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:

  • you need a trustworthy hacker to hack into your partner’s device? You can trust Spy-lord. I tried him and he’s very reliable and trustworthy. now I can say am among one of the happiest married women alive. I promised to tell the whole world about him. I hope you can thank me later.

  • It is sad to see to it that I’m not alone. I really need my man but he is not there for me. I try to initiate for sex but but it is like he does not even feel me!!! I just feel to go outside and quench my thirst.

    • I think everyone who is in, or has been in this situation, has had those thoughts.
      Question is;
      How will you feel when you come back from an affair knowing you officially cheated?
      And do you think you may get emotionally attached to the person you had the affair with. What if you do, how will you handle that when your back at home?
      What if the passionate moment happens without protection (got lost in the lust of it all, Oops!) Now you have to think of disease or pregnancy possibilities! Shit! That just makes things worse than they were.
      Reason I’m even bringing it all up, is cause I’ve thought about it, and although it sounds amazing to finally have my needs met, one must thing of the plethora of circumstances that could arise. And I think ending it would have to happen first, then all the complications are no longer attached to venturing out, and it respectable and fair.
      Just saying for thought.
      Good luck

  • No emotional connection or sex for the last 6 years. His parents live with us and have made a lot of trouble in our marriage. His first wife left after 5 years and I came along and we’ve been married for 25 but no intimacy for 5-6 years. He’s had a couple of emotional affairs and refuses to get any help whatsoever. When I try to talk about it he gets angry. He’s currently in an emotional relationship with a woman in England – a Psychotherapist. Go figure! I know I have to move but lack the courage. We have one child who’s now an adult, if the kid wasn’t at home – I would have gone. I do everything for his parents, but no appreciation. I’m tired of the rejection, hurt and putting in all the effort to keep the family together. I wish I’ve seen all the warning signs of the parents being so dependent on him. My family was saying no and I didn’t listen. He’s the only son and the dad goes with him everywhere. Although we live together, my husband won’t go anywhere with me, he’ll take our kid out on his own. If I ask to go with them, he’ll say then you take him on your own. I’m just so tired. I wish I had discovered these two programs earlier on in our marriage – Mort Fertel and Laura Doyle. For those who’re in the earlier stages, check these two out. Maybe they can help restore intimacy in your marriage. I feel it’s too late for me. Take care everything and be safe.

  • I’ve been married for nine years. All of the last two have been sexless. I’m well through the anger stage and have reached a place of serene hostility towards her that will inevitably lead to divorce. The best I can hope for is that we somehow hold the pretence together until the kids leave home, because my own parents split when I was nine and it cast a shadow over my whole life.

    I thought half the point of the sexual revolution was we were supposed to be able to size up our partner sexually before tying the noose. While we were courting we were at it like knives. It beggars belief she thinks she can cut me clean off any form of intimacy without consequences. I’m a naturally faithful person and a great dad, but should the opportunity for strange present itself I’ll dive in on it like a starving dog, and come away with a pristine conscience.

    It’s a good job kids have no idea what adult life holds in store.

    • Buck:

      I am older and don’t have children with this 2nd husband. However, I had wanted to tell you to please take your wife out to a nice dinner, buy a bottle of wine, and communicate with her. Tell her how much you appreciate and love her. Let her know that she is the most important person in the world to you. Suggest that she go and get her a new outfit and take her dancing. But most of all look at her face and communicate. Divorce wrecks everyone’s life especially the children. I would do this every month and I hope that things get better for you.

  • wow listening to some of these stories is heartbreaking it has thrown a hole new light on why some folk go off and have an affair it’s certainly made me much less judgemental.l got divorced in 1998 due to my wifes infidelity and she got pregnant by him it took a long time to heal and when l did l enjoyed being on my l just worked hard and spent all my time seeing my 5 kids and going on holidays with them having good times to have good memories they moved 220 miles away.kids grew up and l started dating again on dating sites l really wasn’t bothered about getting married again being a bodybuilder and a good looking guy l never had a problem finding a date l always managed to find a bad flaw in them and l would finish it or it didn’t feel right and l couldn’t commit to them l enjoyed the sex and l suppose l was looking for a good woman l could trust with my heart. l found her 2 years ago we both fell in love had so much in common it was heaven on earth we had a great sex life up until 3 months ago then she just went off sex was unable to orgasms where before it was not uncommon for her to have 10 orgasms the last few weeks l have started to pull away from her to distance myself we are supposed to be getting married after this covid shit is over but l am not going to get into a sexless marriage l would rather be on my own like some of you on here have said its very painful to be rejected she still loves me but has just lost interest we are going to try herbal remedies vitamins she is 53 and is menopausal her last period was 5 months ago l don’t know if thats anything to do with it. l know myself l will put up with it for so long and having tried everything l know if it stays the same then l wont cheat l will just end it

  • My wife says when I have brought it up,
    ”Well, you don’t hit me up”
    After a good twelve years as roommates and no intimacy, I believe that my interest in having sex with my wife has disappeared.
    I have done the best I can (by myself) to take care of my own desires with porn, and to take care of my health (working out at home which is hard, keeping the motivation going, daily after work is totally hard, but I believe it’s important at 55 to take care of the weight to avoid complications)
    Her I’m the other end hates working out, won’t join me even though I suggested she does. She’s basically let her self go!
    Gained a lot of weight, plays a lot of video games on her phone, and she wonders why I don’t hit her up for sex? I don’t feel that attraction anymore, we say we live each other daily, but outside of that its a dead issue. Our conversations get shorter, and I’m feeling more alone and frustrated with the whole situation, I’m reaching my ends with trying too figure it all out. I always have thoughts of telling her I’m not happy anymore and that I am done with it, but something stops me. I don’t know what? But I do know I can’t do this for much longer, I don’t want next year to be the same as this year, something has too be said, things need too change soon.

    • Dont put it off or you may look back and 15 years have went by. Like my situation

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