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:

  • I’ve been married for 23 years and we haven’t had sex even once. I’m 59 and still a virgin. I’ve been miserable the whole time and don’t know what to do.

    • What? Why have you stayed? I’m so sorry. You obviously suffer from low self-esteem. Have you seen a therapist? You need to first understand why you have tolerated this behavior. You are still young enough To change your life and find a partner that will fulfill you in every way. Best of luck to you.

  • I have lost all confidence. I would say I’m an attractive women and still get looks from men. My husband is 15 years my senior, I have kept myself in shape and still nothing. My husband has not touched me in four years, not even foreplay.

    He has not even kissed me intimately. To the outside world he is the perfect husband and partner but I feel so unloved and alone. I don’t know what I have done for him not to want to be with me. When I raise the subject he gets angry and states he has lost his libido due to age, however, I struggle with that because it would not stop him having foreplay.

    I don’t know what to do.

    • Ella,
      I am in the same situation as you. I also am a very attractive lady and get looks from men all the time but my husband won’t even touch me. He’s 7 years older than me so im not sure if age has a part to play. I have a very high libido and extremely affectionate. He’s always tired even intiating sex to him feels like a chore. I don’t know how much longer i can keep up with the rejection tbh. Not that i would do it but i now see why women end up having an affair. It’s very hard.

    • Ella & Lilly,
      I am going through it too. We have been together for a total of 15 yrs married 12yrs. The last time we had sex was before we got married. All I get is a peck on the lips when he says goodnight. He has told me a million times he loves me but does not know why he can not get back to the intimacy like we had before we were married. I mentioned I joined this group because I was in shock to see I was not the only one married to someone and not having sex. I told him there was a guy in the group going through the same thing for the same amount of time that I have and he can not cheat on his wife. He just keeps waiting. I thought I was the only person who could stay faithful for that long and it amazed me how many descent, faithful people are in the world. He got jealous because there are guys in the group that are sharing their stories and replying to my situation with their own situation. I am so confused. He does not want to be with me intimately but gets jealous because I am in a group that has men in it. He thinks I am out looking to hook up with one of them. I told him I am also sharing my situation with women and he gets all freaked out.

    • Seeking answers for a friend’s dad. He’s been married about 30 years to a woman who hasn’t but a handful of times made love with him for the last 2 decades! They live together partially (he travels for work half the week). They share an adult child. She doesn’t want to talk about why she suddenly stopped having sex (I assume a past rape) and refuses to even talk about sex or get counseling. She may also believe sex is for procreation. He’s tried to rekindle things through the years and she rebuffs him. Key: THEY ARE ALSO BUSINESS PARTNERS. Divorcing would mean a messy breaking of businesses and division of assets (which are plenty). And according to him, they still love each other (care for). But there’s no more passion or emotional intimacy. She is not the type of age to even consider for a second separation or an open marriage, he says.

      Two questions for you all: Just how long could YOU be in his position before hitting your breaking point? 20 years?

      How likely would it be for you to cheat, either emotionally or physically if you stayed in such a predicament for so long without counseling? Personally, it seems inevitable.

      And do you feel cheating (emotionally or sexually) be justified in such a predicament? What would the alternative be (if divorce were made near impossible)?

  • What if it’s your husband? We’ve now been married 10 years, together for 18 and right up until we got married, we had a healthy sex life. Since then, things have dwindled to non existent. A year ago, I set out on a journey to a better me and was in the best shape of my life. Sex did pick back up again, and I got pregnant with our third child. Once he learned that I was pregnant, sex stopped abruptly.
    Now, given birth two weeks ago, there has been nothing.
    It is ruining our marriage, especially since
    It is me wanting more and reasons why. Is it me? Is it that he has gone outside of our marriage? Should I leave?
    I am a woman that needs intimacy and sex.

  • I have been in a sexless marriage for at least 19 years, my wife flatly rejection me sexually. This has been difficult with feelings of rejection, frustration and anger.
    We have talked about it and have tried to be more intimate but we can’t get past first base. After such a long period of rejection I no longer wish to have sex with my wife. I don’t see her as a sexual partner anymore. We get along responsibility well but there is that underlying tension.
    About 10 years without sex I started seeing prostitutes, I felt ashamed, bad, why had I come to this.
    I find myself seeking female friendships outside my marriage. As a human, as a sensual being, I cannot live in a marriage based on partner imposed sexual abstinence.
    I do love my wife, that my sound strange given what I have done. I am extremely unhappy in our marriage that I think of leaving.

    • Long-term rejection really does destroy your confidence…and it makes you angry and resentful. I spent a lot of time reading about sex drive imbalance in marriage and trying to learn how to resolve our problems, but its a one-way street when the other side thinks its YOUR problem. So then I started reading all the red pill MGTOW literature which made me start to hate females in general, but that is DEFINITELY the wrong way to go. My wife doesn’t need or want sex, so that’s her problem. I’m the normal one. I do not want to be further diminished by her disinterest in me (though she does love me as a partner in life, whatever that is worth). We are going to separate sooner or later and i would like to start over before I become too much of a needy weirdo.

  • I am iin the same boat. 5 years ago sex started to slow down. 15 yrs in and my wife could care less about being intimate. She says I want sex all the time, but I only try once a month to be romantic to get her in the mood. 75% of the time she shoots me down and I am left feeling hopeless and unwanted. My self-esteem is shot and I would say we are lucky to have sex 5-7 per year. I am at a loss of what to do.

    • all the relationships I have had long term including 2 marriages have ended up sexless. me I would happy with sex daily. my first marriage we went 3 yes without sex. it seems women use sex as bait to get a man. I do not believe women need sex at all and they use it as a tool to hook a man. This will only result in destruction of a man’s self esteem. if women just realised that to keep a man we NEED good sex regularly not as a tool to get what you want. I believe women are wired this way. I was and am good at sex but as I said it is just bait. Sadly this marriage has followed the same trend. this is why there are affairs.

    • HA!! Have you seen how many women are commenting here? I am a reasonably attractive woman, with high sex drive.

      Its my husband who basically tricked me into marriage..
      I’ve had to beg plead cry, scream, threaten divorce, throw things, bargain, tried everything imaginable to “spice things up” kept in good shape despite three kids, and nothing.

      He has watched me for 7 yrs now on a downward spiral, as a result of this. Its like he gets a sadistic thrill out of control or something.
      There is definitely another side to this.
      NOTHING is more important to him than the almighty pornography.

      Its so pathetic, that I honestly despise him.

  • I’ve been dealing with this for a few years now. Her reasoning is the change of life that started in her 30’s. We are mid 40’s, It is really putting a strain on our 19yr marriage

    • I cried on part 5 because it’s too relatable, especially when others girls are flirting with you more than your own partner, it just makes you feel like your unloved by your partner and loved by others better, I don’t think I do this much longer

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