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:

  • No one deserves to be cheated on, especially when your full loyalty lies with the betrayer of your trust. Initially, I thought I was just feeling insecure when my husband would just be on his phone at odd hours until I decided to take a chance to know. Knowing is better than self-doubts and it was exactly what happened when I employed the services of this particular group I came across by chance to help check his phone out info. Now I know when he’s telling the truth and how to restrict him. I think it is not a drastic step if it’ll make you feel better. My life got better, I stopped using my precious time to bother about his indiscretions and channeled my energy positively.

    You can email me to get the contact info.

    It’s legitimate and real

  • Hey Jay, so sorry to hear your suffering like this. I to am in a sexless marriage, 10yrs now and feel trapped by being in love and still wanting it to work.
    To cope and get support as well as not feel alone I joined many Facebook groups. It was the best thing I ever done. There’s men and woman from all backgrounds and nationalities sharing there intimate story’s, venting and giving advice. There’s thousands of people like us being mistreated. To name a few: sexless marriage support- misery loves company, sexless marriage survival, people in a sexless marriage. Hope this helps.
    If your recognisable by what you do for a career i suggest you open another Facebook account just for this under a nickname and cartoon picture lol.
    On a serious note I wish you all the best.

  • Well, my wife tried to use sex to manipulate me. Well, two can play that game, so I stopped initiating. And if she initiates, I say no. I will not let her use me with sex. I don’t care if we ever have sex again. And if she leaves me over it, good riddance.

  • Wow I can’t believe I’m
    Not going though this alone …I have been with my wife for years , I wanted to Be the best version of myself
    I am 40 but look 29, I shave & have hair cuts per week, well Groomed , I come Home And cook, clean up house & garden when needed, i do my half With the kids , do all
    What a husband should do, I pay the bills , work
    2 jobs , I try to be sweet and romantic as much as you can with covid 2020 and I listen to her talk and do so much to Please my wife … i get no sex, maybe once every month or 2

    I told Her that it feels like we are just room mates I also
    Told of my sexual frustration and she said WANK she shouted loud for everyone to hear and spelled out W.A.N.K, she said it’s my problem…she makes no effort to look sexy, she never initiates sex.
    I’m so embarrassed it’s degrading to watch bimbos on porn websites when I have a wife upstairs, I have nobody to talk too I am quite alone and to the world we look perfect but it’s all
    A lie.
    You see I’m a r&b singer and stage performer and I get women throwing themselves at me so much and loads want to have sex with me … but I love my wife and my family and only want to be with my wife.
    But today she again said she does not care …. I’m so sad I got in car to go and have affair tonight !! But I have pulled into gas station to stop myself ( I fear I will be with someone by the end of the week).
    Don’t know what to do.

    • Oh Jay that was a sad situation.. I guess nobody deserves to be treated like that when we only want is to be felt love, wanted and appreciated. Its truly depressing most specially in this tough times. I feel you.

    • Heya Jay,
      I TOTALLY understand your situation and frustration. I am in a 5 year relationship and our sex issues started 3 years ago, I’ll share more later, but I wanted to reach out and advise / suggest to you, do NOT cheat… Its sooooo tempting when you are being neglected by your spouse, but it’s not worth it. By your description, you sound to be a good man who is responsible and caring. Dont tarnish your virtue or challenge your self respect for anyone, including your own wife. Exhaust every option to communicate to your wife how serious this situation is. And if all else fails, you have to put YOU first.
      I apologize if I am coming off bossy, that is not my intent. Your story, like most here, touched my heart and it saddens me that we are all just looking to be loved, and intimate with our spouses. This blog has been SOOO helpful to know I am not alone in this world, just my bed-lol.. I joke a lot to keep from crying.. I’m a happy, always cheerful, smiling people person. I am totally selfless and have literally given the rt off my back to someone in need. I live for my kids and am a cheerleader for my guy.. I loove to cook, and my friends and family love to eat.. I’m an artist, a tree hugger,and just an overall groomed hippie-type/soul child of love.. The love of my life, total opposite. He’s affectionate on HIS terms, and has very little interest in anything I like. I love to snuggle, not him. I love long scenic drives, nope. I love the beach, I go alone or with friends. If I’m watching something that I’m interested in, he leaves the room or puts headphones on. When were in the car, if he doesn’t like one of my many genres, headphones. I have more deep conversations with a 5 year old than him. Talking to him on most occasions is to the back of his tv watching head, or trying to compete with his phone.. When I try addressing my woes, I get instant backlash or defense from him. Sometimes even blamed for feeling sad, as if I’m making up the fact that I’m unhappy. We went from a great start, plenty of sex, fun, communication.. And now I’ll get the nerve to beg for sex at least once a month. Sometimes I get lucky, but not often. Last months session was terrible and pretty much over before it started.. I am terribly disappointed and unhappy. I feel stuck and I do not know what to do. I am in love with him, I do not want anyone else, but I dont know how much longer I can take before leaving. My kids are grown, I’m in my mid 40’s (but definitely dont look it, I’m not vain, just thankfully youthful ) I dont want to give up an okay relationship to end up in a terrible one, again… This is the 1st serious relationship after being married to a horrible cheating womanizer, so of course I wanted to make it work, but here I am 5 years into another unhappy partnership and I dont have the confidence I need to move on..

  • Its been 3 years, 3 months, 2 days since we were intimate. After a 3 1/2 year long distance relationship, I moved to his state so that we could begin our lives together as a couple not 3 states away, but 10 minutes apart. I insisted on my own place at first just because I needed to be independent & relished the thought of actually being pursued by the love of my life. Fast forward to 5 years later & while we have lived under the same roof for 2 of those years, sex has not happened, at all. Not at my old apartment, our house we live in now, nor on a romantic week vacation to California where we were alone, sandy beach, beautiful suite etc. It NEVER EVER happens. I used to be so confident, sassy, sect & all female, thoroughly enjoying my girlie ways. Until rejection after rejection led to excuse after excuse which led to imagined illnesses then finally blamed solely on my mental state, pushy ways, overzealous personality & too much importance being placed on sexual relations. I’ve grown tired of reaching out only to have my extended arm met by indifference, annoyance. Im not going to give up being intimate because he decided he isn’t going to be honest with me nor is he going to ever see my point as being one of validity I can’t wait to be desired again, to look forward to Friday night, to showing off my recent weight loss, it’s life this thing called love & sex is a HUGE part of it. No longer will I blame it even question my own worth as a woman. Its his problem & his loss.

    • You should try being sexless for the majority of 27 years of marriage, with no hope of improvement on the horizon.

  • I’ve gained a lot of weight. I used to be a size
    Zero and my husband love it. That was 10 years ago. So much has changed. I started working from home and my depression took over. My husband stopped wanting sex. I know I deserve it, but I feel so helpless and sad. I feel like my
    Life is pretty much over. I know my relationship is.

    • Jc,

      No, you don’t “deserve” to feel undesired/undesirable and unfulfilled. You’ve gained weight-so what? Who hasn’t? That does NOT give a spouse a free pass to cut their partner off unilaterally from intimacy. He needs an ultimatum. Pure and simple.

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