In a Sexless Marriage or Relationship?

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I remember an old joke. It goes something like this: “If you put a pebble in a jar for every time you had sex before marriage and took one out every time you had sex after, you would never empty it!” A recent article in the Times of London stated that many more couples are in so-called “sexless” unions. Basically, this means that physical intimacy no longer exists or only exists at very infrequent levels. Most couples cited the pressures of work and childcare and others said they just don’t find their partner physically attractive enough to want to have sex with them. For many, it was just easier to skip it.

Sexless marriages are a common issue, and there are various reasons for their occurrence. Physical and psychological health issues, relationship problems, aging and menopause, medication side effects, and societal pressures are all factors that can cause a lack of sexual intimacy. When couples are experiencing a sexless marriage, it can have significant impacts on their emotional and physical health, their relationship, their children, and their sense of self.

According to most observers, sex is a crucial aspect of marriage, and it is one of the primary ways that couples express intimacy and love. However, many marriages experience periods of sexlessness, which can be defined as a lack of sexual intimacy for an extended period. A sexless marriage can be a source of frustration, confusion, and distress for both partners. In the following, I will explore the main reasons for sexless marriages and their impact on the individuals involved.

Possible Reasons for Sexless Marriages:

  1. Physical Health Issues:

One of the primary reasons for a sexless marriage is physical health issues. Conditions such as chronic pain, arthritis, and diabetes can affect libido, sexual performance, and desire for sex. Other physical conditions, such as obesity or sleep apnea, can also cause a lack of sexual interest. When one partner is experiencing physical health issues, it can significantly impact the couple’s sexual relationship.

  1. Psychological Health Issues:

Psychological issues such as depression, anxiety, stress, or trauma can significantly affect a person’s libido and sexual function. The emotional toll of mental health disorders can make it difficult for couples to engage in sexual intimacy. Furthermore, sexual abuse, infidelity, or other forms of betrayal can cause long-term psychological damage and result in a lack of sexual desire. When one or both partners are experiencing psychological health issues, it can impact their overall sexual relationship.

  1. Relationship Issues:

Relationship problems are also a leading cause of sexless marriages. Marital conflicts such as communication issues, financial problems, infidelity, or a lack of emotional intimacy can impact the couple’s sexual life. Furthermore, parenting responsibilities, work stress, or lack of time can also take a toll on a couple’s sexual relationship. When couples are experiencing relationship issues, it can be challenging to maintain a healthy sexual relationship. Many couples are also in a state of “doing”, getting on with life in a practical sense and intimacy takes a back seat.

  1. Aging and Menopause:

As people age, their bodies undergo significant changes that can affect their sexual desires and functioning. Menopause is a particularly challenging time for many women as the hormonal changes can cause a decrease in sexual desire, vaginal dryness, and pain during intercourse. Men also experience a decrease in testosterone levels, which can affect their sexual function and libido. When couples are experiencing the effects of aging, it can be challenging to maintain a healthy sexual relationship.

  1. Medication Side Effects:

Many medications, including antidepressants, antihistamines, and blood pressure medications, can cause a decrease in sexual desire and function. When one partner is on medication that affects their sexual life, it can impact the couple’s overall sexual relationship.

Impact on Individuals:

A lack of sexual intimacy can create emotional distress for both partners. For the partner with a possibly higher sex drive, the lack of sexual intimacy can create feelings of frustration, rejection, and unfulfillment. For the partner with a lower sex drive, they may feel guilty or inadequate for not being able to meet their partner’s sexual needs. This can cause significant emotional distress for both partners and harm their overall well-being.

Individuals in sexless marriages may experience a decrease in self-esteem, particularly if they believe that their partner’s lack of interest in sex is due to their physical or personal attributes. This can create feelings of insecurity and self-doubt, which can impact their overall mental health.

Sexual intimacy is a crucial component of a healthy relationship, and when it’s absent, it can create significant strain. Couples may become distant, have increased conflicts, and lack emotional intimacy. Furthermore, the lack of physical intimacy can lead to the breakdown of trust and a decrease in communication, which can harm the relationship in the long term.

Sexual activity has been linked to improved physical health, including decreased risk of cardiovascular disease, improved immune function, and pain relief. The absence of it can negatively impact physical health, leading to decreased overall well-being and quality of life. The lack of intimacy in a marriage can also increase the risk of infidelity. When one partner is not fulfilling the other’s sexual needs, they may seek sexual satisfaction elsewhere. Infidelity can cause significant emotional and psychological harm and can ultimately lead to the dissolution of the marriage.

Sexless marriages can also impact children in the family. Children can pick up on the emotional distance between their parents, leading to feelings of insecurity and instability. Moreover, children may also be exposed to arguments and conflicts related to the couple’s lack of sexual intimacy. Children growing up in an environment where the parents are not engaging in sexual intimacy may also have difficulty understanding healthy sexual relationships in their future.

There is also societal expectation that healthy marriages include a healthy sexual relationship. When couples are not meeting this expectation, they may feel a sense of shame or embarrassment. They may also worry about what others will think of their marriage or fear being judged by their peers.

Recognizing the root cause of the issue and seeking help from a therapist, physician, or counselor can help couples overcome this challenge and reignite their sexual relationship. It’s important to remember that there is no one-size-fits-all solution, and each couple must find the right path to a healthy, fulfilling sexual relationship.

Improving physical intimacy involves both communication and exploration. Here are some tips to help improve physical intimacy:

  1. Communicate: Talk openly and honestly with your partner about your desires, fantasies, and preferences. This can help you both understand each other’s needs and create a more intimate connection.
  2. Be present: Focus on being in the moment and enjoying the physical sensations rather than worrying about other things. This can help you feel more connected and increase your pleasure.
  3. Try new things: Explore different sexual activities and positions with your partner. This can help you both discover what you enjoy and deepen your physical intimacy.
  4. Practice self-care: Take care of your physical and emotional health to improve your overall well-being and increase your desire for physical intimacy.
  5. Create a romantic atmosphere: Set the mood with candles, music, or other things that help you both relax and feel comfortable.
  6. Make time for intimacy: Set aside time for physical intimacy and prioritize it in your relationship. While scheduling sex is often seen as “unromantic”, it can be the first step to reviving intimacy.
  7. Change routines: Make a choice to put down smartphones and reduce screen time before/in bed. Replace it with activities and communication that might lead to intimacy, such as massage.

Remember, physical intimacy is a personal and unique experience for every individual and couple, so find what works best for you and your partner.

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Dr. Nicholas Jenner, a therapist, coach, and speaker, has over 20 years of experience in the field of therapy and coaching. His specialty lies in treating codependency, a condition that is often characterized by a compulsive dependence on a partner, friend, or family member for emotional or psychological sustenance. Dr. Jenner's approach to treating codependency involves using Internal Family Systems (IFS) therapy, a treatment method that has gained widespread popularity in recent years. He identifies the underlying causes of codependent behavior by exploring his patients' internal "parts," or their different emotional states, to develop strategies to break free from it. Dr. Jenner has authored numerous works on the topic and offers online therapy services to assist individuals in developing healthy relationships and achieving emotional independence.

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This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. Russell Edwards

    Hi Dr Jenner, thank you for this post. I found it incredibly poignant and powerful. I hope you are well.