First comes love, then comes marriage, then come a few years of satisfying sexuality. Then the sex slows’and sometimes even stops. Your husband turns away from you in bed. You lie next to him, wanting him still, wondering if this is normal. Time passes. Other men tempt you. You consider leaving, but you choose to stay’. He is still your best friend, and in most ways the relationship works. But are you happy?
There are more sexless marriages than we think, and many of them are happy. You may be in one of them. And it may be okay.
‘But wait!’ you might be thinking. ‘Isn’t sex a barometer of a healthy relationship?’ Well, it may be somewhat heretical for a sex and relationships expert to say this, but’no, not necessarily.
As a psychologist and sex therapist, I talk to people about their sex lives: a difficult, even taboo, topic. My message has always been that when couples don’t see eye to eye about their sex life, it can lead to problems. It’s important to talk about any disconnect, and whether you both want to make creating sexual passion a priority. However, in my experience, the only thing people find more shameful than talking about their sex life is admitting they don’t have one at all’and that they’re fine with it. Here’s a new message: For some couples, sex is not important and they should stop worrying about it.
Sexless marriage has no single definition. Some experts define ‘sexless’ as falling ‘anywhere between having no sex at all, to fewer than 10 sexual encounters per year. Researchers estimate that 10 to 20 percent of North American marriages are completely sexless. In truth, it’s difficult to estimate exactly how many happy low- or no-sex relationships are out there because, as Bianca Rucker, a sex therapist in Vancouver, points out, experts hear only from dissatisfied people. In my practice I have treated couples of all ages who haven’t had sex in a year, several years or even decades.
Let’s face it. We are in a culture where we want it all and we want it now (or, ideally, yesterday): love, sex, great kids, meaningful work and a body that stays firm forever. Society nags us with sexualized imagery, subconsciously convincing us that everyone else is doing it like rabbits and we are failures if we are not. But wait a minute. Historically, sex was a game for the young: The purpose was procreation and recreation, and it was eventually replaced by other activities as we got older. It is actually normal for sex to become less important to a relationship over time.
The couples who seek help for a sexless marriage believe they want sexual passion together. But some of them seek passion only because they believe they are ‘supposed to’ want it. So, if you have little or no sex in your marriage, do you even want to do something about it? Maybe not. I often see patients who are relieved to be told that their low level of sexual activity together may not indicate any problem.
Married or single, some people just have a low sex drive’and they may wish to change it, or they may be at ease with it. But is low sex drive a psychological disorder that needs to be fixed? The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders lists hypoactive (low) sexual desire as, well, a disorder. However, according to experts in the field, this should be seen as a disorder only if it is causing distress or dysfunction. In other words, if your low desire doesn’t trouble you, and you are single or partnered with someone who is okay with it, you don’t have a problem. Most people who forgo sex still have typical and healthy human needs for touch, cuddling and intimate emotional connection; they just don’t equate sex with happiness.
If your marriage lacks sex, you fall into one of three categories.
1. Both of you want sex back in the relationship
If you both want sex to be part of your relationship again, you can reawaken passion with the help of a therapist. It’s important for both of you to realize that it will be difficult to rekindle passion after a long time without it’but it can be done. You can start by committing to your sexual life the same way that you would a hobby, and make time to make love. Sometimes the answer can be an easy one (a couple I worked with put a lock on their bedroom door and found that they were far friskier when they were comfortable that their kids could not walk in on them!), and sometimes it can take a year of explorations for you to get the passion back.
2. Only one of you misses having sex
Even if you are content with your sexless marriage, it’s important that you clarify that your spouse feels the same way. Broach the topic gently. Once you have acknowledged the elephant in the room’and if you are both willing to keep things as they are’the elephant can stay, and even be befriended. While one of you might miss sex sometimes, you also realize that you gain many things from your marriage. In other words, having sex and having a great relationship do not need to go together, and you may choose little or no sex as a trade-off for an otherwise deeply fulfilling partnership. If, however, one of you admits that you would like more intimate contact, you need to figure out whether you can meet that need in ways other than sexual. For example, do you seek connection and physical pleasure? I worked with one sexless couple who gave each other massages as a way to physically connect.
3. Both of you are fine with being sexless
If the sexless state of your marriage is not a big deal for either of you, you fall into the third category. Your previous level of sex drive may have waned naturally, or perhaps you never were sexually motivated by your spouse. After all, people marry for multiple and complex reasons, not just for sex.
As Rucker says: ‘Of course it’s okay to not have sex. While sex is one of the special things about marriage, couples can have a lot of closeness and affection and not be sexual.’
In the end, love is a very personal thing. All that really matters is that you are both happy, whether you are passionately hot, gently warm, or snuggly and sexless. It is simply about the two of you finding different ways to love each other.