Sexless Marriage Reasons and Remedies

Verywell / Bailey Mariner 

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Physical intimacy is commonly what makes a romantic relationship more than just a platonic friendship. Some couples slip into a pattern or habit of letting the physical part of their marriage fall by the wayside. Others had little to no sex from the start.

Many couples experience a drop-off in sex and physical intimacy within the first few years of marriage, particularly if kids come into the picture. However, the complete loss of physical intimacy that once was a part of the relationship often signals a problem that needs to be addressed.

Without the physical intimacy that differentiates a romantic partnership from a platonic one, married couples can become more-or-less roommates. If both partners are OK with this type of relationship, it doesn't call for concern. But often, one or both partners become frustrated or hurt by the loss of physical intimacy and sex.

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Questions and Tips For Building Intimacy In Your Relationship

What Is a Sexless Marriage?

A sexless marriage is a marriage in which there is little to no sexual activity between the partners. Many couples experience periods of more sex and less sex. A temporary period of less sex isn't typically considered "sexless." While there is no official definition, many define a sexless marriage as one in which the couple has not had sex (or has had only extremely infrequent sex) for a year or more.

There are many possible reasons a couple might find themselves in a sexless partnership. Whether being in a sexless relationship is an issue depends on the couple, but if the lack of sex and physical intimacy is a problem, there are ways to work through it together and separately starting with identifying the underlying cause.

Common Reasons

There are many possible reasons that a marriage may become sexless, including everything from health issues to lifestyle factors. Here's an overview of some common reasons.

Health Issues

A person's overall physical and mental health can have a major impact on their libido and desire for physical intimacy. Health concerns and disability can also disrupt the physiological process of arousal in both sexes.

Experiencing some problems with sexual functioning is common, but if they last for more than a few months or they're causing problems for you or your partner, it's a good idea to speak with a healthcare provider.

Mismatched Libidos

Not everyone desires the same amount of sex, and sex drive has a natural ebb and flow. When the desire for sex does not coincide, it's easy for couples to find themselves waiting to engage sexually until both partners are in the mood, which can be infrequent.

Childbirth

According to The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), there isn't a defined time when someone can have sex again after childbirth, but many healthcare providers recommend waiting for at least four to six weeks (though sometimes longer) for physical recovery alone.

This timeframe of no sex typically wouldn't be long enough to be considered a true "sexless marriage," but whether someone who gave birth is mentally and emotionally ready to have sex after this point depends on the individual. The added stress of caring for an infant, body changes, tiredness, and hormonal factors can also affect a person's libido after having a child.

Stress

Excessive stress can wreak havoc on your health, including your sex drive. The stress hormone cortisol can also play a role in lowering your libido. In addition to the physical reasons why stress lowers sex drive, the psychological effects of stress can leave you so tired, frazzled, and anxious that you simply don't have the desire or energy for sex.

Communication Issues

When you are in conflict with your partner, it can be difficult to maintain physical intimacy. You might not feel like talking to your partner, let alone engaging in sexual activity.

Contributing Factors

Erectile Dysfunction

Difficulty achieving or maintaining an erection can make it difficult to have sex for a number of reasons. While erectile dysfunction (ED) is a common problem, it can also affect a person's anxiety levels, confidence, and self-esteem. People who have symptoms of ED should always talk to a doctor, as it may be a sign of an underlying health condition.

Low Sex Drive

Sometimes called hypoactive sexual desire disorder (HSDD), low sex drive is an issue that both men and women may experience. In females, a number of factors may contribute to HSDD, including menstrual cycles, the use of hormonal contraceptives, childbirth, breastfeeding, hysterectomy, and menopause. 

Medication Side Effects

Many medications have sexual side effects. Some drugs that can cause sexual dysfunction include over-the-counter decongestants, some antihistamines, antidepressants, and high blood pressure medications.

Mental Health Issues

Symptoms of depression include lack of energy, loss of interest and pleasure, social withdrawal, and depressed mood—all factors that can have an effect on a person's desire for sex and physical intimacy.

History of Abuse

Past sexual abuse can have long-lasting effects that can influence current and future relationships. Emotional reactions such as fear and shame, post-traumatic stress, and distortions in self-perception can have a serious impact on a person's sex life.

Life Issues

There are a number of different life factors that can also play a role in how frequently people engage in sex with their partner, including:

  • Aging
  • Body image issues
  • Boredom
  • Financial problems
  • Grief
  • Job loss
  • Tiredness

How to Address the Issue

The first step is recognizing that you have a low- or no-sex marriage and determining whether a lack of sex is a problem for your marriage. Whether you consider a low-sex or no-sex marriage an issue is entirely up to you and your partner.

There is no right amount of sex to have in a marriage. What's more important, in many cases, is whether you still have physical and emotional intimacy with your partner and whether both you and your partner are satisfied in your marriage.

Avoid comparing your marriage to others because every relationship is unique. While you might come across statistics that make you feel like you and your partner are not having enough sex, research has found that going without sex is more common than you might think.

According to General Social Survey data from 1972 to 2004, 6% of married couples were sexually inactive over the previous year. However, it's important to note that for just younger couples (ages 18 to 49), the percentage is much lower at 1.3 to 2.5%.

Here are some ways you can address the lack of sex in your marriage if it's a problem for you and your partner.

Communicate

Talk with your partner about the issue of low or no sex in your marriage. It may be difficult, but this communication is necessary. Even otherwise strong relationships can have problems with sex and intimacy. It isn't necessarily a sign that your marriage is weak or in trouble.

Lack of sex may simply mean that you need to talk more and carve out more time to spend together as a couple.

If you need help figuring out how to talk to your partner, consider first talking to a mental health professional or therapist for ideas about how to approach the subject. It is important to keep the conversation positive and not leave your partner feeling like they are being attacked or blamed.

Every marriage is different and you will need to work together as a couple to figure out what works for you. Don't try to live up to other people's expectations or what you think is normal. Talk about what each of you wants, needs, and expects. Then work together to make it work for both of you.

As you talk, aim to determine ways you both think you can rekindle your sex life. Making a change will only work if both of you agree to change and work together.

Build Intimacy

If you have decided that you want to have more sex, consider putting sex on your schedule. It may sound unromantic, but it can also be exciting and special if done the right way. Scheduling gives you something to look forward to and shows a commitment to one another and your physical relationship.

Beyond sex, it's also important to explore other ways to build closeness that is often lost in low-sex or no-sex relationships. Physical intimacy doesn't only involve sex. Make an effort to renew your love and create that special spark.

Being close, both emotionally and physically, is an important part of a healthy relationship. And it's important to note that physical intimacy isn't limited to sex.

Spending more time together, whether you're curled up on the couch watching television or taking turns giving each other a massage, builds foundational intimacy. Here are other intimacy-building activities you might consider:

  • Try a new activity together.
  • Do something physical together such as going on a walk.
  • Schedule on a vacation or getaway.
  • Plan a staycation at home.
  • Go on a scheduled date night.

Get Help

Depending on the underlying causes, seeking outside help may also be a good option. You might try a marriage retreat, workshop, or seminar to help with communication and connection. 

Consult a doctor to address any underlying medical conditions that may be impacting your sex life. Seek support from a mental health professional together or separately to foster communication skills or learn stress management techniques.

If therapy feels like the right direction for you, consider seeing a counselor who focuses on sexual issues in marriage like a certified sex therapist. Your therapist can work with you to address any issues that are standing in the way of intimacy. Take these opportunities to focus on building a stronger, deeper marriage.

Will a Sexless Marriage Lead to Divorce?

While there is a lack of recent research on the topic, older studies have shown that lower sexual satisfaction and sexual frequency are associated with marriages breaking up. According to a 2015 study published in Social Psychological and Personality Science, having more sex indicates greater well-being for people in relationships, but only up to once a week. In the study, more than that did not.

Being dissatisfied with your sex life can breed trouble for a relationship. That is to say that the lack of sex itself isn't necessarily an issue, but rather any dissatisfaction associated with the lack of sex is.

If you're unsatisfied with the amount of sex you and your partner are having, you may be wondering whether your relationship can be sustained. Making the decision to end your marriage can be very complex. There are many different factors that can contribute to feeling sexually satisfied in a partnership, and they can differ from person to person.

Next Steps

Michele Weiner Davis, author of the book "Sex Starved Marriage," explains why a low-sex marriage can become a major problem.

"It's when one partner is desperately yearning for more touch, physical closeness, more sex, and the other partner is thinking: 'What is the big deal? Why are you so hassled?' When this major disconnect happens, intimacy at all levels tends to drop. [But it's] really about feeling wanted, feeling loved, feeling appreciated, and feeling connected," she says.

Davis goes on to say that because of hurt that can develop from not having needs met, the bond between a couple can dissipate to the point of putting the marriage at risk.

Meanwhile, divorce research suggests that some of the most common issues that lead to problems in a marriage include growing apart, poor communication, differences in tastes, and financial problems.

If your partner doesn't agree that there is a problem in your marriage and doesn't want to change, you will have to decide if a low- or no-sex marriage is a dealbreaker for you.

A Word From Verywell

Whether being in a sexless partnership is a dealbreaker depends on the couple. But if you find yourself in a sexless marriage or you're dissatisfied with the amount of sex you and your partner are having, the first step is to communicate that with your partner and explore ways that you can find the intimacy that each of you needs to feel fulfilled.

There are many reasons that a relationship can become sexless, and many are treatable. Experiencing sexual issues in a relationship can be very difficult, but you don't have to manage it alone.

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12 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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