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Sexless Marriage Causes and Cures

To figure out what to do about a sexless marriage, start by seeking the causes.

This post is in response to
I’m in a Sexless Marriage

As Sam Louie points out in his PT blog post "I’m in a Sexless Marriage," a sexless marriage is a vulnerable marriage.

Sex promotes the flow of oxytocin, the chemical that promotes feelings of bonding. Sex is also a free way of having fun together.

Lastly, when sex is a special activity that married couples share only with each other, sexual sharing enhances the partnership, keeping it loving and strong.

So what can a couple—or even just one partner—do when sex has disappeared and a sexless marriage has become their new normal?

A good place to start is by figuring out what has caused the decrease in sharing this generally pleasurable activity. Here are some of the most common factors that inhibit sexual sharing:

1. No private time together.

If spouses prioritize other activities over sharing sexual time, there may be trouble ahead. Sometimes, there is little choice, such as when couples have jobs with opposite hours. Most often, however, setting up a schedule where there's no time for sex is a matter of priorities. Think again!

To want to make love with each other, fun times together refresh your connection. Even just "hanging out together" helps greatly, especially when you are both good-humored and if you are interactive, not just both on screens.

Be sure, too, to keep cell phones away during such times. Interruptions destroy bonding.

2. No privacy.

If the walls where you live are paper-thin or, for whatever reason, you fear that normal sexual sounds will embarrass you vis-a-vis others in the household, this blockage merits real attention. What could you do to create more privacy? There are almost always options.

3. No motivation or other psychological inhibitors.

Some folks have minimal initial sexual drive. Others just don't experience sexual pleasure during intercourse.

Irritability, judgmental tones of voice, criticism, blame, and other hostile ways of interacting can easily squelch a partner's interest in sexual sharing. Even if the receiver of this kind of negative energy is not intending to respond with resentment or revenge, few partners feel affectionate toward those who hurt their feelings.

Still others have had traumatic sexual experiences earlier in their lives that may be blocking comfort with adult sexual sharing. For this problem, acupoint tapping may be a good option, either working with a therapist or self-administered. Other kinds of psychotherapy can also help.

4. Age and familiarity have decreased initial sexual interest levels.

New romance evokes stronger sexual urges than familiar sexual partners. If the initial urges are not prompting you, the solution is simple: Decide to do it anyway. Once you get started, the sexual feelings will surge from contact.

Age is among the easier causes of a sexless marriage to overcome. Initial sexual arousal levels diminish with age. At the same time, once older folks "get going," sexual activity can be as or even more gratifying than earlier in life.

The key for those who do not feel enough initial spontaneous arousal to initiate sexual connecting: Schedule regular times to have sex. Couples who can talk together about frequency, time of day, and days of the week that work best for them can overcome their sexual infrequency this way. In other words, make Sundays into sex days, or make Wednesday nights dinner-date-and-do-it nights.

Few people feel like exercising before they head out the door for the gym. Once they get going, though, exercise—like sex—often starts to feel great.

5. No one takes responsibility for initiating sexual interactions.

Too much fear that the other may say no can block either from getting started. At the same time, too much saying "no" by one or the other partner can inhibit confidence about launching sexual contact.

While it can often be helpful if both of you sometimes initiate sexual interactions, some long-standing couples divvy up marital roles—including which partner rings the sexual bell.

6. Biological factors and medication-related inhibitors.

As one reader wrote to me, "The two largest causes of diminished sex drive and sexless marriages are 1) pain or chronic illnesses like lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, CFS, fibromyalgia, etc., and 2) the drugs that people take—not just for physical ailments, but also for birth control and depression. Birth control pills and SSRI antidepressants slaughter libido. Together, they can work sex-squashing magic."

Sexless Marriage Options

What can you do if any of these factors pertain to your situation? There are three main ways to address sexless marriage situations.

One is to begin by talking about the situation. If you choose this route, be sure to use your best skills for how to communicate in a relationship about sensitive topics. Use especially tactful talking, thoughtful listening, and symmetrical dialogue (equal air time) skills. Do not blame, criticize, or look for who's at fault. Speak about your own concerns (e.g., "I respond best when...") rather than telling the other what to do and reply appreciatively to your partner's thought-sharing.

The second strategy is to decide that sex is important and figure out what you, yourself, can do differently that could help. With regard to each of the factors listed above that pertain to your situation, what could you do differently?

Caution: Each of you will be best off looking for what you personally might do differently. Unless asked, refrain from telling the other what you think they should do.

Third, get professional help. To find a sex therapist, visit Psychology Today's therapy directory.

Most importantly, if you are troubled by a sexless marriage situation, address the problem squarely. Wait and see is unlikely to prove to be a strategy that leads to change.

Some couples are fine with a sexless marriage arrangement. However, if either of you would prefer that sex return to your relationship, pay attention and put your mind to problem-solving about change options. Otherwise, as I wrote above, a sexless marriage is a vulnerable marriage.

Learn more on Dr. Heitler's website.

More from Susan Heitler Ph.D.
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