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The Battle of the Sexes Has Left More Couples Sexless

One reason 25 to 50 percent of marriages are sexless in 2022.

Key points

  • Heterosexual marriages are experiencing high rates of sexlessness (25 to 50 percent).
  • For Generation Z, sexual intimacy appears to be on the decline.
  • There is likely gender role confusion as couples create new and shared meaning about what equality in romance looks like.
  • Men must be active in these conversations to reach higher levels of sexual satisfaction and emotional connection.
Source: Cottonbro/Pexels

After writing "The Rise of Lonely, Single Men," I received two kinds of responses. The first were threats and the second was a cry from fellow men to focus on a supposed "explosion of male virginity."

While there are limited data on long-term virgins, there is strong evidence that sexual intimacy between heterosexual couples is at an overall systemic flection point in 2022.

One reason for this systemic shift is that there's less love being made. Sexual dissatisfaction and emotional disconnection are prevalent (Kim, Tam, & Muennig, 2017).

With women increasingly able to choose their destiny, many are looking for more passionate love in their 50s and 60s, and "grey divorces" are spiking.

But it isn’t just middle-aged women making different choices.

In college-aged samples, recent studies suggest an overall decline in sexual intimacy that is clearly present in Generation Z samples (Lei & South, 2021).

One might want to blame the so-called "hook-up" culture but the authors suggest that’s not it. Among other variables like financial instability and playing too many video games, the authors cite an inability to initiate romantic relationships as a primary contributor to the decline.

The battle over influence between the sexes has had an unintended casualty: sex.

There has been a broader shift in cultural standards for emotional and sexual intimacy over the last 30 years. It is like a generation's long bid for more attention, affection, and romance in long-term relationships.

How has that bid been responded to by men on the whole?

David Brooks' suggestion in a recent column in The New York Times that boys and men are in crisis may be an indication.

The crisis Brooks speaks about is related to an unraveling of old masculine norms and our struggle to share influence with women more effectively. In sexual relationships, this includes how we share influence in the bedroom.

If trends in Generation Z are any indication of future patterns, a much larger crisis must be avoided: a crisis of inaction and passivity by men as romantic relationships continue to evolve.

A passive partner sees changing relationship standards and chooses inaction. They choose not to learn how to emotionally connect more deeply. They choose not to build a secure attachment with safety and vulnerability. They chose not to do the work.

But there's so much good news in the struggle. This moment is full of opportunity for everyone, a win-win situation. This moment is for action because love is action.

Love is intimacy with emotional and physical attunement.

Yet, many couples lack this attunement around the world and find themselves lonely for decades in sexless marriages.

Is it that researchers are just finding more couples in some kind of asexual bliss? No (Kim, Lau, & Cheuk, 2009).

A recent study in China by Kim, Lau, and Chek (2009) suggests high rates of sexlessness with women tending to be uninterested and both partners being less happy in the marriage (Kim, Lau, & Chek, 2009).

How do we stem the tide of sexlessness?

Each of us in our own lives must pursue our highest level of health, emotional, psychological, and sexual health in the context of changing gender norms.

Achieving more equitable and satisfying relationships cannot come at the cost of intimacy.

Relationships where one partner is growing emotionally and the other is stagnating are not sustainable.

The antidote is shared meaning. Couples who create shared meaning will prevail. Here are a few questions that can get you started in this conversation:

What are our values about sex and sexual intimacy?

What does it mean to be a man, enacting those values?

What does it mean to be a woman enacting those values?

Are we actively talking about our sex life?

If we instead choose either passivity or retaliation during this transformation of masculinity, the only things we can look forward to are more grey divorces and sexless marriages for the next 100 years.


Kim, J. H., Tam, W. S., & Muennig, P. (2017). Sociodemographic Correlates of Sexlessness Among American Adults and Associations with Self-Reported Happiness Levels: Evidence from the U.S. General Social Survey. Archives of sexual behavior, 46(8), 2403–2415.

Lei, L., & South, S. J. (2021). Explaining the decline in young adult sexual activity in the United States. Journal of Marriage and Family, 83(1), 280-295.

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