If you’re reading this you’re either in a relationship where lack of sex is a problem or are wondering how to keep lack of sex from ever becoming a problem in your relationship. Here we will discuss how to tell if the sexual intimacy in your relationship is normal, or if your relationship is sexless.
We will explore the reasons that sexual intimacy declines in relationship, and if there’s hope once it does. If there’s hope for the relationship we look at how to change the relationship so that you are having sex again. And finally we look at if it’s just time to move on from the relationship.
How to tell if I’m in a sexless marriage
One question that people ask is how do I tell if I’m really in a sexless relationship? We’ve had sex, it’s just not often. Or we had sex at one time this year, or once a month. It’s really not that frequent but does that count as sexless? Let’s look at the research
How often are people having sex?
We looked at data from the 2021 General Social Survey married
couples who answered the question on how often t
hey had sex in the past year. According to this survey, of those married people who answered the question as applicable and knew the answer, nearly 8% had not had sex in the past year. Just over 7% had sex once or twice in the past year, and another nearly 14% had sex about once a month. See the table below for further information.
If you notice, around 15% of people are not having sex at all or doing it only once or twice a year. I would consider this a sexless marriage.
When is it a problem?
Weather your relationship is truly sexless or not, it’s not the actual frequency that determines that lack of sex is a problem. It’s a problem when it bothers you or your partner. If you never have sex and both of you are ok with it, then it’s not a problem. If you have sex 2-3 times a month and you aren’t satisfied with it, then it’s an issue.
Reasons for a sexless marriage
Sexless marriages happen for a variety of reasons. Sometimes it is an issue with one partner having a lack of interest in sex. At other times health issues can get in the way of the sexual relationship. And still other couples have libido but emotional or mental health problems get in the way of getting their desires needs met.
Is there hope for a sexless marriage?
There is hope for sexless marriages so long as both partners are willing to do the work to reclaim their sex life. Many couples have regained their emotional connection and sexual intimacy after the couple counseling process.
The article below shows several ways you can help to change your sexless marriage. There is more than one way to approach it, and depending on what the issue is you can try one or more of the strategies below.
If you feel like you have tried everything on your own and nothing has worked, it might be time to seek professional help.
How to change a sexless marriage
How you work to change a sexless marriage depends on why your sex life has stalled. Let’s take a look at a few ways that a sexless marriage can be improved.
See a doctor to see if health issues are reducing your sex drive
If your partner is experiencing low (or no) libido, or interest in sexual activity or is having pain during sex, your first step should be an with a medical doctor. Many problems with libido can be physical and not mental.
Women can experience low or no sex drive or low libido for several reasons that may require medical attention. Men can experience low or no sex drive or low libido for physical reasons and emotional reasons as well such as low hormones.
The same can be said if you or your partner is experiencing pain during sexual intercourse. So if you are experiencing low libido, no libido or pain during sex, the doctor should be your first stop.
As a marriage and family therapist that also does sex therapy with couples, I always recommend that clients see a doctor to rule out medical conditions.
Work on communication about sexual intimacy
One of the biggest issues in many couple’s sexless marriages is a lack of communication about sex. They can talk about everything else, but talking frankly about what they want, need and enjoy sexually just doesn’t happen.
One of the things that couples do not realize about sex is that the more you talk about it, the more you have it. Sexless marriages can often be avoided or improved by learning how to be able to talk about sexual preferences, desires, fantasies and dislikes.
If you would like ways to work on your ability to talk about sex, take a look at our article that shows you how to work on communication.
Start dating again to increase sexual activity
In many cases, a sexless marriage comes from the fact that the couple has stopped treating each other as if they are special. Remember when you were dating? Remember prioritizing time for each other and doing things you both enjoy? This can help put you in what Gottman Method couple therapy calls the positive perspective.
You’ll remember the positive perspective, it’s when your loved one did something irritating and you gave them the benefit of the doubt. When you are, instead, in the negative perspective it’s more a feeling of, “here we go again”. If you are in the negative perspective and not feeling close to each other it can affect your sex life and lead to a sexless marriage.
If you want to take your partner on a date but need some ideas, see our article on unique date ideas in Columbus, Ohio.
See a marriage therapist who works with sexual issues
Marriage counseling or couple therapy can really help improve your sexless marriage. This works even better if the counselor does sex therapy. If you’ve tried working out your issues by yourself and gained no ground, this is your next, best step.
Couple therapy with someone who can work with sexual issues can help identify where things have gone wrong and why the relationship has become sexless. It may be that you had a lot of sex at the beginning of the relationship, or it could be that sex has always been lacking. Either way, these are issues that are treated differently in therapy.
The therapist will take a sexual history and help you determine when and why that sex became less frequent or the relationship became sexless. The therapist will work with you both on issues with the relationship itself as well as any issues in sexual functioning and sexual intimacy that are happening.
You will also likely be given homework to do that focuses on sex, the sexual self and how to understand your needs when it comes to sex. They may also be exercises to help you express yourself sexually as well as to communicate on both sexual and nonsexual topics in the relationship.
If your sexuality is different or if you are a person of faith you may want to find a therapist who works with your niche. For instance you may need a counselor that works with LGBTQ+ couples or one who does Christian couples counseling and sex therapy.
Is it time to move on from my sexless marriage?
If you are in a sexless marriage you are probably either in a lot of pain or completely numbed out to the relationship. Sex is an important part of a relationship as is being able to express yourself sexually with your partner. But just because you are not having sex does not mean the relationship is over. Maybe you have an emotional connection that makes you want to stay. Let’s take a closer look at when and why you might want to leave the relationship.
There are major issues other than sex
It may not surprise you when I say that desire and problems in relationships often go hand in hand. The more problems some couples have, the lower the desire for sex for at least one partner and contribute to the lack of sex. After all, many men and women do not want to by physically or emotionally intimate with someone they are angry at.
Problems in relationships and a dead bed do not necessarily mean that relationships are over. The two could actually be related. This is a point in time to get help with your intimacy issues. However, this can be complicated when there are issues such as substance abuse, domestic violence or severe mental health problems. If you are experiencing any of these issues in addition to low sex, then please talk with a therapist. You may need the help of a professional to work things out or it may be safer for you to leave the relationship.
One person’s physical health makes the issue impossible to fix
There are times when the issue is not intimacy or connection with your partner. Unfortunately, sometimes the issue is truly physical and cannot be fixed even by the best of medical science.
If this is the case, you will want to ask yourself some questions. If traditional sexual intercourse is not possible, is there any other way to get your needs or your partners needs met?
Sometimes married couples put a high value on typical intercourse and do not think about other ways that the need for physical intimacy between partners can be achieved. Trying other methods of sex or using a device might be an option for the partners.
If your partner is willing to work with you on achieving some sort of solution to manage both of your physical intimacy needs, then this might be something that can save your marriage. Maybe all that is needed in your marriage is a little creativity or some suggestions from a sex therapist.
However, there are many relationships where the partner with the physical problem has no libido or no interest in this type of intimacy as they can no longer enjoy it. This is where some open, blunt communication is needed around person needs and if partners are willing to compromise to meet each other’s needs.
If you have tried healthy communication about intimacy and your partner is still not willing to try at all to meet your needs, it’s time to talk to a professional. If that doesn’t work then you need to think about your marriage and your partners unwillingness to bend. This may be time to explore if the relationship is healthy enough to endure or if you should let one another go and seek a connection elsewhere.
We also have physical abuse in the relationship
Marriage counseling can help with a lot of things, however, it is often unable to help when one partner is seriously physically abusing the other. Not to say that emotional or light physical abuse is ok, but if someone is in danger of serious harm, most couple therapists will not do marriage counseling with that couple, and in some states it is even illegal to do so.
And to be blunt, often the abuse is the reason that sex in the marriage has gone downhill. The partner being harmed does not feel connected, safe to connect, or even safe.
If your partner has physically abused you this may be a time to look at whether the marriage is worth keeping. If you decide to keep the marriage, or if you are the abuser, now is the time to get help from a therapist who knows how to work with this problem.
There are mental health issues that keep us from solving the problem
It doesn’t matter if the mental health problems were already there when you got married, or if they developed later, sometimes they can be a road block to working on sexual issues. Now I’m not talking about anxiety or depression here, but it’s really difficult to work with some of the more difficult diagnoses and do sex therapy at the same time.
For instance, if a partner has schizophrenia and their symptoms tell them that the person wants to have sex with them to harm them, then the issue of sex likely pales in comparison to the other symptoms. This can also be the case with partners who have severe sexual trauma.
Again, this is a time to ask yourself what you want and need and if this is a deal breaker. And again, may be the time to talk to a counselor on your own for support.
One partner refuses to work on the issue
This right here is your big red flag. This is one of the issues in marriages that takes both partners to fix. It doesn’t matter if the issue is a low libido, no desire for intimacy or some other health or emotional problem, if one person isn’t going to work on it it is not going to change.
This is the time to re-evaluate your life and your long-term life as partners. You may want to get some support as you process how you feel about your partner not being willing to address the issue. This is one of the times that you will want to consider what your life will look and feel like long-term with and without your partner.
We have tried therapy (more than once) and it’s not helped
Sometimes the issue just cannot be helped by therapy. Most often this is because one partner does not want to work on the issue (see above). However, sometimes you just did not have the right therapist. Try seeing someone who does both couple and sex therapy. If both partners are truly working on the problem and there has been no change for months, the problem is likely you need a different therapist.
If a partner isn’t doing the work and putting in the time, then this is, again, when you need to re-evaluate your personal wants and needs for frequency of sex, and what your world looks like with and without your partner. After all, the old advice that you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make them drink applies here.
Where to get help with sexless marriages
If you are experiencing a sexless marriage a couple therapist who is comfortable working with sexual issues can help. If you are in the Columbus, Ohio area we offer in-person sessions at our local office. If you are elsewhere in the state of Ohio we offer telehealth sessions state wide. Call or contact us to find out how we can help.