Three causes of a sexless marriage and what you can do about it.
Sex and emotional closeness are closely connected in marriage. Sex remains important throughout marriage as do emotional closeness. Taking them for granted can make both of them disappear.
Three reasons for a sexless marriage
To begin finding a solution to restoring sex in your marriage, first figure out which of these three broad problems best fit your situation:
- physical problems,
- psychological problems, or
- relationship problems.
A lack of sex can also be the result of a combination of these three factors. Also, each partner can have a problem in a different area..
1. Physical problems
Erectile dysfunction and sexless marriages
Erectile dysfunction is an obvious physical impairment. It not only prevents sex and orgasm for men, it also is a source of fear and shame. What many women are unaware of is that it is possible to have selective erectile dysfunction. That is, your husband may have erectile dysfunction only with you. He may still be able to achieve an erection and orgasm via masturbation or sex with other women. Many women have the mistakenly believe that erectile dysfunction prevents sexual affairs. Feigning erectile dysfunction is a common reason men give to “prove” they are not cheating.
Inhibited orgasm and sexless marriages
Hormonal imbalances, medications, and drugs may all cause inhibited orgasm and lead to a sexless marriage. Although there is more to sex than orgasm, failure to orgasm can result in frustration for both partners. It can also cause physical discomfort that can last for hours. Failure of a partner to achieve orgasm can also result in feelings of inadequacy. Either or both spouses may blame themselves or one another. This only makes the problems worse.
What you can do
Many times these effects are only temporary, though the fear of them happening can maintain sexual avoidance. Share information with your partner about how these are common occurrences for everyone, young and old, occasionally. Don’t be orgasm focused and help your partner to enjoy physical intimacy without expectations. If the problems persist, then seek medical evaluation and go to see the doctor together. If you have this problem with your spouse, but not otherwise, then stop the otherwise activities. Pornography, especially, has been associated with erectile dysfunction in young men in committed relationships.
Medical conditions unnecessarily contribute to sexless marriages
Medical conditions that have been found to be associated with decreased sexual desire are diabetes mellitus, hypothyroidism, Addison’s disease, Cushing’s disease, temporal lobe lesions, menopause, coronary artery disease, heart failure, renal failure, stroke, and HIV (Source National Institutes of Health). Decreased sexual desire does not mean total lack of desire or inability to have sex. It is not the physical conditions themselves, but how we deal with them that can lead to a sexless marriage.
What you can do
You do not need to give up sex even if you or your spouse has medical condition that may contribute to less desire for sex. The person with the condition may need to make adjustments in medications, and also adjust the time of day in order to be in an optimal condition for having sex. This means scheduling sex and consulting with a physician for supplements or changes in routine that may assist to create a better sexual experience.
Ageing and sexless marriages do not go hand in hand
Due to changing hormonal levels, sexual desire naturally decreases with age. This does not mean that elderly cannot enjoy sex. It just means they are not going to be as driven to it as young adults. Older adults may actually enjoy more sexual satisfaction than young adults who may be more orgasm focused, and less emotionally focused. Stereotypes about elderly not being supposed to have sex can also needlessly lead to a sexless marriage.
2. Psychological problems and sexless marriages
Depression and Schizophrenia have both been associated with a marked decrease in sexual desire.
What you can do
If you have one of these conditions, be sure that you are treated for it. If your spouse has one of these conditions, do not be codependent for the disorder. Be prepared to use boundaries as intervention to get your spouse to seek treatment if he or she will not do that voluntarily. It does no good to be patient and understanding for a disorder that can be treated and, left unchecked, is going to cause misery for both of you.
3. Relationship problems and sexless marriage
Most people know their marriage is a priority, but don’t know how to make marriage a priority (head knowledge vs. application). Improvement in the following areas usually leads to an improved sexual relationship for my clients and their spouses.
Incorrect marital expectations can lead to sexless marriages
This is most common in cross cultural relationships. It also happens in many relationships where one spouse has traditional values and the other is more modern. Essentially, one partner believes sex to be an important part of marriage, and the other does not. Many Asian women (not Asian American), for example, are surprised to discover that men continue to be interested in sex even after getting married. Typically, other behaviors that promote relationships such as dating one’s partner, prioritizing spouse over children, and spending daily one on one time with one’s spouse are also viewed as unnecessary and unnatural by one spouse. These relationships often experience initial conflict, followed by affairs and divorce.
What you can do
It is important for you and your spouse to be on the same page with expectations about how the both of you should relate to each other (are you roommates, business partners, parent and child, or lovers). You both also need to have a common understanding of the difference between emotional intimacy and physical intimacy. Any mismatch needs to be dealt with. It is usually easier for the partner with traditional values to become more romantic than for the romantic partner to give up his or her relationship needs. Romance and connection skills can be learned. Many of my clients have improved their relationships just by learning a little more than they already know.
Emotional distance–the number one contributor to sexless marriages
Emotional distance often occurs when a couple no longer makes the daily and weekly time to be with each other, as they did when they were engaged. This is the number one contributor to failed marriages, affairs, and sexless marriages. People do not lose the need for interactive, romantic relationships when they get married. Putting them on hold until the kids are grown or the business is built is not a viable option. A weekly date, daily time together, and an enjoyable sex life are all part of maintaining an emotional connection. Sometimes relationships get shortened down to just the sex. When that happens, the emotional connection cannot be maintained and then the sex goes, too.
What you can do
Spontaneity is impractical for maintaining an emotional connection in marriage, especially when one or both of the partners are busy. Date nights, sex, and daily time together need to made a regular part of the schedule. Starting with the dates and making sure that you are doing something your spouse enjoys (not just going out to get dinner) is a good way to start. Figure out when would be a good time to spend daily time together and start to do that, with NO electrical devices such as TV, tablets, or other wi-fi devices turned on. Time together needs to be as interactive as when you were engaged.
Control and anger issues in sexless marriages
Sometimes a partner will intentionally withhold sex because of anger or a need to be controlling. Trying directly to get such partners to have sex will just give them more of a sense of control. Contrary to what many therapists teach, I do not encourage my clients to talk about this issue with their spouse, as it generally just leads to more frustration, anger, and distancing.
What you can do
To restore a good relationship with such a spouse requires a combination of good boundaries and good connection skills. There is a certain order you need to follow to rebuild a relationship with an angry spouse. The mistake that many people make is too be patient for too long, and then become rejecting and tough. This path is defensive and does not lead to rebuilding the relationship.
Infidelity and sexless marriages
Most men and women cannot maintain an affair and a sexual relationship with their spouse at the same time (although some can). The unfaithful person will typically create conflicts and then blame their partners for any problems in their relationship. They characteristically will have no desire to improve their marriage and will not accept apologies or respond to changes their spouses make.
What you can do
You need to be familiar with the signs of infidelity. Asking your spouse if he or she is having an affair is not likely to lead to anything productive. If there is an affair, you will need to confront your unfaithful spouse, give choices, and have the proper boundaries before any rebuilding can be done. Never try to have sex with an unfaithful spouse. The relationship must be rebuilt first. After your relationship is rebuilt, then sex can be restored.
Make sure you are a skilled sexual partner
In addition to the above recommendations, it is important that you be a skilled sexual partner. Most men and women are only mediocre in their sexual skills. Your spouse may not get much physical enjoyment having sex with you. Some men, for example, tell me that they have sex with their wives, but only for 10 minutes at a time. I don’t know any woman who would have a good sexual experience with that. Women can also fail to excite their husbands by being too passive.
Learning how to please the other gender sexually can only add to your value as a spouse. Both men and women value more a partner who is good in bed. Although your partner may not complain about your performance, like in all areas of your marriage, you should strive to give your spouse a better experience than he could have with someone else. I don’t teach this skill–you will need to use other resources and there are many. Just make sure you don’t try to learn from pornography. Good sex is never like that.
A sexless marriage is a symptom of an underlying problem
Figuring out what that problem is and dealing with it is a vital step to staying connected with your spouse. There are ways to convince a resistant spouse to go to marriage counseling. This will help to determine if the underlying problem is physical, emotional, relational, or even improper technique. If you want to build your relationship more before considering joint counseling, take a look at my coaching packages to see which one you need to get your relationship going in the right direction again.