Sexless Marriage?

By the request of one of my regular readers, I will attempt to (perhaps meagerly) tackle the difficult, multi-faceted issue of intimacy drought in the marriages of so many Western culture couples…

According to a whole host of statistics (just google “sexless marriage” and you’ll come up with more resources than you might even want to access), while the average married couple engages in sexual activity ~ 68 times per year (one to two times per week) 10-20% of married folks in our culture live in “sexless marriages.” So how do we define the term, “sexless marriage?”

Couples having sex no more than ten times per year.

Yep.  TEN TIMES PER YEAR.   Now, for some of you, that may improve your own personal outlook considerably.  For others, you may find yourself compelled, more than ever, to read on.

Being in a sexless marriage is something that no one likes to admit to…causing this trend to be one of those unspoken, yet very common phenomenons. Think about it:  if you have, say, ten adults in your child’s play group, or there are ten women in your monthly Bunko group…two out of those ten would statistically be experiencing a “sexless marriage.”

“Astounding,” you say?  Not really.

So what plays into this significant drop in sensuality that, in so many cases, is drastically different from the early years of their marriage and/or courtship?

Obviously, this is a complicated matter. This website offers some reasonable advice on sexless marriages, however it fails to lend significant attention to the issue of children in the household.  Never mind households in which both members of a couple are working long hours on top of their child-rearing duties, civic commitments, and attempting to maintain some element of a social life beyond those issues raised above.

As described in this the Atlantic 2003 article, while quoting Jane Greer, Redbook’s on-line sex therapist at the time, “Marriage has changed,”… “In the old days the husband was the breadwinner. The wife had the expectation of raising the children and pleasing him. Now they’re both working and both taking care of the children, and they’re too exhausted and resentful to have sex.” I asked Greer the obvious question: If a couple is not having sex because of job pressures and one partner quits working, does the couple have more sex? The answer was immediate and unequivocal: “Absolutely!

While it’s easy for me to accept the idea that intimacy within a marriage has changed over time do to married couples’ work situations and expectations for each other, I have a harder time agreeing with the notion that once one member of the couple leaves the workforce for the work-inside-the-home life…that suddenly that couple’s sex life will improve by leaps and bounds!

Here’s the thing:  of all the calls I receive from my childbirth education students after a baby is born, the most common questions revolve around breastfeeding or sleep issues.  But the underlying issue is always the same:  emotional and physical fatigue.  And when a person, or persons are emotionally and physically fatigued, one of the first things to go is sex.  After all, skipping sex at the end of the day might yield one more hour of sleep…who can argue with that?  (Ok, ok…I know…”one hour” might be a bit optimistic here…but, work with me, will ya’?)

Here is a list of contributing factors that I believe significantly play into the “sexless marriage” phenomenon:

*more and more couples working longer and longer hours at work to either maintain or improve their financial and therefore “lifestyle” situation…resulting in greater levels of mental and physical fatigue upon returning home.  It’s hard to be intimately creative and invested when you’re plain-old worn out from a long day of work!

* As our nation tries to recover from a generational gap in community service (let’s face it, on the whole, the baby boomer generation has spent MUCH less time on civic duties that the WWI generation)…more folks are adding philanthropic commitments to their already packed schedules…leaving little energy at the end of the day and/or week for investing in their at-home intimate relationship.

*when children enter the picture for a couple, a whole new set of issues crop up:
– fatigue from sleepless nights
– poor body image and/or self esteem on the woman’s behalf from physical changes associated with pregnancy, childbirth, breastfeeding, etc. that leads to a decreased interest in sex.  Speaking strictly from a woman’s perspective, it’s hard to feel sexy when you perceive yourself as needing to lose fifteen pounds…when you’re self conscious about stretch marks, saggy breasts or a vagina that just never quite recovered after accommodating a passenger the size of a small watermelon!
~ women who are breastfeeding remain at a hormonally altered state, much like that of menopause, such that the vaginal tissue is dryer; making intercourse sometimes uncomfortable or even painful.
– some women can’t stand the thought of engaging in physical intimacy with their husband/partner, when their present life circumstances includes caring for an infant or young child(ren) because they feel like they’ve been touched, climbed on, pawed at, etc. all day long….and the LAST thing they’re interested in at the end of the day is having ONE MORE PERSON touch them!
– men are not immune from experiencing post-children decreased libidos, either.  While many (smart) men will never admit to this, they may find their partners less attractive during pregnancy, after witnessing the birth of their child, or as their partner gradually works her way back “into shape” (I personally HATE using that term) after pregnancy and birth.  Some men, also, once they witness their wife/partner in the new light of motherhood, have a hard time seeing that woman as a sexy, sassy, being anymore.  Sometimes mothers OR fathers have a hard time seeing themselves as the sexy person who used to be willing to try new sexual positions and engage in all things erotica.
-some people, men or women, have a hard time initiating or engaging in sex for fear of awaking the children.  Or of being walked in on.
– prenatal/postpartum mood disorders
* Of course, there are other issues:  physical problems that make sex either impossible (physical or psychological impotence) or extremely difficult (various pain syndromes…especially in women…that render sex extremely uncomfortable)…previous physical/emotional trauma such as rape, incest, etc.

The truth of the matter is: we live in a society where stopping when our bodies (minds…spirits…) require rest; enjoying when our bodies (minds…spirits…) need pleasure; indulging when our bodies (minds…spirits…) need excitement that doesn’t revolve around stock markets, car pool schedules, after-work meetings and the like…results is a nation of emotionally, spiritually, and sexually deprived people.

Now, let me make an ENORMOUS DISCLAIMER, HERE: I AM NOT A SEX THERAPIST.  My undergraduate degree was in creative writing.  My post graduate degree was in Physician Assistant Sciences.  I am a Lamaze Certified Childbirth Educator.  I may know a thing or two about this topic (I do, after all, have three children) but not in any officially trained kinda’ way.

But, with the above disclaimer in mind, let me make a few suggestions, here:

1.  Many therapists will tell you to set a “sex date night.”   As opposed as many couples will initially feel about this terribly practical and extraordinarily unemotional approach, sometimes just putting sex on the weekly schedule is enough to get the ball rolling again.  After all, in many relationships, intimacy begets intimacy.

2. Don’t forget the importance of intimacy in a relationship for it’s emotional attachment benefits.  A “sexless marriage” is not only lacking sexual activity, it is lacking emotional intimacy.  And it’s the emotional intimacy that can really make or break a couple when times get tough.

3.  Take the steps to eradicate all of those little “what ifs” that can get in the way of sexual spontaneity:
– lock the bedroom door each night when you retire for the evening so that if the mood suddenly hits you, you’re not worried about unwelcome visitors to your bedroom
– make a pact that one night a week is “Mom and Dad (or, fill the blanks) Intimacy Night.”  Plan to retire to your “intimate safe haven of choosing” right after the kid(s) go to bed so you’ve got plenty of time to enjoy each other’s company before a mid-night awakening ruins the moment.
– remind yourself of the emotional reasons why you chose to partner with your significant other:  surely physical attributes were not the only reason.  Time, children, sports injuries, accidents, sun exposure, gravity…ALL THESE THINGS change our bodies over time…be gracious with yourself and your partner and love them from the inside out…not the outside in.
– TALK WITH EACH OTHER.  If there is a particular reason sex has become vacant in your relationship, discuss it openly and honestly with each other.  Has your partner developed bad breath that’s a complete turn-off?  Are you nervous about your sexual bravado?  Are you less inclined to be sexually exploratory and more inclined to be a shy, quiet, spiritual sexual partner?

– If you have ANY concerns about physical (or even psychological) causes for a decline in your sexual relationship, see your health care provider.  Not sure which kind of provider to see?  Here are some ideas:
~ family practice doctor
~ naturopathic doctor
~ family nurse practitioner or PA
~ Urologist

Believe me, the whole concept of a “sexless marriage” is not foreign to me.  It’s really tough–especially after the birth of a baby–to get back into the swing of things.  But, (speaking from experience) I firmly believe that taking that leap, re-opening yourself to the vulnerability and mutual trust that sexual intimacy requires of a couple, and investing in the physical relationship that surely can and ought to improve the emotional relationship of a couple is well worth the effort and investment.

Lastly, I can’t say enough about patience, understanding and being willing to talk, talk, talk about this issue.  The more a couple talks about it and gets on the same page with each other as to WHY their frequency of sexual intimacy has declined to a dissatisfying level, the more likely they are to rectify the situation.

I would really, really like to hear more suggestions on getting a marriage back on sexual track.  I’m sure others reading this blog entry will value from your comments/suggestions too.   What thoughts or ideas do all of you have?  Surely, I haven’t covered everything here.  If there’s another idea out there that’s begging to be added to the lists above, please chime in!



Filed under Childbirth Issues, Depression and Other Pregnancy Complications, From One Mother to Another, Living

18 responses to “Sexless Marriage?

  1. Cheryl Peterson

    Thank you! This was great and has some very useful links. I appreciate your talking about this issue. I grew up in Asia and the differences in attitude towards sex and what is sexy are so much different in America. (This country is way too uptight about sex yet by watching movies and TV you would think otherwise.) I think however you really hit the nail on the head with the time issue. Having 2 young children just wears me out and my husband has suffered my rebuffs towards him.
    What has been working better for us lately is setting two nights a month aside to be alone and I agree to do whatever he wants one one and he to what ever I want on the other (and I do mean whatever!) There are no limits except no other people involved. This has created a new excitement and almost fantasy atmosphere to our relationship. Its hot! Then the kids get the other 28 nights per month! Or should I say they take them…

  2. Cheryl,

    I think so many married folks…especially women who are also mothers feel, somehow, the good ol’ days of creativity, fantasy, etc. in their sexual relationship have to be/should be/are supposed to be long gone.

    Thank you for sharing the fact that for you, bringing some of this back into your marriage is making a difference!

  3. Cheryl Peterson

    “the good ol’ days of creativity, fantasy, etc. in their sexual relationship have to be/should be/are supposed to be long gone.”
    We all have to remember that this is completely wrong. The relationship between a man and woman should NEVER take a back seat to children. When it does it often leads to divorce and how healthy is that for the kids? God wanted man and woman to enjoy each other both spiritually and physically. He never said love each other just until you have children.

  4. Katherine Wilson

    What do you do when you have a spouse who not only doesn’t know his way around the female body but he has no desire to know it or to engage in sex? I have spent 18 years trying to teach him, and he just doesn’t get it. I gave up and we no longer even have sex. We have been intimate twice in the last 18 months, so I am definately in a sexless marriage. He is a terrific husband otherwise and could not ask for a better father to our three kids. But, help, I am ready to let him go because I don’t think I can live the rest of my life like this.

    • Katherine,

      Without a PsyD behind my name, I can only address your concerns in layman’s terms, and from practical experience.

      I suppose the easiest (and most likely, maddening) answer would be to continue trying to show him: read a book together about intimacy within the marital relationship, rent videos together (there is Kama Sutra video out there that is full of intimacy ideas), jointly go through the book and work book series “How to Get the Love You Want.”

      But, if you’ve truly spent 18 years trying to show your husband how to be a better partner in the ways of intimate love, then I would imagine some professional help is probably in order at this point. Have you entertained the idea of couples (or even individual) counseling? Perhaps there are issues on your husband’s side (impotence, performance worries, physical appearance concerns, fatigue, psychological road blocks or a lingering mental health issue, etc.) that are aggravating the situation. There are even a handful of medical conditions that can cause sexual dysfunction that can be easily resolved with the right diagnosis and treatment.

      Perhaps a professional family or sex therapist could help your husband singly, or you as a couple, delve into the issue of your sexless marriage and help you to find a satisfactory compromise that will leave both of you feeling comfortable, fulfilled and, most importantly, still madly in love.

      Remember, when looking into counseling: rapport between you and your counselor is CRUCIAL. If you engage in a couple counseling sessions with someone that doesn’t seem to “fit” right…don’t hesitate to shop around until you find the right person. A poor counselor-client fit can be as non productive as a good fit can be fruitful.

      Good luck ~

  5. so alone

    My wife is an incredible mother to our 2 1/2 year old austistic son. I will bear any burden to insure he has two loving parents to help him out to the best of our abilities. Unfortunately for me, the burden that is the most difficult is the sexless marriage.

    At first everything was great, then things slipped a bit and we were only intimate every few months. Now it has gotten far more rare and we are now at 7 months and counting.

    We do not have health problems, both get enough sleep, and we get along fine except for this. She says she is just no longer interested in sex, and not interested in being ‘fixed’ or seeing anyone about this. She is very traditional and I don’t have a problem with that since she is solid, honest, and trustworthy, but outside encounters are totally out of the question and she has made this clear, even if I would consider it, which I don’t want to.

    I manage to maintain an outward appearance of normality, inside the desire to be wanted and for sexual intimacy is creating an increasingly ragged and overwhelming sense of loss and depression. Sometimes I try to imagine what it must be like to be wanted in a sexual sense, or to have a woman initiate an encounter because she desires me, and it’s been so long I can’t even imagine it any longer. At 46 and still horny, the inner conflict of these thoughts is extremely difficult to deal with.

    I think it is effecting my mind and outlook to have these desires and needs and have only masturbation as on outlet. Even this outlet is getting incredibly stale and useless. Porn just leaves me feeling even more empty as I see the desire, even though I know it is acted, it makes my lack of a desirous partner even more difficult to take, so I generally avoid that form of self satisfaction.

    I’ve discussed this with her and she says that basically it is my problem and I need to deal with my own desires. I try to keep the feelings of alienation and undesirability at bay but it is nearly overwhelming sometimes, especially at the holidays.

    I cannot allow my needs to come before the life and well being of my sweet little boy, yet the pressure is nearly intolerable. Sometimes I wonder if something is wrong with me that something so peripheral to daily life can cause such heartache. Currently I am attempting to work out how to not desire sex, but it is an uphill battle.

    Perhaps when my son is old enough to leave home and/or well off enough to have a good life, I will get a divorce even though I love my wife other than this.

    I’m not sure how I will make it through at least another decade of this, or how I would find someone new, or if these long years of this inner turmoil will cause problems with a decent sex life when I am older and I do leave, but for now I must live with this because my kid is more important to me than this one thing, as heavy as the burden is.

    You folks out there with a happy sex life with someone who wants you sexually and desires your touch, you are lucky beyond belief. Someday I hope I can have that, for now I just need to learn how to deal with the difference between what I want and what I actually have. God, it is so difficult.

  6. @ So Alone,

    Your desperation, emotional angst and desire for a renewal of the intimate reconnection with your wife is so palpable. My first thought, while reading your comment, was to suggest you turn around and ask your wife to read what you wrote. Does she understand HOW significantly this is affecting you?

    I can’t claim to be a perfect sexual partner myself; there are plenty of moments when my husband would be more than happy to engage and all I want to do is sleep. But your points made about “wanting to feel desired” are so well said and, at the end of the day, this is one of the things that always helps get me back on track.

    Realizing that men, deep down, want to be desired, loved, touched and valued in an intimate way is golden.

    I think for women who become bored, turned off by or even repulsed by the idea of making love…they begin to think their spouse’s requests for sex are solely about the physical act, and nothing more. But when the woman realizes there is a need for intimate/emotional connection there, sometimes it can soften her opinion…or at least open her mind to possibility once again.

    The thought of you contemplating divorce as a result of this disconnect between you and your wife is incredibly sad. I do hope for your sake–all of your sakes (son included) that you and your wife can find a resolution to this before you land at that extreme. Is couple’s therapy out of the question?

    Good luck. Thank you for your honest thoughts.

  7. herlips

    You know, I read the sexless marriage article and thankful to say my sex life isn’t that bad where I am suffering for months at a time. However I feel if it wasn’t for me I almost wouldn’t have a sex life…
    I know how much intimacy means to me as well the powerful meaning of the act of engaging in sexual activity. This is why I waited until I was married to share that only with my husband. I waited for 21 years to feel wanted and desired by my husband. I had visions of presenting myself to him as a gift to do with whatever he wants…i am willing to do anything for him… but he takes such a passive wishy washy stance to me.
    it doesn’t matter if I parade around butt naked, he could care less. Many times I have to attack him for sex. I am only 22 and it frightens me that our marriage is starting off like this. He is just 5 years older than me and feels no need to seek counsel or doctors opinion… Just like so alone I put up a front to ppl like every thing is fine..i also try to find ways to undesire sex and intimacy. I feel many times like I walked into a trap. the whole time we dated he pursued me consistently but the moment he nailed me (literally) I feel as thogh I was put on the shelf along with his many other accomplishments. My heart aches and I cry at night so he won’t see me.
    I have brought this up to him so many times. I just asked him if I was throwing myself to hard because I would like to be chased. I want to be the one who can sleep at night soundly not caring that I just turned down a requst of intimacy. I won’t allow myself to have thoughts of being wanted. I get bitter when I see love stories on tv…did I say I am just 22! My husband is a great man otherwise. Intimately he lacks a great deal. He says that I will never be satisfied but I say it would be nice if you desired me and not just to make you dinner. I don’t entertain thoughts of divorce because I hope things change. Sometimes I want kids because I hear they kill your libido.i need help and lots of it. 😦

    • @ herlips:

      My heart goes out to you…so young, so new to marriage…and so frustrated. Could you approach your husband with the logic: “I want our marriage to be as healthy as possible. Do you want this too? If so, would you please attend either some counseling sessions with me re: the topic of intimacy in our relationship and/or visit your family doctor to make sure there isn’t a physical reason for decreased sex drive on your part?”

      As I understand it, there can be several reasons why men have decreased interest in sex:
      stress, performance anxiety, physical/medical health issues that can all make sexual intimacy difficult, scary, impossible or undesirable. Another thought I had: is there any chance your husband is suffering from depression? Follow this link for a list of depressive symptoms:
      You will find it is on my work website, and listed under “pregnancy related depression,” but the main symptoms are the same in all people regardless of gender or physical condition.

      I wish you luck, resolution, love and intimacy.

  8. L

    First, and I have to say this: Lamaze is SUCH a waste of time. It amazes me that it’s still out there as even a plan b,c, or d for anyone. It just doesn’t work. And why bother when any reasonable person can simply plan ahead for an epidural? Then you are totally relaxed and the experience doesn’t have to be a nightmare for both you and your husband to have to deal with and remember. I’m sorry, but childbirth is just awful. Period. Don’t play games thinking it can be “breathed thru”. I had totally and completely painless labor and delivery with my last child. It can be done. I’m to this day, grateful I do not have a nightmare to remember and cope with like many of my friends who took it lightly as if it was going to be a fun experience. None of them came out of it mentally OK, and that’s the part nobody tells you.

    I don’t think it’s suprising if you’ve had some horrible experience having your child, especially if your husband had to witness it too, that nobody can see sex as anything good anymore. The motivation dies because you cannot think of it without envisioning the outcome. I know people will disagree because there are so many women brainwashed into thinking that epidurals are bad and that a real woman guts it out, but I really don’t care. Think about what is wrong with you and/or your relationship if you are someone who NEEDS the attention you get from retelling your birth horror story over and over. OR if you NEED your husband to be all impressed with you because you did it without drugs. If that’s you, you have a problem.

  9. @ “L”:

    I value people’s opinions–especially when they are brave enough to share their real name, and be respectful with their comments. You, however, are extremely disrespectful in your approach to offering your insights and I have to say, your take on childbirth is extremely sad and ill-informed.

    As a Lamaze Childbirth Educator I, of course, believe that childbirth CAN be a wonderful, mind-altering, empowering experience…but only with significant preparation and sufficient emotional support. For the woman who suggests she can ONLY experience a “good” birth via analgesia and significant medical intervention I say, “I’m so sorry for your misguided assumptions and malinformation.”

    Are all chidlbirth experiences wonderful? Absolutely not. Do emerencies happen? Do some women exit their childbearing experience feeling traumatized and horrified? Sure. But if you look at the details of those negative birth experiences, most involve heavy medical intervention and/or lack of sufficient attendance to the woman’s emotional and pyschological needs during the very physical process of birth. Psychological trauma has long term lasting effects…especially when paired with such a significant experience as the birth of a baby.

    Lastly, L: please feel free to continue joining the conversations here on this blog, as long as you can do so respectfully and with dignity and kindness. I don’t have a problem with people disagreeing. But I do expect people to disagree respectfully on this blog, or not at all.

    Thank you.

  10. Dr. J

    so alone… You really must have sex as a man to function. I can tell you not only is your emotional well being getting destroyed but you will also start to experience actual physical problems with your prostate. If your wife doesn’t want sex you have a real problem. Either she needs to seek out the help of a doctor or she may be having an affair and getting her fulfillment somewhere else. I suspect based on what you said she has emotional problems and should seek a professional. If she refuses, you must either fullfil your sexual needs with someone else (I suggest a professional so you don’t fall in love and cause a divorce) or you can actually get a divorce and move on. Either way you have just as much right as your wife to be happy. It may be better to part as friends than go on living a lie.

  11. Shelly


    Good points. As I always say I am sure you can have a tooth pulled without Novocain but why? While every woman does have a choice I think not using the joys of modern technology (ie. drugs) is silly but thats just me.

  12. Thanks for the post, and for the forum where the commenters continued the discussion.

    And, here I thought I was the only person who not only faced a sexless marriage (I was already aware of the 15% number) but whose spouse simply refused to want to address the problem.

    It’s taken a number of years, and those years have taken a huge toll on me, but I’m finally beginning the process of extracting myself from my marriage. This is made difficult by the fact that we have young children (alas, our problems began before the kids arrived), but it turns out that my wife has been secretly wanting a divorce all this time.

    In our case, her lack of interest stemmed from lack of respect. When all is said and done… the problem can not be solved unless both parties want to solve it. We went to counseling. When the first counselor suggested divorce, I balked. When we saw another counselor, the counselor made a diagnosis that my wife refused to consider, and she put an end to the counseling.

    It takes two. If your partner doesn’t want to honor her or his wedding vows (‘keep only unto’ does include the ‘keep unto’ part… it’s not just about the ‘only’ part), they have already left the marriage.

    I feel for all of my fellow commenters. Kimmelin, you may not be “perfect” in the mutual desire department, but at least you recognize the issue and want to try to be a good partner. I’m okay with being a little out of sync. But, as a female friend of mine (who got divorced for the same reason) said, “They were wedding vows, not monastic vows.”

    The situation is terrible. But I fear that if I were to stay in this situation much longer, the long-term effects to my mental health (let alone physical health) and the kind of role modeling we’d be doing for our kids would simply be irreparable.

    My heart goes out to you all, and I’m increasingly (albeit sadly) convinced it’s time to move on.

  13. Nat & Ann

    Were in our 60’s and have been sexless for about 28 years or so. Sex was never that great from the beginning. Wife didn’t want sex on wedding night nor on our honeymoon. She was scared I guess.
    And when we did have sex I found it was so boring and thought it was so much effort for so very little return. I just did it to make my wife happy. Later in our marriage I worked very hard and got depressed, developed high blood pressure, ulcers, sleep problem, and cholesterol issues. I take meds for all this, and my libido died . Which was good for me I didn’t like sex anyway. Now I have a reason to not have sex. She has been upset all these years about this issue, but I keep telling thats the way it is I can’t help her out.

  14. Pingback: Sexless Marriage? « AfterAmerica's Blog

  15. Norma Bantillo

    We’ve been married for 13 months and he’s never even touched me. Never even tried to touch me. I should have left after the wedding night. He says it’s ED — I’ll never know because he’s never let me even try to help him get an erection. I am hurt, feel rejected, — but he claims to love me. There IS NO INTIMACY without sex. I don’t think I’ll survive this relationship. I’ve tried and … I’m ready to let it go. I just don’t want a failed marriage.

  16. Amy

    First of all I hate all men, and I refuse to associate with any of them, there all mindless twits. Why would I start out like I have!
    I’ve been married 46 or maybe I should clarify this by saying only on paper. My husband lost all interest in me the night after our wedding, Oh we had sex once, my first, last and only time. I will admit at the time I’m a prude, and never having a chance to spread my wings I will remain that way till I die. He hated sex and me for suggesting it, he told me it was disgusting, messy, smelly, vile and made him want to vomit. That was the only time we argued and fought, he gave up and moved to the basement where he has eaten and slept all these years plus he worked the midnight shift to no be home. I threatened to walk out, divorce an he just to me don’t let the door hit me in the buns. Since then I come and go when I want, I really can’t go far there just isn’t enough money to leave, plus I have no one who would put me up. So I just gave with this awful mess, now in my mid 60s and don’t care anymore. I begged and pleaded for years all I got was silence in return.

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