Studies show that 15% of marriages are ‘sexless.’ A sexless marriage can be defined as no sex ever, or more loosely as fewer than ten times a year. So, it happens, but questions remain. Why?
As a newlywed in my early twenties, my husband and I became friends with a very hip couple. Still getting used to the newness of my own young marriage, I envied them. They seemed so in synch; they both loved art, loved the same music, the same movies, read books together, he made her a fresh fruit smoothie every morning. They were just celebrating their fifth wedding anniversary when we’d met them, and I looked forward to being that connected to my spouse in five years. They were the perfect couple.
Then, one evening after we’d all had dinner together, she and I stepped out on the patio with a couple of glasses of wine, and she told me their secret: they had never had sex.
I was stunned. How was this possible? At the basest level, I was confused because they were young and both exceptionally physically attractive. At a more intellectual level, I was confused because they, as I mentioned, seemed so connected in every way. How could this happen?
Apparently it happens more often than one might imagine. Studies show that some 15% of marriages are considered ‘sexless.’ A sexless marriage can be defined literally, as in no sex ever (as in the case of my friends) or more loosely defined as a marriage in which the couple engages in sex fewer than ten times a year. So, it happens, but questions remain. Why? Can the fires in a sexless marriage be rekindled? How? Do they need to be? What if the couple is happy in their situation?
How Does A Marriage Become Sexless?
Many factors can contribute to a marriage becoming devoid of sex. In many cases, something triggers the sexlessness: an affair, the birth of a child, a miscarriage. One partner is ready to get back to business before the other, gets rejected, is hurt, and then in turn feels unsexy when the other partner is ready for intimacy, thus rejecting that partner. Finally it becomes a chicken-or-the-egg situation – who started it? Add blame to the mixture, lack of trust follows…and so on and so on. It is a vicious cycle that is tough but not impossible to break.
Understand that sexlessness in a marriage is often not the cause of an unhappy union but the symptom of a deeper problem. It’s often easiest to blame unhappiness on something tangible, like lack of sex. A couple experiencing a lack of physical intimacy should spend some time examining the deeper issues that could be causing this inability or unwillingness to be intimate. Once that issue (or it could be several) is identified, it’s time to be honest with each other.
Communication Is Key
It’s true; intimacy can be achieved in many ways beyond the physical. But sexuality fosters many important factors of a good partnership beyond the obvious thrill of just, well, getting off. It opens communication, it underlines trust, it introduces playfulness, and it is something a couple can share that has nothing to do with the other trappings of marriage (bills, schedules, arguments, and so on). Of course, it’s natural for one spouse to have a different sex drive than another. If that is the case, the partner should be honest and bring up his/her needs. “I miss touching you, could you make a little time for me tonight?” or “Remember that time we snuck out of the Christmas party and did it in the closet?” – something along those lines. Accusations or complaints will just be a turn-off. If the sexually frustrated spouse keeps quiet about his/her wants and needs, it can only lead to resentment. Or worse.
Think Outside The Ring
Many times a couple will do it four or five times a week right up until the wedding vows. I do quickly becomes I won’t. Marriage brings more to the plate than the walk-in-the-park joys of commitment and love and security. It brings financial stress, the trials of parenthood, everyday unsexy household stuff like cleaning toilets and taking out the trash.
In order to find a way back to that sexier place in a relationship, a couple might try to take a mini-vacation out of the everyday every once in a while. Maybe set up a sitter and go on a weekend getaway, without the kids. Make a point to turn off the TV and the fancy phones and talk about things they’ve never talked about before. Even innocent topics (Tell me about your first grade teacher; What was your first kiss like?) can remind a couple of what it was like in the early days, during the sexy frenzy of just getting to know each other. This might translate to getting to know each other physically again.
Too tame? Some couples will try sharing naughty magazines, or will watch X-rated films together to get the motor running. It’s all about whatever it takes to get the couple to trust each other again, open up, relax and share pleasure.
If a weekend getaway is too much to ask for, some couples simply schedule sex. As unromantic as that sounds, a sex date can be dressed up in the guise of ‘date night.’ This is really a whatever-it-takes situation.
What If The Couple Is Happy In The Sexless Marriage?
Studies show that 95% of those involved in self-proclaimed sexless marriages were unhappy and had considered divorce. Still, there is that 5% that claimed that, for them, a marriage without sex made them happy. Any married couple, sexless or not, must eventually land on a ‘way it works’ set of, usually, unspoken rules and practices in order for a successful union. The true bliss behind marriage of course is not necessarily sex, but connection and understanding and love. It just so happens that physical intimacy is a fast track to achieving and maintaining those all-important factors.
As for my friends, their sexless marriage ended five years later in infidelity. Then again, my ‘normal’ marriage also ended at the same time. Let’s not forget that the current divorce rate is almost 50%, and several factors can be held responsible. The most important factors in any type of marriage or relationship, no matter what the issue, are honesty and communication.