Sexless Marriage Reasons and Remedies

Couple sleeping with their backs turned on each other

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Physical intimacy is what makes a relationship more than just a platonic friendship. Some couples fall into a pattern or habit of letting the physical part of their marriage fall by the wayside. While there is a "normal" drop off within the first few years of marriage, particularly if kids come into the picture, complete loss of this physical aspect of marriage often signals a marital problem that needs to be addressed.

Without the physical intimacy that differentiates a romantic partnership from a platonic one, married couples can become more-or-less roommates. If both partners are OK with this type of relationship, it doesn't call for concern. But often, one or both partners become frustrated or hurt by the loss of physical intimacy and sex.

A sexless marriage is defined as a marriage with little or no sexual activity between the partners.

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Questions and Tips For Building Intimacy In Your Relationship

Common Reasons for a Sexless Marriage

There are many possible reasons that a marriage may become sexless from health to lifestyle factors.

Health and Physical Factors

A person's overall physical and mental health can have a major impact on their libido and desire for physical intimacy. It can also disrupt the physiological process of arousal in both sexes.

Mismatched sexual libidos (sex drives): Not everyone desires the same amount of sex, and sex drive has a natural ebb and flow. When the desire for sex does not coincide, it's easy for couples to find themselves waiting to engage sexually until they are both in the mood.

Childbirth: Women are usually advised by their doctor to forgo sex for at least six to eight weeks after giving birth. The added stress of caring for an infant, body changes, tiredness, and hormonal factors can also affect a woman's libido after having a child.

Stress: Excessive stress can wreak havoc on your health, including your sex drive. The stress hormone cortisol can also play a role in lowering your libido. In addition to the physical reasons why stress lowers sex drive, the psychological effects of stress can leave you so tired, frazzled, and anxious that you simply don't have the desire or energy for sex.

Erectile dysfunction (ED): Difficulty achieving or maintaining an erection can make it difficult to have sex for a number of reasons. While ED is a common problem, it can also affect a man's anxiety levels, confidence, and self-esteem. Men who have symptoms of ED should always talk to their doctor, as it may be a sign of an underlying health condition.

Hypo-sexual desire disorder (low sex drive): Female low sex drive may be attributed to this condition which is characterized as a lack of or deficiency of sexual fantasies, desires, and activity. A number of factors may contribute to HSDD, including menstrual cycles, the use of hormonal contraceptives, childbirth, breastfeeding, hysterectomy, and menopause. 

Medication side effects: Many medications have sexual side effects. Some drugs that can cause sexual dysfunction include over-the-counter decongestants, some antihistamines, antidepressants, and high blood pressure medications.

Depression or other mental health issues: Symptoms of depression include lack of energy, loss of interest and pleasure, social withdrawal, and depressed mood—all factors that can have an effect on a person's desire for sex and physical intimacy.

History of sexual abuse: Past sexual abuse can have long-lasting effects that can influence current and future relationships. Emotional reactions such as fear and shame, post-traumatic stress, and distortions in self-perception can have a serious impact on a person's sex life.

Communication and Relationship Issues

When you are in conflict with your partner, it can be difficult to maintain intimacy. You might not feel like talking to your partner, let alone engaging in sexual activity. Some factors that may contribute to this problem include:

  • Relationship conflict and arguments
  • Negative feelings toward your partner like anger or resentment
  • Punitive or passive-aggressive withholding of sex
  • Infidelity
  • Power struggles
  • Pornography addiction

Divorce research suggests that some of the most common issues that lead to problems in a marriage include growing apart, poor communication, differences in tastes, and financial problems.

Lifestyle and Personal Factors

There are a number of different life factors that can also play a role in how frequently people engage in sex with their partner, including:

  • Boredom
  • Tiredness
  • Grief
  • Job loss
  • Financial problems
  • Aging
  • Body image issues

If you're experiencing a lack of sex in your marriage, you are not alone. Professor Denise A. Donnelly spoke with The New York Times about her studies on sexless marriages. She estimates that 15% of married couples did not have sex with their partner in the last six months to one year.

Michele Weiner Davis, author of the book "Sex Starved Marriage" explained why a low-sex marriage can become a major problem: "It's when one partner is desperately yearning for more touch, physical closeness, more sex, and the other partner is thinking: 'What is the big deal? Why are you so hassled?' When this major disconnect happens, intimacy at all levels tends to drop. [But it's] really about feeling wanted, feeling loved, feeling appreciated and feeling connected." Davis goes on to say that because of hurt that can develop from not having needs met, the bond between a couple can dissipate to the point of putting the marriage at risk.

How to Help a Sexless Marriage

The first step is to recognize the signs of a low-sex marriage and determine whether a lack of sex is a problem for your marriage. Whether you consider a low-sex or no-sex marriage a problem is entirely up to you and your partner.

There is no "right" amount of sex to have in a marriage. What's more important, in many cases, is whether you still have physical and emotional intimacy with your partner.

Don't try to compare your marriage to others because every relationship is unique. While you might come across statistics that make you feel like you and your partner are not having enough sex, research has found that going without sex is more common than you might think. One 2017 study found that more than 15% of men and nearly 27% of women reported that they had not had sex in the past year.

Communicate

Talk with your partner about the issue of low sex or no sex in your marriage. It may be difficult, but this communication necessary. Even otherwise strong relationships can have problems with sex and intimacy. It isn't necessarily a sign that your marriage is weak or in trouble; it may simply mean that you need to talk more and carve out more time to spend together as a couple.

If you need help figuring out how to talk to your partner, consider first talking to a mental health professional or therapist for ideas about how to approach the subject. It is important to keep the conversation positive and not leave your partner feeling like they are being attacked or blamed.

Every marriage is different and you will need to work together as a couple to figure out what works for you. Don't try to live up to other people's expectations or what you think is "normal." Talk about what each of you wants, needs, and expects. Then, work together to make it work for both of you.

As you talk, aim to determine ways you both think you can rekindle your sex life. Making a change will only work if both of you agree to change and work together.

Focus on Building Intimacy

If you have decided that you want to have more sex, consider putting sex on your schedule. It may sound unromantic, but it can also be exciting and special if done the right way. Scheduling gives you something to look forward to and shows a commitment to one another and your physical relationship.

Beyond sex, it's also important to explore other ways to build closeness that is often lost in low-sex or no-sex relationships. Physical intimacy doesn't only involve sex.

Make an effort to renew your love and create that spark you initially had. Being close, both emotionally and physically, is an important part of a healthy relationship. Spending more time together, whether you're curled up on the couch watching television or taking turns giving each other a massage, builds foundational intimacy.

Other intimacy-building activities you might try include:

  • Try a new activity together
  • Do something physical together like going on a walk or attending a yoga class
  • Plan on a vacation or getaway
  • Plan a "staycation" at home
  • Go on a scheduled date nights

Get Professional Help

Depending on the underlying causes, seeking outside help may also be a good option. You might try a marriage retreat, workshop, or seminar to help with communication and connection. 

Consult your doctor to address underlying medical conditions that may be impacting your sex life. Seek support from a mental health professional as a couple or individually to foster communication skills or learn stress management techniques.

If therapy feels like the right direction for you, consider seeing a counselor who focuses on sexual issues in marriage like a certified sex therapist. Your therapist can work with you to address any issues in your relationship that are standing in the way of intimacy as well as exploring individual factors that might be playing a role.

Take these opportunities to focus on building a stronger, deeper marriage.

Next Steps

If your partner doesn't agree that there is a problem in your marriage and doesn't want to change, you will have to decide if a low- or no-sex marriage is a deal-breaker for you. Do not make the decision to betray your partner and become unfaithful as a way of handling your frustration with a lack of sex in your marriage. Start instead by communicating and exploring ways that you can find the intimacy that each of you needs.

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