What is a Sexless Marriage and Are There Solutions?

sexless-marriage o-diaries

You may be shocked to learn that the term ‘what is a sexless marriage’ is all over search engines. Or maybe you’re not shocked at all. It seems like everyone, everywhere, is worried that they’re not having enough sex, don’t want sex enough, want sex too much, or can’t find a partner with a matching libido.

Either way, the internet has spoken: people are worried about their sex lives and the amount of sex they are having (or not having). If you’re concerned about your sex life, want to have more sexual activity, or just have basic questions about this topic, we have you covered. Here’s what you need to know to give you have the happiest, healthiest sex life for your needs.

What is a sexless marriage?

So, what is a ‘sexless marriage’ exactly? It sounds rather sinister in the most drab of ways. Like some kind of black and white scene from a 1950’s movie where a married couple sleeps in twin beds, with a kiss on the cheek before lights out. No wonder people shy away from this kind of label. It sounds inherently bad.

So let’s figure out exactly what we’re talking about here – because we need to know. First of all, you don’t need to be married to be in a sexless relationship. We can put that notion to bed right away. I’m going to use the term “sexless marriage” to mean all relationships that are sex-light, or entirely sexless.

‘Sexless’ doesn’t always mean you’re not having sex at all. “The definition of a sexless marriage is having or engaging in sexual activity with a partner less than 6 times a year,” says Kristine D’Angelo, a certified sexoloigist and sex coach. “So if you’re having sex once a month you would be considered being in a sexual rut versus a sexless marriage.”

Of course, this is all pretty subjective. Other experts define a sexless marriage as having sex once a year or less. Honestly, what constitutes a sexless marriage may very well depend on what YOU consider sexless. Maybe having sex twice a month feels ‘sexless’ to you. What’s important is how you and your partner(s) feel about it.

Coping with a sexless marriage

Lucy Rowwett, a clinical sexologist and sex coach suggests trying to differentiate between what could be a “rut” and what is actually a sexless marriage. She suggests asking the following questions of yourself: Are you communicating about your needs and desires? Do you still feel attracted to your partner? Are both of you open to trying something new? If something has changed, slowed, or your interest in sex has simply vanished, it could be a rut. It’s about the wanting to want to have sex, even if you aren’t into it right now.

A sex rut can also be where you haven’t connected in a month or two, but you both want to, whereas a sexless marriage is when this has gone on for a long time and it’s causing deep emotional pain for one or both of you.

“I’d say a sex rut happens when you get too busy and sex is no longer a priority. In sex ruts, I think you still have a desire to have sex, it’s just not the number one thing on your to-do list”, says Zachary Zane, sex and relationship columnist at Men’s Health. “In a sexless marriage, the desire to have sex is completely gone. So you do have the time and energy, you simply don’t want to have sex”. Of course, when a sexless marriage is causing tension, it’s usually because one person wants sex and the other(s) do not.

How to deal with a sexless marriage

It’s important to note that not all sexless marriages are unhappy marriages. Sex is a hugely important thing to most people, but as with all human things, this isn’t exclusively the case. Some asexual people don’t desire sex at all and choose not to have it. Others who identify as gray-sexual or demi-sexual may feel sexual desire sometimes, but only under certain circumstances. This doesn’t mean they don’t want a partner(s).

Some people want romantic relationships that don’t include sex and that is perfectly valid. If both people inside of a couple (or triad, etc) are not interested in having sex, then you don’t have a problem. What constitutes a healthy relationship is about the needs of everyone inside of that individual partnership, not what society or culture dictate as being healthy.

Keep this in mind before making judgements about the sexual choices of those around you. What happens between consenting adults is none of your business – just as what happens inside of your relationship is none of anyone else’s business.

How to get out of a rut and when to walk away from sexless marriage

There is no way to say exactly when you should start thinking about the health of your sex life, but rather it’s important to always consider it within the context of your relationship. Trying to ‘wait out’ a sex rut and hope that your partner will suddenly feel desire again is not realistic and will only leave both of you feeling empty and disconnected.

The first thing to do is to figure out what it is you want and how you want sex to be a part of your relationship. The sexual relationship you have with yourself is the most important one of all. Rowett says that spending time with just yourself – away from your partner – can help stoke the erotic flames. “Buy a new sex toy and spend time on your body and your pleasure,” she says.

If you try to fix the sexless nature of your relationship and it doesn’t work then you have to weigh up the pros and cons of staying versus leaving. That is a personal decision, but remember: you deserve happiness and you are capable of recovering from a break-up if you need to walk away from the relationship.

After that, you can bring in a partner. “With your partner, start playing again. By playing, I mean how can you have fun together again? Do something that gets the adrenaline pumping, play games together, flirt with and tease each other. Start touching again – holding hands, cuddling, massage, little squeezes during the day”.

Making sex a priority.

One of the biggest things we miss in relationships is the fact that sex needs to be made a priority. We have this misguided notion that sex should just spontaneously ‘happen’ without any effort. This is a backward understanding of human desire. Most desire for sex comes after sexual stimulus occurs, which can mean watching pornography, an erotic scene in a movie, or having a sexy cuddle session.

Zane says that taking the time to build the fire is the way to keep it going. We all have stress in our lives, but we need to realize that just because we’re stressed doesn’t mean sex isn’t important. “Stress is one of the biggest libido killers. The other reason is if (you feel) you don’t have the time. Anyone can take 30 minutes out of their week for something they really want to do. So the key is making sex a priority and scheduling it to make sure it happens,” he explains.

When you should be concerned

Communication is the only way to get sex back on the menu. If you don’t talk about it, you cannot fix it. We aren’t given many tools for erotic communication. Most of us in the US (and everywhere, really) were barely taught the basics of condom use (if not entirely abstinence-only sex ed). When you don’t know how to talk about sex, it can be intimidating.

D’Angelo says that seeking outside professional help is always warranted if your partner won’t communicate with you about your sex life. “If you’ve attempted several times to discuss the lack of sex in your marriage and your partner is ignoring you or being dismissive of your feelings then it’s definitely time to be concerned and to consider seeking professional help,” she says.

Sometimes a first step can be to do something for your self-love and well-being, e.g. with sex toys…

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Gigi Engle is a sexologist, certified sex coach, and feminist author. She teaches about pleasure-based sex education, masturbation, and the magical wonders that are sex toys. Engle's work has appeared in many publications her articles have been shared over 50 million times. She also writes a popular advice column called Ask Gigi, and her first book, All The F*cking Mistakes: a guide to sex, love, and life, debuts in January 2020. She has a degree in both English and Journalism from Fordham University College at Lincoln Center. Engle is an original member of The Women of Sex Tech and a certified member the World Association of Sex Coaches.