Menu Relationship issues
Being in a sexless relationship

A 'sexless' relationship is defined as one where sex happens 10 times or fewer per year. However, research shows that many couples aren’t even achieving that.

Studies repeatedly show that married couples of all ages who are happy with their sex lives also report higher levels of relationship satisfaction. Most relationship therapists agree that not having sex when you want to makes people unhappy, causing feelings of frustration, depression, rejection, self-doubt, difficulty concentrating, and low self-esteem.

Sex and research

When psychotherapist Brett Kahr carried out a sex survey of 19,000 people in the UK in 2007, he found that 32% of people have sex less than once a month and that 21% of women and 15% of men do not have sex at all.

Research from the sociology department at Georgia State University suggests that about 15% of married couples have not had sex for around six months to a year. Denise Donnelly, who led the study, answered the following question:

"Can people in a marriage (or in a long-term relationship) that has become sexless rekindle their sex lives?"

Some do. But once a marriage has been sexless for a long time, it’s very hard. One or both may be extremely afraid of hurt or rejection, or just entirely apathetic to their partner. They may not have been communicating about sex for a very long time (if ever) and have trouble talking about it. Couples who talk over their sex lives (as well as other aspects of their marriages) tend to have healthier marriages, but it’s hard to get a couple talking once they’ve established a pattern of non-communication.
There are mixed opinions about what to do to rekindle marital sex. For some couples, it may be as simple as a weekend away from the kids, taking a vacation or cruise, or just having some time off, alone. Others may need help in re-establishing communication and may seek professional assistance.
Reasons we go off sex

Some of the most common reasons for decline in sex in long-term relationships are:

  • Depression.
  • Stress.
  • Alcohol.
  • Female sexual dysfunction.
  • Erectile dysfunction.
  • Male mid-life crisis.
  • Menopause.
  • Ageing.
  • Infidelity.
  • Online infidelity.
  • Pornography.
  • Low libido.
  • Negative body image.
  • Children.
  • Pregnancy.
  • Monogamy and monotony.
  • Unresolved conflict.

Too busy for sex?

There are various health problems that can affect your sex life, ranging from back pain, insomnia, arthritis, migraine and asthma. However, with a third of British couples spending only 30 minutes of quality time together each day and a culture of longer working hours, tiredness, household chores and childcare can all make it easy to fall out of the habit of having sex.

If you’re in a sexless relationship and want to try to get the ball rolling again, the following tips may help:

  • Talk about it. It can be tricky to bring the subject up, so find a moment when you’re both relaxed and unlikely to be interrupted. In the first instance, just talk about how you’re both feeling and establish where you’re at with things. Does your partner feel the same way as you?
  • Listen to your partner. Your partner might share some things that you find difficult to hear. Try to listen with an open mind as this will make it easier for you to find solutions together.
  • Figure out what you want. What would an ideal sex life look like for you? What about for your partner? See if your desires match up and have a think about where you might need to compromise.
  • Take the pressure off. Give yourselves time to work things out and accept that progress is likely to be slow.
  • Celebrate the little things. If holding hands at the cinema is a step forward, then let yourself be happy about it. It may take months of getting used to back rubs and kissing before you can start to feel like sex is OK, so enjoy each little milestone.
  • Make time for each other. Set some time aside to spend together, doing something you both love doing. Shared positive experiences like this can start to increase intimacy without being focused on sex.
  • Seek support. If you don’t know how to get things moving on your own, a sex and relationships counsellor can help you both get to the bottom of the issue and start to find practical solutions. 

Donnelly, D., and Burgess, E. (2008). The decision to remain in an involuntarily celibate relationship. Journal of Marriage and Family 70(2):519-535

Kahr, Brett (2007). Sex and the Psyche: The Truth About Our Most Secret Fantasies. Penguin, London.

Suzi Godson:

Comments 3