There are various definitions of a sexless marriage. Some experts say that it occurs when spouses have not been intimate within a 6 to 12-month period. Others say it is having sex with your partner less than 10 times a year. Whatever the definition, it is clear that “sexless” marriage is a problem when one or both spouses are dissatisfied with the frequency of sexual relations.
This article will explore the dynamics of a sexless marriage and examine how sexless marriage can take a toll on you.
How common is sexless marriage?
Although there is a relative paucity of studies on the topic, a frequently quoted one is described in a 2009 article in the New York Times  titled When Sex Leaves a Marriage. The author of the story interviewed Denise A. Donnelly, who was an associate professor at Georgia State University. Her studies suggest that sexless marriage, defined as not having sex in the prior 6-months to one year, occurs in about 15 percent of married couples.
What are the causes of marriages without sex?
There are many reasons why marriages become sexless. Sometimes, couples had relatively little sex since the beginning of the relationship. Or they got into the habit of not having regular sex.
Other times, life events intervene, making it harder to find the time or the inclination to be intimate. Some examples include:
- having a baby
- constraints related to raising children
- having a demanding job or incompatible work schedules
- excessive stress
- having a midlife crisis or having an affair
- pornography addiction
- a change in physical attractiveness causes a partner to lose interest in sex
- one or both partners are angry with each other and fight a lot
- Or, they have fallen out of love with each other
Low or no sex drive
Sometimes one or both partners has a low sex drive or may even be asexual. Other times, one or both partners have negative associations with sex (they think it is somehow “dirty” or believe it should only be used for procreation). 
Health issues can also play a role by causing a loss of desire for sex (libido) or a physical inability to participate (e.g., inability to get an erection, vaginal conditions that make intercourse extremely painful).
Consultation with a physician in the field and/or a marriage counselor experienced in dealing with sexual issues or a certified sex therapist may help shed light on the causes.
What are the consequences of a sexless marriage?
So what happens to your marriage when you and your spouse are no longer being intimate together? Although intimacy in marriage helps to bond couples, both partners are sometimes perfectly happy that part of their relationship fades away.
However, often one or both partners are unhappy with the situation. They want to rekindle the sexual relationship and enjoy the bond of physical intimacy with their partner. This can lead to a variety of emotions, including, among other things:
- sadness and depression
- temptation to cheat
No matter how it manifests, a lack of intimacy can be painful and frustrating both mentally and physically.
5 ways a sexless marriage can affect you
Here are 5 ways a sexless marriage can affect your mental health and your relationship, along with advice on what to do when you and your spouse are no longer intimate together.
1. Temptations rise
It goes without saying that you are missing out on an important bond when you are not intimate with your partner. Your emotional and physical needs are not being met. This can cause you to question your commitment to fidelity.
When your partner no longer wants to be intimate with you, it can make you feel incredibly lonely and depressed. This leaves you vulnerable to having an extramarital affair. Of course, this will complicate your marriage and likely hurt all parties involved.
2. Reduces emotional intimacy
In a sample study done by the Flourishing Families Project, 355 couples discussed the impact of emotional and sexual intimacy on relationship satisfaction. The results showed that a satisfying sex life significantly predicted heightened emotional intimacy between partners.
Emotional intimacy is vital to your relationship. It bonds you as a couple and makes sex more enjoyable. It even contributes to the success of your marital friendship. It’s what encourages you to be close with your spouse and share things with him.
When physical intimacy is lacking, your emotional connection will suffer.
3. Destroys trust
The oxytocin released during physical moments – especially after orgasm – has been shown to increase trust between partners. This is important since trust is what helps us feel connected to our spouses. It allows us to feel comfortable and safe in our relationships.
The relationship between trust and intimacy makes sense when you consider that during sex you are giving your partner the freedom and consent to explore your body and pleasure you. It is a deeply personal experience that you share with your partner. When this experience is lacking, your trust in your spouse may wane.
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If your spouse has lost interest in sex, you may also start to question their loyalty to you. You may wonder if they are uninterested in maintaining a healthy sex life with you because they are pursuing their desires with someone else. Such thinking can damage a marriage.
4. It ruins your self-esteem
When you are intimate with your spouse, you feel amazing. You feel sexy and desired by your partner. This gives you a pleasant ego boost. However, when such intimacy is lacking, it may cause your self-esteem to plummet. You may start to think that you are ugly, undesirable, or that your spouse is no longer attracted to you. This can cause your mental health to suffer.
Questioning your self-worth can trigger depression.
Once depressed, you will begin to feel unmotivated, helpless, will lose interest in activities, may begin to dislike yourself, feel fatigued, irritable, and you may even start choosing reckless behavior.
5. It’s embarrassing
You’re out with your friends, and someone pulls up a ‘How Wild is Your Sex Life?’ quiz as a silly joke. Everyone begins discussing their hottest encounters or relaying stories about sneaking in an intimate moment while the kids were out. You’re just left there to dread the round-table discussion coming your way.
Not having a healthy sex life with your partner hurts. Since research proves that sex makes you feel socially included, the reality of your intimate life can be embarrassing. This is true even if nobody knows what is going on behind closed doors.
You may start to wonder what is wrong with your spouse. You may start to think that your relationship is not normal, especially if your husband has lost interest in sex.
What to do when you’re in a sexless marriage
Being in a happy sexless marriage can be equally, if not more frustrating than being in an unhappy relationship. If you and your spouse are wildly in love and prioritize spending time together as an important part of your relationship, why aren’t you connecting on a sexual level?
Whether you get along or not, it’s important to get to the root of the problems in your sex life. Here are two simple ways you can start to take control of your marriage and your mental health.
- Communication is the backbone of any strong marriage. Studies show that sexual communication is positively correlated with relationship quality and satisfying sex life. Couples must learn how to talk about what is bothering them to grow and strengthen their relationship.
- Get help. Not everyone is comfortable sharing the ins and outs of their lives with a stranger, but therapy can be beneficial. Whether you’re attending with your spouse or solo, a counselor can help you understand what’s going on in your relationship.
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There are also online marriage courses available to teach couples how to strengthen intimacy, boost communication, and enhance empathy.
Not sharing a sex life with the person you vowed to spend forever can be a sad and frustrating experience – but it doesn’t have to stay that way.
Communicate openly with your spouse about the problems you’re having. Marital therapy, working out together, and spending quality time together can boost your physical and emotional intimacy.
- Parker-Pope T. When Sex Leaves the Marriage, 2009, June 3, The New York Times. https://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/06/03/when-sex-leaves-the-marriage/
Published Aug. 21, 2019. Updated and republished 1/17, 2021
Sylvia Smith is a relationship expert with years of experience in training and helping couples in therapy. She has been affiliated with Marriage.com, a reliable resource assisting millions of couples to resolve their marital issues, for almost a decade. Her mission is to provide inspiration, support, and empowerment to everyone on their journey to a great marriage.
She is a big believer in living consciously and encourages couples to adopt its principles in their relationships. By taking purposeful and intentional action, Sylvia feels any relationship or marriage can be transformed and truly enjoyed.
She frequently writes about relationships and how couples can revitalize their love lives in and out of the bedroom. Some of her recent publications include:
- Is Sexless Marriage Causing Depression? Here's What to Do
- How Important is Sex for a Man
- Sensuality vs. Sexuality - What’s the Difference and How To Be More Sensual
- 12 Signs Your Marriage May Be Over
Sylvia holds a Master’s Degree in Arts (Clinical Psychology with an Emphasis in Marriage and Family Therapy).