It’s more common than you might think for a relationship to go without sex, and that doesn’t mean your marriage is over. Here’s what a sex therapist says you should do if you’re not satisfied.
You probably know what it means for a relationship to be in “the honeymoon phase.” It’s the almost magnetic attraction that some people feel in the beginning, when they’re high on love and they touch each other a lot. It’s often portrayed as romantic in books and movies, and it’s a story that’s kept alive by the sexualized world we live in, where there are always headlines about “having better sex” and “improving your orgasms.” But it is called a “phase” because it is hard to keep up. So why don’t we talk more about what could happen in the future: a marriage without sexual relations?
By nature, people are tactile and sexual. We feel close to our partners when we’re intimate with them, so being in a marriage or relationship without sex can be lonely and isolating. The number of times you have sex can change at any point in a relationship. If the honeymoon phase was real for you, this can be especially scary and frustrating.
But here’s the thing: you and your partner are the only ones who can decide how much sex is okay in your relationship. If you’re happy in a marriage without sex, it doesn’t mean you’re not sharing intimacy in other ways. On the other hand, if either of you or both of you want to have more sex in your relationship, there are ways to do that.
Here’s everything you need to know, from the effects of a sexless marriage to how to start talking about it…
What effects can a sexless marriage have?
Sex is one way that two people can get close to each other: One 2017 study from Florida State University found that it can bring couples closer together and give them a sexual “afterglow” that lasts for up to two days. It can also have positive effects that last longer than that. Frequent sex, which Jordan defines as at least once a week, has also been shown to make couples happier, improve relationship satisfaction, and increase the feeling of security in a relationship. Also, we know that sexual activity can lead to orgasm. “Research has shown that having an orgasm can make you feel better because it releases dopamine, lessen stress because it releases oxytocin, and lessen pain because it releases endorphins,” says Jordan.
If a couple doesn’t have sex, they might miss out on some of these benefits, but that doesn’t mean they can’t still be close. One way for couples in sexless marriages to still have fun is to do things alone, like masturbating. Jordan says that there are many ways to get close in a relationship that don’t have anything to do with sex. These things are:
- Recreational intimacy — having fun together, sports, and hobbies
- Intellectual intimacy means reading together and talking about intellectual topics.
- Work intimacy — sharing housework responsibilities
- Working together to reach a common goal is a sign of commitment and intimacy.
- Aesthetic intimacy means appreciating beauty together, like the arts and theatre.
- Communication intimacy—honest communication and honest feedback
- Emotional intimacy means being vulnerable together. Creative intimacy means
- making things together.
- Crisis intimacy — sticking together in a hard time
- Spiritual intimacy — sharing a religion or spirituality
- Conflict and intimacy — arguing and working through differences
Why do people stop having sex?
If there’s one thing you can count on in a marriage, it’s that the number of times you have sex will change (and usually get less) over time. Jordan says that this is a totally normal pattern.
“The early stages of a sexual relationship are called the “honeymoon phase” or the “limerence phase.” “This is when there’s a lot more sex and you look at your partner through rose-colored glasses,” she says. But research done by psychologist Dorothy Tennov shows that this time doesn’t last longer than 12 to 36 months.
“The novelty has worn off after 12 to 36 months. “You’re much more comfortable around your partner. You might spend less time trying to impress them, and you’re starting to notice some things about them that might bother you,” Jordan says. “When a relationship gets to this second stage, sex usually gets less. This doesn’t mean that you like your partner less or find them less attractive. It’s just that your body can’t handle that kind of change.”
Reasons for a sexless relationship: Low libido
- Biological: Side effects of some drugs (like Citalopram and Sertraline), illness, injury, hormonal changes (like starting menopause or being pregnant), fatigue, and a bad view of the body.
- Psychological: stress, worry, depression, a history of sexual abuse, and trouble being in the moment.
- Relational: being unhappy in your marriage, not liking your partner, and not feeling emotionally connected to your partner
- Sociocultural: Negative messages about sex from society that clash with religious beliefs
It’s common for married people to have different sexual desires, which experts call a “desire discrepancy.” This is when one person wants to have sex but the other doesn’t. This can be a problem because it usually leads to either hostility from the person with the higher libido or avoidance because the person who is usually the “initiator” is afraid of being turned down.
A sexless marriage could be caused by more than just low sex drive, though. Asexuality is a sexual identity that may be discovered in later life, meaning an individual does not desire sex at all. If this happens, the couple may decide to find other ways to get close.
To keep a relationship going well, it’s most important to keep the lines of communication open so that problems like these can be solved together. Now we’re at the most important part…
How to deal with a marriage with no sex
If you’re worried about being in a sexless marriage, try to figure out if the problem is that you or your partner aren’t satisfied sexually or if it’s because you and your partner are comparing yourselves to other couples.
People often ask, “How much sex should we be having?” Jordan says, “There is no should.” “There’s a phrase we use in therapy: ‘Don’t should on yourself.’ Have as much sex as both of you can handle. It’s not about comparing yourself to others, because everyone is different. Comparing yourself to others isn’t going to make you happier in your marriage.”
But if the lack of or loss of sexual connection bothers one or both people in a couple, it needs to be fixed. Here are some things you can try to do to try to make things better:
Communication is the key to making any relationship work, because neither you nor your partner can read each other’s minds. But make sure you pick the right time.
“Don’t talk about it during sex or when you or your partner are trying to start it. says, “Pick a neutral, non-sexual time when you can be alone and don’t have to rush.” “Go into the conversation wanting to understand and be understood better, not wanting to be right or prove a point.” What else? “Start the conversation by talking about yourself. Use “I statements” instead of “you statements,” like “I feel sad when we don’t have sex,” or “You never make the first move anymore; do you not find me attractive?”
Make a compromise, and that means both of you
Research says that the best way to deal with a “desire discrepancy” (a difference in libido) is to talk to each other and find a middle ground.
“Talk to your partner about how important sex is to you and what you need in order to feel ready for it. Then, work with your partner to find ways to meet both your needs and theirs.” Remember that both of your needs and wants are important, and it’s important to talk about how you plan to meet both of your sexual needs, whether that’s within the marriage or outside of it by exploring non-monogamy. “If you always give in to what your partner wants, you’ll end up resenting them and not wanting to be sexual with them,”
Bring people closer
Marriage and relationships take work and need to be cared for in order to thrive. A nice way to get closer to each other is to come up with something you can share often. These things don’t have to be sexual — it’s just as important to connect intellectually and emotionally to build a strong relationship.
Research says, “Talk with your partner about the type of intimacy you’d like to explore, and then make a plan.” “Perhaps you and your partner each start a different type of intimacy each week. For example, one week you plan a fun activity (like a hike) to do with your partner, and the next week your partner plans a creative activity (like a pottery class) to do with you.
urges you to go into the experience “without any pressure or expectations. This is just exploration, and the goal is to make connections, not to make the best pottery or reach the end of the hike.
Talk to a counsellor.
Sometimes, being honest and talking things out might be all you need to get back together sexually. But if you can’t, that’s okay too; there are people who can help. Sex therapy and counselling for couples help them talk about their sexual wants, needs, and desires in a healthy and helpful way.
“Once the couple understands each other, a therapist can help them come up with a compromise that meets both of their needs and doesn’t lead to resentment,” says Jordan. A therapist may also be able to teach couples “sensate focus exercises,” which are a series of acts that explore sensual, but not necessarily sexual, touch, to help them increase desire and get in touch with their sexuality again.
Relationships without sexual activity: the takeaway
Remember that a sexless relationship is only a problem if one or both partners are unhappy about it. It doesn’t matter what other couples are doing—what matters is what you and your partner want and need.
If you’re unhappy in a marriage where you don’t have sexual relations, that doesn’t mean it’s doomed. Your sex life has ups and downs, just like everything else, and if you’re both willing to put in some effort, you can work together to get to a place that makes you both happy.
You could also both go to a sex shop together.
These are no longer dirty, shameful places in the back alleys. In today’s sex shops, the toys are displayed like jewellery in clean, well-lit boutiques. On-site experts will be available to help you get through this first-time experience and answer any questions you may have.
Ask them what kind of effects a sex toy might have on your relationship if you use it while making love. Their answer could make you feel better.
Anyone who is open to and respectful of their own and their partner’s sexual pleasure can improve their relationship and sexual satisfaction by using a sex toy.
It’s important to talk about sex toys in a way that is open and doesn’t make anyone feel bad. If you sense that your partner doesn’t want to try new things, talk to them about why they might not want to. If he’s worried that you might like the vibrator more than him, you should try to dispel the idea. You can tell him that only 25% of women get an orgasm from vaginal contact alone, but that almost 100% of women will get an orgasm if you use a sex toy in your play.
If he still isn’t sure, just make him a “trial offer.” Once he sees how hot things can get with a vibrator and how your excitement affects his, he’ll wonder why he ever doubted how the sex toy would affect your relationship in the first place.
Before you know it, he’ll automatically reach for that sex toy whenever he wants to get dirty with you.