Managing A Sexless Marriage

Medically reviewed by Melissa Guarnaccia, LCSW
Updated May 24, 2024by 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 with a low-sex or sexless marriage and feel sexual intimacy is necessary. For those who find they are struggling due to a desire discrepancy or a no-sex relationship, there are methods of finding support and improving the connection between partners.

Are you and your partner struggling with physical intimacy?
Why do couples struggle with sexual intimacy?
No sex relationships or a lack of sex and sexual desire in married life could be due to a variety of factors, including:

  • Low desire
  • Lack of emotional or physical connection
  • Poor communication
  • Medical problems or health concerns, such as medications that cause low libido as a side effect or erectile dysfunction
  • Disability
  • Mental health issues
  • Children
  • Age-related factors, such as hormonal changes or sexual dysfunction
  • Unresolved anger or resentment within the relationship
  • Past sexual abuse or trauma
If you or a loved one is experiencing abuse, contact the Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). Support is available 24/7.

Although these challenges and other factors can cause sexless relationships, 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 relationship or low-sex marriage

If you’re having less sex, 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 or increase their libido. Kindly and considerately communicating your needs and desires to your partner could lead to a healthier, happier sex life and relationship. Consider talking about the whole relationship. Rather than saying, "I want to try this," try saying, "I think this would be fun for us." Being open and listening to your partner talk can help you to better understand their perspective and get on the same page. 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 in relationships can involve more than words. Non-verbal cues may also be necessary, and each partner may have to learn to deliver their message with their spouse's feelings and mental health 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 both expresses love and affection and how you like to receive love and affection. You might also try using a workbook on healthy relationship skills. 

Figure out why your marriage is sexless

Before you can address the physical problems in your relationship, you may need to identify them. The issues might not be apparent, or they could be unrelated to sex and sexual activity. For example, emotional distress, sexual health issues, or frequent arguments may make it challenging to connect physically, even in a successful marriage. Stress in other areas of your world, including work or child-rearing, may also be impacting your relationship and causing you to stop engaging in intercourse. If the cause of a lack of intimacy is unclear or broaching the subject seems overwhelming, a couples counselor may help both partners open up to each other and discover any underlying concerns. If you’re experiencing health issues that are impacting your physical intimacy in a low-sex or no-sex marriage, consider reaching out to a doctor for support with physical dysfunction.
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 try only penetration, you could instead experiment with oral sex, 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 one or both partners feeling dissatisfied with your current patterns, which can lead to a low desire to have sex in the future. Finding new ways to achieve arousal and orgasm could help you both feel satisfied and look forward to sexual intimacy again. 
Explore other ways to be intimate
When intimacy is lacking or if sex bothers one partner, you might want to explore non-sexual methods of intimacy. For example, you could hold hands more often, kiss before work, or write love letters to each other. One medically reviewed 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

In a sexless marriage, sexless relationship, or if one partner desires sex and the other doesn’t, 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 and masturbation. Some couples with differing libido levels choose to have an open relationship, where one or both individuals have sexual experiences with people other than their spouse.

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


How common is a sexless marriage?

Is a sexless marriage normal? If you are experiencing a lack of sexual desire or mismatched libido in your marriage, it can be easy to feel like you are alone in your experience. But according to the National Health and Social Life Survey published by the University of Chicago Press, the most comprehensive analysis of American sexual behavior to date, 20% of married couples experienced intimacy fewer than ten times in the past year. While that level of activity may be satisfying for some couples, other couples may desire a more active sex life within their relationship.

Hope for a sexless marriage

In many situations, sex can be a taboo subject. However, in relationships, it may be beneficial to have open communication about the topic. In an interview with the 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 intimacy.

There is no shame in talking about sex. Vanessa Marin, a licensed sex therapist, told the 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

Sexual frequency levels that satisfy one couple may not work for another. However, there is some research demonstrating how much physical intimacy may be needed for a happy marriage: 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 "intimacy" 

While some people consider penetration to be 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. Human sexuality is complex. 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 physical intimacy should occur. Maybe one partner feels uncomfortable with their body. Open sexual communication about the lack of a particular sexual act can be beneficial. 

Rare or no sexual intimacy 

Lack of intimacy could cause marital conflict if there is a lack of overall intimacy in the relationship. If passion and intimacy aren't present, you may see your partner as a friend, roommate, or companion rather than as a loving, caring spouse.

Intimacy can involve an emotional connection that enriches a couple's life. 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 desire

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

Low-quality sex or sexual dysfunction

Sexual problems in relationships 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. For these couples, a sexless marriage grounds any attempt to be intimate sexually.

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. 

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 defined by a lack of sexual attraction. In these cases, it may be normal for a relationship not to have sex or to have a low amount of sex. 

For others, a lack of sex becomes a problem and can have a number of negative impacts on the relationship, including the following.


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. If marital unhappiness persists, one or both spouses may also find themselves experiencing symptoms of depression.


You or your spouse may feel so unsatisfied in the marriage that you turn to people outside of the relationship to satisfy your sexual needs. In these cases, jealousy, distrust, or divorce may result. 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 with their partner. 

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 growing 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 happening as often.

Blaming and fighting 

Individuals in a sex-starved marriage may feel bitter, hostile, or vindictive. They might have arguments with their spouse about the lack of sex. If one partner lacks sexual interest, that person 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. Not all sexless marriages end, but if you or your partner are considering infidelity or feel the sexual concerns cannot be healed, it may be an indication that the best choice is to move on from the relationship. 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 in the other as a romantic partner. Although marriages can exist without sex, some individuals feel sex 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. 

Are you and your partner struggling with physical intimacy?
Counseling options

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 with or without your partner. 

It can be normal to have busy lives and schedules that make it difficult to find time for individual or couples therapy. You might consider online counseling if one or both partners struggle to find time for traditional in-person therapy. Online therapy allows couples to receive 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 availability to over 30,000 therapists specializing in various concerns, including marital issues. 


While the amount of sex in most marriages may have a natural ebb, struggling with sex in a marriage may feel lonely. However, regaining a satisfying sex life 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 leading to a sexless marriage, there may also be many ways to overcome them.

Marriage can come with complex challenges
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