems that can contribute to the problem. It's important to note, though, that of all the reasons for a sexless marriage, only 25% are medical or physical, while 75% are psychological.
Some disabilities may cause sexual dysfunction, but not all of them. Even if you can't have intercourse, you may be able to have other types of sexual experiences that satisfy your sexual needs.
For several different reasons, having children can lead to dissatisfaction with your sex life. A part of the problem for women is what happens to their bodies while they're pregnant, having the baby, and afterwards, while they're breastfeeding. Hormones get out of their normal balance. For the duration of the time a woman is breastfeeding her infant, her prolactin levels soar, which causes vaginal thinning and dryness. Sex can become painful, and she may remember it long after the child is weaned.
Kids also take a lot of energy to raise. They're a big responsibility, so parents may experience a variety of mental and physical health issues due to the stress.
As we age, our bodies of course change. Women suffer from a drop in estrogen, while low testosterone can be a problem for either gender. Older men are more likely to have erectile dysfunction, while women suffer from vaginal dryness that causes pain and lack of enjoyment. We tend to have less energy than we did when we were younger, as well. On a positive note, though, people over 60 tend to have more sexual confidence than they did earlier in life. Still, coping with a sexless marriage is never easy at any age.
Unresolved anger is at the root of the problem in many sexless marriages. Often, people in sexless marriage divorce, citing sexual problems as a major factor. Yet, anger may be the real problem that causes the lack of sex.
Mental Health Issues
Mental disorders such as depression and anxiety can keep one or both partners from enjoying sex often enough to meet their needs and desires. Taking antidepressants can cause erectile dysfunction or vaginal dryness. Anxiety medications can slow the metabolism, decreasing your level of excitement. Also, when one spouse has a serious mental disorder, the other may not feel attracted to them. They may view their spouse as being ill, and thus may feel guilty for asking them for sex. The spouse with the mental health problem is usually so focused on the experiences of their illness that they have little attention left to give their partner.
Problems With Having A Sexless Marriage
Some say that as long as both partners are happy with a sexless marriage, it isn't really a problem at all. However, sex is an important part of a healthy marriage. Without it, it's difficult to maintain the relationship. In addition, each partner may suffer individually because of the lack of sex.
Sexless Marriage Divorce Rate
The sexless marriage divorce rate is higher than for couples who have sex about once per week. The problem starts before the divorce, as people in sexless marriages consider divorce far more often in the first place.
Unhappiness in Marriage
You and your spouse may be so committed to each other that even without sex, you'll decide to stay together. Refusing to divorce won't solve the no-sex problem, though. It will probably lead you both to become more and more unhappy with your marriage. Your unhappiness can lead to social, emotional, and financial problems that make the marriage go downhill even faster.
You or your spouse may find it so difficult to be in a sexless marriage that you turn to others to satisfy your sexual needs. You might think if you agree that the person who has more sex drive than the other can look for sex outside of the marriage. It may sound like a great solution, but it usually ends in unhappiness for one or both spouses. They become emotionally disconnected and may suffer from extreme feelings of jealousy.
Cultural messages tell us that we aren't good enough if we aren't sexually appealing and active as adults. We learn from these messages that being sexless makes us boring, odd, or deviant. This causes self-esteem issues. Because men are so pressured to be sexually active, the problem may be worse for them.
Uncertainty and Instability
If you're the spouse who is not interested or able to have satisfying sexual relations, it's easy to become fearful that your marriage is ending. You don't know how long your spouse will stay with you. You see your emotional connection dwindling, and you wonder how long it will be until you have nothing in common at all. The uncertainty can be practically unbearable. As the relationship becomes more distant, it also becomes less stable, as each partner tries desperately to meet their needs for love and sex.
Lack of Intimacy
Certainly, there are other forms of intimacy besides sex. Still, sex is a wonderful way to create or build on emotional intimacy.
Blaming and Fighting
People in sexless marriages often become bitter, hostile, or vindictive. They may begin to manipulate their spouse, either to get sex or to get out of it. The constant strain can lead them to be cruel to each other in many ways. The partner who wants sex may belittle the one who has a sexual problem rather than working with them to solve it. The one who has a sexual problem may feel so guilty that they lash out at their spouse with angry words and actions.
What to Do When You're in a Sexless Marriage
The good news is that you don't have to give up on having healthy sex in your marriage. There are things you can do to bring back the passion and excitement, or to find it if it's always been lacking. If you're interested in finding out how to have a healthy sex life, these tips can help you get started.
Take a Caring Approach
Blaming and accusations won't help you change your spouse into a sex machine. Besides that, it may undermine other facets of your marriage that are still functioning well. You need to communicate your needs, but doing it in a way that honors your spouse is the only way to make your marriage healthier and truly happier for both of you. So, start with a caring approach that is meant to benefit both of you.
Work on Communication
There's a lot more to healthy communication than most people know. In fact, an entire field of study is devoted to expressing thoughts and feelings through verbal and nonverbal communications. You not only need to learn what to say to your partner, but you also need to understand how to say it in a way that respects their feelings. Plenty of books are available to learn about the subject. However, the best way is to learn specific techniques and practice those techniques in a nonthreatening situation. A counselor can help you do just that.
Know Why the Marriage Is Sexless
Before you can address the sexual problems in your marriage, you have to 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 they are. If the reason isn't clear to both of you, a couples' counselor can help you pinpoint the reason for your sexless marriage.
Have Sex Without Intercourse
For those who feel that their marriage is sexless because they don't have intercourse, it can be helpful to take more time pleasuring each other in different ways. When you take intercourse out of the picture, you can enjoy what you can do more than you ever have before.
Explore Other Ways to Be Intimate
At some point, you'll need to get back to sexual intimacy. However, in the meantime, it's important to have whatever kind of intimacy you can. Sharing stories of your past, your deepest feelings, your unique thoughts and opinions, and your triumphs and insecurities can bring you together on an emotional level.
Find Other Outlets for Your Energy and Passion
If your spouse is less sexually driven than you are, you might find temporary relief in other forms of expression. Many people take up arts or hobbies. They become passionate about their work. They use their pent-up energy by working out or going on adventures. The main thing you have to keep sight of here is that your partner still needs your attention, love, and care as much or more than ever.
Deal with Underlying Problems
Sex is an important issues all on its own. Yet for many people, the sexual problems are merely outward signs of a much more pervasive problem in their marriage. For these people, the only way to get back to a healthy sexual relationship is to get to the root of the problem and solve that first. If there's anger or bitterness between you, you need to find a way to reconcile. If one of you has self-esteem issues, you can work together to build that spouse up. A therapist can help you discover the source of your sexual dysfunction or dissatisfaction and work with you to overcome it.
Should I Meet My Sexual Needs Outside the Marriage?
You may be so distressed by the lack of sex in your marriage that you consider seeking sex with other people. That is an option, of course, but for most people it signifies the beginning of the end of the marriage. If you don't know whether you want to get sex outside your marriage, ask yourself this: Is there any way we can solve this problem between the two of us? Even better, ask a therapist. They'll guide you as you explore all the issues. Then, if you're willing, they'll support you as you work on your issues, make crucial decisions, and get back in touch with your sexual selves.
When Is It Time to Move On?
If your partner can't or won't meet your sexual needs, you might begin to question whether you should go ahead and get a divorce. Couples may stay in an unhappy relationship for years and never realize that their best shot at happiness is to leave the marriage behind. Still, you can get sex back in the marriage you have now if you're both committed to it. Divorce or separation is not a decision to take lightly. Talking to a counselor first may help you see more possibilities than you do right now.
Don't Go It Alone
Whether your partner is on board with finding a way to improve your sexual relationship or not, you can feel very isolated from others who you assume are having sex regularly. You and your spouse have a sexual problem that may make communication between you more difficult. Sometimes, either party may feel as if they're all alone on their journey. Getting support from others as you face this problem can be tricky.
However, you may be able to find a trustworthy friend to confide in and work through your feelings with. If no such friend is available, a counselor can provide this support. At the same time, whether you have close friends or not, a counselor can give you techniques, ideas, and understanding that most friends aren't capable of giving you. Licensed counselors are available at BetterHelp.com to help you and/or your spouse while you're coping with a sexless marriage and moving on to a healthier sexual relationship.