Sexless Marriage: Causes and Consequences

By Sylvia Smith | Published 8/19/2019 76

Sad woman with partner in background (sexless marriage)

The lack of intimacy related to a sexless marriage can be painful and frustrating. (Photo source: iStock)

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 [1] 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.

  • Life events

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). [1]

  • Health issues

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:

  • frustration
  • anger
  • sadness and depression
  • embarrassment
  • suspicion
  • 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. 

Related Content:  6 Ways to Enhance Female Sexuality While Aging

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. 

References:

  1.  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

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).

Comments:

  • married 22 years. 2 sons, my wife told me she does not want any intimacy or physical touching as this produces anxiety within her when she and I do either. She said she needs time to heal whatever the hell that means. I asked how long will it take for you to heal she said it is from years of anxiety that I have caused her so healing may take a long time. Well, sorry to say, but I am not going to survive this kind of marriage for “a long time” while she gets or tries to get her head out of her butt. I have basic needs and they are not being met so I am in the process of deciding what I am going to do about it. she does not kiss me during the day, give hugs, caresses, nothing. at bed time there is no pillow talk, no laying on my shoulder, no holding hands, not a single thing. we may as well be sleeping in different rooms. I hate it I feel unloved and unwanted and unneeded and she tells me that I have the problem and I need to get help and I need to get over it, whatever IT is. Well, I won’t do the divorce route however looking at other women and watching movies on TV seeing couples having fun on dates, sex, laughing, being silly, and such I wish I could have that kind of life. as it is there is not much anymore at home to come home to so I dread coming home to this life.

  • I understand what everyone on this site is going thru. I am also in a pretty much sexless marriage of 32 years. My wife has been in menopause for the last 11 years and has had no interest in sex. I love her with all my heart and soul, she is my soul mate. She has certain issues that most women have with the menopause comes with that part of a woman’s life. We have had an exciting most of the time sex life before the menopause. As far as the before sex i have always made sure she gets off at least 2-3 times for we actually have sex. Many times in the past I have satisfied her and she has done the roll over and go to sleep leaving me needing relief. I know i have a high sex drive and always have at most times in my life, I understand that. I do a good job at helping around the house as far as cleaning, cooking, washing clothes, doing yard work around 6-700 hrs of overtime each year to make sure that my wife and kids could have most the things they needed and wanted. I have pretty much never told her there was anything she couldnt have. She has also always been pretty conservative on spending money, so most of the time when i knew she wanted something I would go ahead and get it for her. I know I have spoiled her but she has also had a rough life full of hurt from family in her past. She is very sensitive and caring for others and for our family. She has always had a low self esteem even though everyone says how pretty and beautiful she is. I have always told her how beautiful and sexy I think she is at least 10 times a day to make sure she knows this. Also telling her at least 10-15 times a day how much I love her, I never want her to fell unloved or not sexy. I have bought her 2 sets of breast implants because she thought that makes her feel better about herself. We did the liposuction twice because she didnt like some of her areas. She does work out and try to eat right most of the time. I work out roughly and 4-5 times a week and always have I stay in good shape year round and get compliments. She works out with me now since I retired and enjoys it. We spend lots of time together but she just isnt interested in having sex or being intimate. I buy her sexy clothes and tell her how sexy she is. I am the one who does the initiating of sex or touching to be intimate. I have offered to just be satisfied with a handjob or oral stimulation since she says penetration hurts at times. She uses the excuse too tired, not thinking about sex, not in the mood, it just feels weird to do that right now. I have offered to just get her off hoping to get the mood right for her first. She always say its great when we have sex or do get each other off manually. We maybe have sex once every other month once she gets drunk or really buzzed and that is the only way it happens if it does. I ve talked to her about how I feel and how it is causing arguments for us now and we never have argued about hardly anything. Very few close female friends of ours know of how she is and say they would give anything to have someone as caring and compassionate as i am towards their spouse. I m not a sissy by any means and am known in our group as the protector. But feel very lonely, unhappy sexually, needing that physical touch and intimate relationship. Not sure what else to do. If I bring it up she says that i m too easy if she wants it i would jump at it. Or she says she wants to do it when she feels it, but that never happens either. Struggling !!!!!!

  • Hi there Guys.
    A lot of hurt is going around here. But also a lot of love.
    A lot of us are feeling lonely and yearning for intimacy, closeness, touch, and yes sex.
    Married 11 years to a beautiful woman with a sex drive and emotions so great. Somewhere now we are down to sex every three months at best.

    Me being honest and emotions showing I do not hide how I feel anymore. I tried to give have space, love, caress without sexual touch, doing “her” things to ease her life a bit. Didn´t help a bit and no notice either. So when she asked me how I felt one day I told her that I feel lonely, unloved, unseen, untouched, unkissed, unhugged, and really wondering if she had someone on the side as she had no interest in me anymore. That bought tears to her eyes and she said she loved me and has no other. She missed the intimacy too she said but did not know what was wrong. A lot of talking but no solution. Kids are grown up and live on their own so no problem there.
    Not finding a solution still not wanting to leave but the need for human touch is so big in me. I found that going for tactile massage helps a bit. But not all the way. Taking a long hard bike ride lets out some steam and frustration and that helps. But again not all the way.

    We are still in love but she never initiates a hug or a kiss. I have now started to ask for a close naked hug without going to sex to help me out. This she can do most of the time. Sometimes I will end up sobbing like a child and regretting that but realizing that I have to get it out of me somehow.
    This then makes her feel bad for not being able to be there in all my needs. Which makes everything worse again.
    So I end up not saying anything next time as I don’t want to make her feel bad. Then this is wrong also.
    Sort of difficult to get it right if you get my meaning.
    Not knowing where this will end. I have now asked her to think about our future and what she wants, stating that I will not leave her. But she has to start doing something for herself so we can work on ourselves.

    I just want to be loved and touched.
    I just want to love and touch.

  • I’m a 47-year-old man and in a sexless marriage. I have been married to my wife for 26 years, we have had a very adventurous relationship and sex life over the years. About 15 years ago she had to have a hysterectomy but things still were very adventurous and fulfilling in our sex life.

    Around the same time my wife had an injury to her hip and back at work that left her disabled and unable to work. This threw her into a deep depression and suicide attempt. We made it through all this strong in our relationship but for the last 5 years things have been rough, her pain from her injuries have gotten worse without much help from doctors, our sex life is nonexistent, our intimacy is nonexistent and she has given up on a future.

    She literally has not left our house but maybe 5 times in 4.5 years. She lives in a night gown and never leaves our bedroom, she stays up all hours of the night watching movies and TV on her laptop. I feel like an adult babysitter waiting to hear she hurt her self. She makes no effort to shower regularly (I have to make her).

    I love her like crazy, always have but this is really driving a huge wedge between us. What makes it worse is her snide remarks about us hiring a live-in maid to possibly contract to have sex with me so she doesn’t have to do it. This pisses me off to no end. At 47 I still have a very healthy sex drive and desire, but she has no use for sex or intimacy anymore or for that matter even taking care of herself.

    I just don’t know exactly what to do, I feel selfish when I think of leaving her. Like it’s for a sex life again but I’m smart enough to understand it’s more than that. It’s about much more than just sex. I’m at a crossroad in this and have to figure the best solution now. It helps to know there are more out there in similar situations and who know what we’re going through.

  • I’m an idiot really and obviously insecure in my own skin. I have no one else to blame for the position I’m in. I have been with my now husband for 7 years. He has lied to me frequently but I kept giving him another chance. He is 15 years older than me and I got pregnant (never had children) and he said it was him or the baby, he didn’t want another. At 40 having not had children, I wanted it desperately, but I loved him more.

    4 years ago I saw a text message from a ‘lady boy prostitute’ – he was about to have paid sex with him; I wonder how many times before that had happened.

    Since then, we have never had intercourse again. That was 4 years ago. I thought if we got married it would change, nope, didn’t happen. I have now been 4 years without even a kiss or snuggle. I was a high earning executive who lived all over the world and he loved it. Since lockdown, I have lost my job and my dignity but he has stood by me but we are nothing but friends.

    He says it is normal not to have sex and that is how people live as they get older. I don’t know if I’m looking at things through rose coloured glasses? Is it normal not to have any intimacy as you get older?

    I have never been unfaithful but decided that once lockdown is over, I’m leaving. I’m still in my late forties, slim and attractive. I don’t want to live the rest of my life in a sexless marriage, as much as I love him and don’t want to leave. I would rather be faithful and alone than continue on this journey of feeling unloved.

    • Ella:

      I so understand where you are coming from. I had waited a long time hoping my husband would want his marriage and straighten himself out. I am going on a 18 year sexless marriage with no intimacy or communication whatsoever. Every time that I had tried to discuss, I was told, “well, lets don’t talk about this”. I don’t understand why I have lived in this so long as I know that I didn’t have to. Marriage of 30 years and no children with this 2nd marriage, I am 100% done. I will never marry anyone again. I just want to live out the rest of my life in a decent home in a low crime area. I have spent the last 29 years, observing that my husband must be a porn addict of young women. I’ve found him on many dating sites during my marriage. Twice, his ex wife’s profile showed up along with the runner that he was messing with when he was married. There were two other women’s names attached also. He did not quite tell me everything correctly or I would have never dated him. I thought that he was a nice man. A few month’s ago, I ran one of those background checks for the 2nd time. These same names came up again along with a post he had made to a young woman’s breast pictures. It was his current email address: Good Lord! Those are the kind of tits you jerk off to! For me, that was it. He hasn’t seen my breasts in 19 years but he’s making comments on Reddit. I don’t care what anyone says, porn destroys most men in the end.

  • I am a combat vet and have been married for 42 years we married young me 18 and her19 she us Japanese and i am Caucasian American . We had a good marriage for about 25 years. After i got a Vasectomy things started to change less sex we have two daughters and we live each other deeply she hit menopause early and it is painful for her We let each other have our own space and freedom And dont talk to much just normal how was you day and what the kids are up to . I was always the one who initiated the sex . And always made sure she was satisfied before i finished . But due to my ptsd we dont sleep together i wake her up and she still works so not wanting to disturb her sleep I sleep in a separate bed room . She is a great wife and looks after me and is a good mother . She just doesn’t care about sex and feels we should be. Grand parents and sit on the porch and spend time with the grand kids . I have told her several times i really would want us to be closer and more intimacy we could really have a much better and enjoyable relationship if she would just show some interest but she just doesn’t want to have sex no holding hands no kissing no hugging if any of these are done it is me that does them and she just acts like a stick . I have gotten so dishearted sad and lonely i have just started looking at her as a maid or room mate . I fantasize a lot about women i make up in my mind . I love her and always have but i just feel like i am never going to have that tight intimate marriage we could have had. But she thinks that the sex stuff has been over and we need to be grand parents. I am 60 and not that bad looking and get along with most people. Some have said i look 45 or 50 and not 60 but i sometimes think it us best if i just start to take care of my interest my self and see some one else and just stay married as it is just a companionship marriage Anyway so sad that i love this woman so much that i have just done without so long been 10 years of nothing and before that just once or twice a year for 5 years i really dont know what to do i want happiness but i really want it to be with her but think maybe its time to seek else where i feel i am to old to start over and find any happiness and worry what my kids will think and dont want my wife to have a hard time in her retirement years . So am i wrong or what i think i have done a good job of being a husband and father . But i am one lonely And sex less man in My marriage. I have tried to talk to her and said to she a doctor get help with the pain of menopause But she just doesn’t think its an issue and need to just be grand paw and we are to old for that stuff i dont know what to do so i told her years ago that if she wasnt going to be open to intimacy and sex sometimes i wasnt going to sleep in her bed i seen no reason too . Am i wrong ladies hell once a month and some snuggling would be all i would ask for and sa good morning and a kiss or hung would be great i would be content . .

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