While sex is often whispered about, it’s no secret that it is an incredibly important part of lives, a vast landscape full of pleasure, intimacy, complexity, joy, discovery, and fulfillment. Unfortunately, for married couples, it’s often also prone to its share of confusion, disappointment, sadness, pain, and alienation.
Navigating your sex life within marriage takes continual, respectful communication, an open mind, and a lot of grace. But couples throughout the world continue to express the importance of sexual intimacy in their relationship.
Tragically, many couples suffer from what is commonly known as a sexless marriage. This is roughly defined as a marriage where partners are having sex less than 10 or 12 times per year, or roughly once per month. At its worst point, couples can even go years without making love or experiencing any kind of physical intimacy.
Some of you might say, “My goodness, I can’t imagine going more than a few days without it.” But our relationships go through phases and seasons, and the way we feel physically, emotionally, and psychologically, both about ourselves and our spouse, can drastically affect both the frequency and intensity of these encounters.
Difficulty with sex is cited as one of the top 3 reasons for divorce. So, how frequent are sexless marriages? How often does a sexless marriage lead to divorce? Finally, what can I do about my sexless marriage? Stay with us. We’re going to look at the realities and struggles of sexless marriage. We’ll also discuss ways to pursue greater understanding, better communication, and, hopefully, newfound intimacy.
Sexless Marriage Rates
The truth is, no one knows exactly what the sexless marriage divorce rate is. That’s because it’s a difficult thing to measure accurately. There are several factors to include in studies of this kind, including the fact that some marriages are sexless and the spouses don’t mind. A quite comprehensive study would need to be performed across multiple regions, demographics, and time periods, to get a more accurate account of this phenomenon.
What we do know is that a lack of sex in marriage seems to be increasing. According to a 2002 U.S. General Social Survey, 16% of marriages were classified as sexless. This is unsettling on its own. But the trend is moving upward. In 2018, that number reached 1 in 4, or 25% of marriages. That’s a substantial increase.
Why is this Happening?
Several factors are likely at play here, including the dynamics of people getting married later, financial or economic factors, and social preferences, and the negative role that mass media and social media have on our communication and relationships.
It’s more important to figure out why it’s happening in your relationship. Statistics are interesting and help us learn about the world around us. They even help us avoid trouble down the road. But they don’t solve the complex problems taking place in our own homes.
What Does this Mean for Me?
One of the more nuanced aspects of looking at sexless marriages is that, in many cases, sex may not be the problem itself. A lack of sex along with a decrease in other forms of intimacy, like affectionate physical touch, affirming words, and engaging conversation, are often symptoms or the effects of much deeper struggles.
How we express ourselves sexually with one another is directly tied to how we feel about our spouse, what we believe about them and their actions, whether we trust them, and how enjoyable and affirming our interactions are in that season. If we have old pain or trauma that hasn’t been dealt with, it can really put walls between each other. If we’re holding onto resentment, unforgiveness, bitterness, anger, or simply leaving situations murky instead of seeking greater understanding, it becomes much more difficult for us to feel the freedom, safety, and excitement needed for sexual intimacy to flourish. And these three things are necessary, at least in some measure, for positive sexual experiences to continue between spouses.
Specific Causes of a Sexless Marriage
Every romantic relationship is unique. This means that while all struggles are common to men and women everywhere, our individual emotional and psychological makeup and our personal choices take on infinite variations. Thankfully, there are specific things we can do to spot problems on the horizon and take action when the time comes, whether that means moving toward divorce or working hard to stay together and build intimacy.
Some reasons for a sexless marriage include the health of partner’s emotional intimacy, sexual dysfunction, medical conditions, mental health struggles, differing sex drives, overall marital satisfaction, poor communication, and much more. Let’s look at a few reasons more closely.
Lack of Passion
When we first fall in love, passion comes easily and in spades. For months, sometimes even the first few years, the excitement of getting to know this special person, of discovering your individual personalities and sharing your hopes for the future, along with a natural physical chemistry, really keeps the sparks flying in the bedroom.
Naturally, and perhaps unfortunately, like most things in life, the heights of this season of passion aren’t sustainable. Relationships move through stages and familiarity with one another can make certain things routine, which can dampen our desire for sex. The stresses of life and our responsibilities can also alter our view of our spouse, as they go from the object of our fantasies to being more like a partner we work with to survive the rigors of life.
Fluctuations in passion and sexual intimacy are inevitable. However, you can keep more of it alive by making choices to pursue things like sincere compliments, surprising new dates or outing ideas, more time alone, and more spontaneity. Also, play and laughter among lovers is key to passion. The more you laugh and play together, the greater the passion both in and out of the bedroom.
You can also seek ideas from books or in-person from experienced marriage counselors and sex therapists who have a wealth of knowledge in this area.
Struggling With Sexual Communication
Your ability to talk openly with one another about your sexual desires, your wants and hopes in the bedroom, and about things you may not be comfortable with, along with changes in how you feel about certain aspects of your or your partner’s sexuality, is key to being able to explore sex more freely with each other.
It’s hard to talk about our deepest desires and our truest feelings, even with the one we’re closest to. When couples cultivate a relationship where each person is supported and encouraged to talk openly about everything having to do with sex, desire, curiosity, boundaries, sexual exploration, and their feelings, they are able to grow in relationship, as companions and as lovers. When we feel free, heard, understood, and affirmed, we naturally want to engage with more of life, which includes a broader sexual scope and a deeper bond with our spouse.
This is a common one. The routine pressures of work, the long hours and terrible commutes grind us down and impact our sexual relationship, sexual frequency, how we view sexual intercourse and our overall relationship satisfaction. Raising children, chasing crazy schedules, worrying about money, and dealing with family emergencies, all these can wear us out.
Long-term exhaustion quickly steals from our libido and makes it easier for us to avoid intimacy and turn to quick fix things like television or other distractions. For increased connection and a healthy sex life, try turning off the TV or whatever else is stealing your attention. Take a short nap together, then take a walk to connect. Have a great conversation after work or after the kids go to bed. However, don’t discuss work or schedules or appointments. There will always be enough time for those things. Instead, make it a habit to talk about life, about your deepest thoughts and feelings, about your hopes and inner struggles. Explore ideas together, get creative, and be quick to share humor.
These times of connection and discovery will keep your relationship exciting and rejuvenate your energy, even when you’re worn out. They’ll also remind you that the point of life isn’t about schedules and routines, but that these responsibilities are there to allow us the space and freedom to explore, create, and connect.
Few things wreck the mood more quickly than ongoing conflict. Sure, once in a while, those surprise, intense fights can shake things out, and pave the way for a new level of intimacy. But long-term unresolved conflict is an intimacy killer.
When we bottle things up, our resentment, unforgiveness, anger, and judgment only grow. If you or your partner shut each other out and don’t invite one another to share openly about what’s bothering each of you, you’ll grow distant. This prolonged unremedied struggle cools passion, destroys trust and lowers interest.
This is the right time to pursue marriage counseling. Often, even seeking counsel one-on-one with a therapist, each of you on your own, along with couple’s counseling together, can make a huge difference. Some conflicts need the help of an objective professional who can guide us through waters that we think are impassable.
Illness, Physical Struggles, and Aging
When we’re dealing with considerable physical limitations in our sexual functioning, because of an illness, chronic health condition, an injury, or the general aches and pains of aging, sex often needs to change. Frequency of sexual encounters may need to decrease to accommodate partners with limited mobility or energy.
Still, many couples dealing with health problems or injuries continue to enjoy sex for years. This calls for very open conversations about desire, needs, abilities, new limitations, safety, and more. With enough understanding, you can navigate a range of limitations and still experience tremendous sexual fulfillment with each other on a regular basis.
Boredom in the Bedroom
This is common, and it’s one that is easier to fix than a lot of other problems. Remember, your spouse is a unique, creative, complex individual just like you. This means their desires are every bit as unique as yours. Take time to really get to know what the other desires. Don’t get locked into too much repetition, same time, same way, same everything. Read some great books together on the subject, talk to sex therapists, and really enjoy exploring your time with each other.
You’ll find that this mutual creativity in your sexual intimacy is incredibly affirming and trust-building. It also naturally shakes up the mundane and reminds you that marriage should be adventurous.
Things that May Push a Sexless Marriage Toward Divorce
Sadly, there are times when certain types of sexual conflict are more difficult to work on. If left unchanged, divorce may be in sight. Let’s look briefly at a couple of these now.
Complete Refusal to Discuss Sexual Concerns
When talking about sex, or anything really, it’s important to remain open, interested, compassionate, and non-judgemental. Avoid shaming or blaming your partner for everything. If you’re expressing yourself consistently in a positive way and they refuse to engage with or listen to you, it’s usually a sign of deeper communication and intimacy problems. It’s a good time to seek professional help.
Your Partner’s Sexual Activity with You is Disrespectful or Harmful
This is serious and definitely requires professional counseling and a lot of work. It’s not something to take lightly or brush off. Occasional misunderstandings in the bedroom are common. However, if your partner consistently disrespects you either in speech or in their actions when it comes to sex, and refuses to change, this indicates a deeper problem with disrespect, a lack of boundaries, and selfishness.
Don’t leave yourself in a harmful situation like this. Get with friends, family, counselors, mediators, and attorneys if needed, to make the choices you need to make for yourself and your children.
As you can see, sexless marriages are more common than many of us might believe. The impact of the isolation, sadness, and frustration we experience in these struggling relationships can be devastating. We all want a healthy marriage and can’t stand the thought of a loveless marriage or a no-sex marriage.
Often, the reasons for our sexless marriage run deeper than the bedroom and involve older traumas, poor communication, a lack of trust, physical and mental struggles, various other relationship issues, and much more. When these occur, it’s important to seek professional help from experienced therapists. And if divorce becomes imperative, always partner with an excellent divorce lawyer.
Still, most sexual struggles can be mended with the right help, communication, respect, genuine interest, and trust. No matter where your relationship is at, it’s important to know that sex is important to each of us. It is an extension of who we are and how we want to express ourselves, especially with the one we love the most. It’s worth exploring and working on together.
Torrone Law helps people find resolution and wholeness during divorce or custody. Contact us today with questions and to learn more about how Torrone can help you find peace of mind in this difficult season.
To learn more about sexless marriage, see our frequently asked questions below.
What is a sexless marriage?
Sexless marriage is generally defined as a marriage where couples have sex roughly less than once per month. However, many couples in these situations experience much greater disconnection, even going months and sometimes several years without sex.
Sexual intimacy and sexual satisfaction in long-term relationships are a big deal. Many would-be healthy relationships suffer from the effects of a low-sex marriage brought on by various causes. Let’s look at these in our next question.
What causes a sexless marriage?
The reasons are as diverse as we are. They may be simpler, like boredom in the bedroom, lack of intimacy outside the bedroom, poor communication, varying capacities for sexual satisfaction, or physical and mental exhaustion.
They might also be more serious, involving past trauma, infidelity, disrespect, abuse, a refusal to work on conflict, confusion about one’s sexuality or sexual preferences, addiction to pornography, or deep unresolved anger, sorrow, and disappointment about other aspects of the relationship.
Will sexless marriage always lead to divorce?
No, but sometimes it does. If both partners are interested and willing to work hard on their issues, remain open and listen well, cultivate an atmosphere of respect, interest, and genuine pursuit of each other, many sexual struggles can be overcome. This happens when deeper issues begin to heal, when we choose to love selflessly, and when we take a sincere and passionate interest in our spouse on a daily basis.
Sometimes, when conflicts run deep and the work isn’t working, so to speak, divorce may still occur. It’s important you pursue therapy by working with experienced counselors, as well as partnering with mediators, and a great divorce attorney to ensure a better transition into the next season of life.