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Technically experts define a sexless marriage as one in which a couple is having sex less than 10 times a year. But it’s not as simple as that, said Stephanie Rocha, a New York-based psychotherapist and sex therapist. “What sex means to one couple may look very different to another couple,” she says. “There is no ideal or correct frequency that works for all couples.”
What Is a Sexless Marriage?
A sexless marriage refers to a married couple who has little to no sexual activity with each other.
While one couple, for example, may see it as a problem if they aren’t having sex every week, another might think that is a lot. Ahead, Rocha explains how to identify a sexless marriage, address a sexless marriage, and more.
Meet the Expert
Stephanie Rocha is a New York-based psychotherapist and sex therapist. She is bilingual in English and Spanish and works with both individuals and couples.
Signs of a Sexless Marriage
Rocha encourages couples to create their own idea of how much sex they want to have in a marriage. And that doesn’t just mean intercourse but also other forms of emotional and physical connection. That way they can set their own expectations and understand if they are falling short of them. “Ultimately it’s the couple who determines if they’re expecting lack of sex and sexual intimacy,” she says. And don’t be alarmed if you do decide you are in one. “If you’re in a supportive committed relationship, improving sexual intimacy is absolutely possible."
How Common Are Sexless Marriages?
If you are in a sexless marriage, you are hardly alone, Rocha insists. Adding, “It is very common for couples to experience lack of sex, lowered desire and interest in sex at some point in their relationship." Some researchers put the number as high as twenty percent, depending on how long a couple has been together.
It’s also important to note that if your sex life, or lack thereof, is distressing you, that is completely normal. Sex therapist Barry McCarthy found that when a couple’s sex life is good, it only amounts to 10 to 15 percent of their relationship satisfaction. But when sex is a challenge or there is a lack of sex, it accounts for 40 to 50 percent of a couple’s satisfaction. “It goes without saying that couples who report sexual problems in their relationship are significantly distressed and as a result, this will affect their overall relationship satisfaction,” offers Rocha.
She encourages you to remember that there is nothing wrong with you. “Couples need to understand that this commonly happens, and it’s not a reflection of the lack of love or commitment they have for one another,” she says. “ Working towards sexual satisfaction and health in a relationship is constant and a complex process. Though not impossible and one that deserves special attention and patience.”
What Causes a Sexless Marriage?
Per Rocha, there are several reasons for lack of sex in a relationship—and those reasons can vary from couple to couple.
A growing family.
When parents welcome a new child into a relationship, it can be hard to care for a new baby while also making time for themselves and each other. Both men and women have postpartum experiences and feelings that can contribute to this.
Anxiety and depression.
Stress is a very common cause of sex problems. “When stress is high within a couple they are less likely to create sexual scenarios due to preoccupation with the stressors,” she explains. “Couples are more inclined to practice and take opportunities to connect intimately if they've learned coping skills to manage stress.”
Recently she has seen many couples being impacted by the global COVID-19 pandemic. Couples are struggling with a loss of privacy, a loss of independence, and a lot of community involvement. That’s on top of general anxiety and depression everyone feels. All of these factors can lead to problems with sexual intimacy. Any mental health issue like depression and anxiety can lead to a sexless marriage. Rocha puts it simply: “You can’t have anxiety and arousal at the same time!”
A vicious circle.
No sex or unsatisfying sex can lead to the problem continuing. “Couples who describe themselves as having a sexless marriage can feel very hopeless and pessimistic about their sexual relationship and future,” she says. “Many couples who are experiencing a lack of sex often anticipate future sexual encounters negatively which also continues the negative cycle and less likelihood they will make attempts for intimacy.”
How to Address a Sexless Marriage
Of course, once you find yourself in a sexless marriage there are ways to address the predicament and become more intimate with your partner.
Change your expectations.
The media tells us that every sexual encounter should be sexy, hot, stimulating, and satisfying. But the reality is much different, said Rocha. “I’d challenge the myth and steer away from the idea that every sexual counter must be great for it to be good,” she said. “The fact is, not every sexual encounter will be as amazing as you would want, and this does not mean it wasn’t good enough.”
Enjoy the moment and connection, rather than focus on how many times you have sex or how long it lasts. Rocha offers, “Couples who are attuned and connected are more likely to enjoy and find pleasure in sex, as there is more trust and vulnerability present during their sex lives."
Take a break from sex.
Some couples might benefit from taking the pressure of having sex off the table. Obligatory or pressured sex can make things worse for both couples, leading to feelings of frustration or isolation. Instead, find other ways to connect, Rocha says: “Creating opportunities to connect in non-sexual ways can include holding hands, hugging, and daily appreciations of each other are wonderful ways to build connection.”
Seek professional help.
“If a couple determines that their loss of sexual intimacy and absence or low desire is negatively impacting their relationship, it’s important to seek consultation from a sex therapist,” she advises. “Couples therapy creates safety and opportunities to share their feelings and wishes with each other while being guided by a professional. It also can be useful to speak to a therapist to address any other issues that can be contributing to their sexual relationship.” And don’t put it off. “Waiting for it to get better on its own can lead to more difficulties,” she reveals.