When you’re in a lifelong, monogamous relationship, a few dry spells in the bedroom are to be expected. But since intimacy is such a key part of a romantic partnership, it is important to know at what point the lack of sex in a relationship can ruin your connection forever. It is hard to categorically paint a sexless marriage as good or bad, healthy or unhealthy, functional or dysfunctional, or decide when to walk away from a sexless marriage. And we’re not expecting you to live up to the steamy sex scenes of movies.
But there are signs that tell you whether a sexless marriage is worth staying in or not. In this article, we will delve into some causes, signs, and effects of sexless marriages, with insights from Sangeeth Sebastian, founder VVox (Vatsyayana’s Voice) – a platform dedicated to rebuilding sexual health in India, and counselor and certified life coach Dr. Neelu Khanna, who specializes in dealing with issues related to emotional needs and conflicts of human behavior, marital discords and dysfunctional families. We hope we will also be able to throw some light on when you should leave a sexless marriage for good. So, what are we waiting for? Let’s dive in and help you in coping with a sexless marriage.
What Is A Sexless Marriage?
Before we get any further with sexless marriage advice, the first thing you need to understand is what is considered a sexless marriage. Is your marriage sexless if you and your spouse have been going through a bit of a dry spell due to certain life changes? Or does lack of sex have to be more permanent for your marriage to fit into the sexless marriage definition? The U.S. National Health and Social Life Survey describes a sexless marriage as one where a couple doesn’t engage in sexual encounters or where the frequency of sexual activity is minimal.
While most people find sexless relationships toxic, it’s possible for couples to go without sexual activity for months, owing to various circumstances. But how long is too long without sex in a relationship? You see, couples can also be comfortable with a completely sexless platonic marriage. Besides, it is difficult to quantify “minimal sexual activity” or zero in on a single sexless marriage definition. Whether a marriage can exist without sex depends on the relationship satisfaction of the couple.
Sangeeth says, “Generalizations about what amounts to a sexless marriage don’t always hold, because the dynamics of every relationship are unique. Some couples may be perfectly at peace with having sex once every few months, while for others, engaging sexually once or twice a month may seem inadequate to one or both partners.”
Reasons for a sexless marriage
Interestingly, the absence of sex in marriages is more common than most people would expect. As per a 2018 survey, one in four couples in the US is in a sexless relationship. According to a New York Times report, 15% of all marriages in the US are sexless. So why does sexual intimacy go out the window in so many relationships once the couple has achieved a certain rhythm of life? Sangeeth lists the following as top reasons for a sexless marriage:
- Childbirth: After childbirth, a woman’s body changes significantly and needs time to recuperate. So, sex definitely slips down the priority list. For a man too, parenting can take its toll. This can lead to a host of relationship problems after having a baby, sexlessness being one of them
- Menopause: Menopause also affects a woman’s hormonal levels significantly, resulting in a low desire for sex. With the onset of menopause, a woman’s marriage can become sexless for a few years or even eternally. Finding non-sexual ways to express your love and affection for your spouse becomes essential in such cases
- Performance anxiety and body image issues: “The fear of being unable to perform in bed or to satisfy one’s partner sexually can lead to a serious dip in physical intimacy,” explains Dr. Khanna. These fears could be triggered by body image issues too. “For men, this could become a serious issue, since they are conditioned to initiate and lead sexual activity. For women, insecurities about one’s own body can lower their sexual desire, causing them to wonder whether they should lose weight or look prettier,” she adds. In such cases, the release of stress hormones such as epinephrine and cortisol, which affect sexual arousal, is affected
Related Reading: Sexless Marriage – Is There Any Hope?
- Age: Libido decreases with age in both men and women. So, it’s not unusual for partners or married couples in their 50s and beyond to co-exist in a sexless marriage without feeling like it’s taking a toll on their connection. “Even if there are no physical or psychological issues at play, sexual desire begins to decrease after the initial phase of a relationship, also known as the honeymoon period,” says Sangeeth
- Health issues: Lack of sex can be caused by major health issues. For instance, a degenerative medical condition or a disability due to an accident can affect the sexual equation between partners negatively. Besides, chronic problems such as bad joints, back pain, erectile dysfunction in men, and endometriosis or PCOS in women can all negatively impact a couple’s sex life
- Addiction: If one of the partners (or both) suffers from addiction, it’s nearly impossible for them to have a flourishing sex life. Drugs and alcohol can cause low libido and impact the ability to perform in bed in the long run
- Relationship issues: Toxic relationship issues, such as cheating, extramarital affairs, gaslighting, controlling behavior, manipulation, unhealthy fights, and trust issues, can take a toll on your relationship and your sexual bond too. “Issues like a stressful job, family responsibilities, and lack of support from a partner can also dim the flame of sexual desire,” says Sangeeth
- Past trauma: “An abusive childhood, a repressed adolescence, or traumatic past relationships (where sex was unsatisfactory or violent) could lead to your partner being utterly averse to sex,” says Dr. Khanna. Sex becomes a chore at best in such cases and a violation of your space and body at worst
Related Reading: The Dynamics And Importance Of Sex In A Relationship
Now that we have the reasons, let’s find out how long will a man stay in a sexless marriage or a woman drag on a relationship without sexual intimacy. When is the right time to walk away?
11 Signs That Tell You When To Walk Away From A Sexless Marriage
So, now that you know what causes a sexless marriage, are you wondering when to stay and when to walk away from it? There are no right or wrong answers to questions like: Can there be a divorce due to sexless marriage? And how long do sexless marriages last? An article states that roughly about 50% of all sexless marriages end in divorce in the US. So, the sexless marriage divorce rate is pretty high, although not conclusively proven.
It all depends on the couple in question, their dynamics, their understanding, and whether the needs, wants, and desires of both partners are being met. To help you decide, we list 11 signs that tell you when to walk away from a sexless marriage that is triggered by unhealthy relationship dynamics:
1. Your partner is not ready to seek help
The first sexless marriage advice that any expert would offer a couple would be to seek marriage counseling, sex therapy, talk therapy, or couple’s therapy. However, if your spouse is reluctant to go to a counselor or therapist, there is little hope that you will be able to address the issue. In this case, unmet sexual needs without any hope of the situation being remedied can be a valid reason for ending a marriage.
Related Reading: At What Point Do Married Couples Seek Counseling?
2. Therapy hasn’t helped
It’s possible that a couple may have given therapy a chance but that didn’t improve their sex life. This could be an indication that the issue may be beyond resolution. Staying in such a marriage will only turn you into a bitter person.
3. Different sexual interests
Shannon Chavez, a US-based psychologist and sex therapist, believes that couples can improve their sex lives by discussing if they have developed new sexual interests. This can be done by:
- Talking to each other about their actions in bed
- Discussing if they are orgasming at all
- Talking about whether they wish to experiment with the sex positions they are trying
- Asking each other if they have developed unusual sexual interests or wish to spice up their sex lives by using sex toys or indulging in threesomes
However, being in an unhappy marriage where your sexual interests will never align could be a sign you need to move on.
Related Reading: 12 Ways Lack Of Intimacy In Your Marriage Affects You
4. Mismatched sex drives
It is not abnormal for partners to go through various spells of mismatched libidos during the course of their marriage. Sometimes, this situation can become permanent.
In such cases:
- The partner who has a high sex drive may feel rejected and hurt that their advances are being turned down
- The partner who has a low sex drive may start to feel pressured to please their partner in bed
- There may be feelings of inadequacy in the partner with a low sex drive
Sangeeth says, “The lack of sex in a marriage becomes a problem only when one partner desires it more than the other. If both partners are on the same page about their sexual interactions, then the frequency becomes a non-issue.”
In what circumstances can a sexless marriage lead to a divorce? One of the possibilities is when sexless marriage and affairs are correlated. Let’s look at a few instances:
- The marriage has turned sexless because one partner’s needs are being met by someone else
- The partner who has been cheated on finds it hard to be intimate with their spouse
If you’re looking for an answer to when to walk away from a sexless marriage, this is a classic example of when you should take that leap. The double whammy of sexless marriage and affairs can be hard to emerge from.
Related Reading: I’m Stuck In A Sexless Marriage For The Sake Of Society
6. You’ve evolved
Sometimes we may wonder: why would a man stay in a sexless marriage, or why would a wife stick to a marriage when there’s no intimacy in marriage from the husband? Well, sex can take a backseat in a marriage when partners evolve and don’t consider sex as a necessary element in the relationship. This can lead to a platonic marriage, where the partners stick together for:
- Financial reasons
- Sake of the family
- Social reasons
There may be no issues as such with a platonic marriage if both partners agree with this arrangement, but it can be a major relationship killer if one of the partners still craves sex, while the other is least bothered about it.
7. Sex is being used as a weapon of control
One of the dangers of a sexless marriage is that it can be used to exert control or pressure on a partner. In such toxic relationships, a spouse or a partner may use sex to:
- Manipulate the other, withholding intimacy as a form of punishment
- Reward desired behavior occasionally
Related Reading: Manipulation In Relationships – 11 Subtle Signs You Are A Victim
This leads to sex becoming a tool of power struggles in the relationship. Unless you’re both committed to making an effort to change this dynamic, one should not tolerate a sexless marriage. This can be a good reason to walk away, as everyone deserves a happy marriage.
8. You resent each other
In a sexless relationship, it is natural for resentment to set in. You may initially make peace with a sexless existence, but may eventually resort to bickering, ultimately paving the path for a major relationship failure. In such cases, it may be time to consider seeking divorce.
9. Sexlessness is the symptom of other issues
Have you stopped engaging in sex with your spouse because your marriage is riddled with issues? Such as:
- Emotional abuse
- Domestic violence
- Unmet expectations
- Communication breakdown
- Lack of emotional connection
- Unresolved conflict
In such life circumstances, sexlessness isn’t the only reason to walk away from marriage. You must do it for the sake of your dignity and well-being. Don’t wait until you’re left thinking, “My sexless marriage is killing me.”
Related Reading: Communication Problems In Relationships – 11 Ways To Overcome
10. You’ve fallen out of love
Sometimes, as life goes by, partners grow apart and fall out of love. They lose touch and become very different people than they used to be. When your chemistry has flat-lined and enjoying gratifying sex isn’t a possibility, it’s better to walk away from marriage.
11. You desire sex, just not with your spouse
In these days of fluid sexuality and the scores of options for sexual gratification available, people may not always be attracted to their partners or spouses. In such cases, people may start to desire sex with:
- A coworker
- A neighbor
- Someone else’s spouse
- A stranger on the internet
Related Reading: 10 Common Marriage Reconciliation Mistakes To Avoid After Infidelity
If you’re no longer turned on by your partner, it’s better to discuss your feelings and seek a way forward. If you don’t reach a mutual solution, it’s better to walk away from marriage than let it turn bitter.
Effects Of A Sexless Marriage
Now that we’ve given you a fair idea of what is considered a sexless marriage, what causes a marriage without sexual intimacy, and when to walk away from a sexless marriage, let’s focus on some of the prominent effects of lack of sex in marriage. From psychological to physiological, a lack of sex in a relationship can lead to scores of negative effects. Does sexless marriage effects on a husband make him feel inadequate? Or does sexless marriage effect on a wife ruin her mental peace? We’ve jotted down a few below for you to take a look at:
- Cheating: A sexless marriage and affairs are almost two sides of the same coin. The lack of sex in your marriage, due to other relationship problems, can lead your partner to seek gratification outside the marriage. “Again, this situation arises when there is a humongous mismatch of sex drives between partners. A ‘sexless marriage separate bedrooms’ situation, where your desire is not being met, can eventually lead to cheating,” explains Sangeeth
- Marriage becomes a chore: When there’s a significant lack of sex in your marriage, you will begin to view your relationship as a burden. In such cases, the marriage may be held together only by drab daily responsibilities
- Trust issues: Even a sexless marriage without cheating involved can make one partner suspect the other. In such cases, even if the lack of sex may be due to various reasons, the partner may believe it’s due to infidelity
- Loneliness and mental health issues: A ‘sexless marriage separate bedrooms’ situation can leave you with a feeling of loneliness. You may often feel, “My sexless marriage is killing me.” The risk of sexless relationship depression in such situations can’t be ruled out either
Related Reading: 7 Signs Of Loneliness In A Relationship And How To Cope
- Feelings of inadequacy: A sexless marriage may affect a person’s self-confidence, leading them to a downward spiral of feelings of inadequacy. Dr. Khanna explains, “The male ego could take a hit, with a male partner feeling that he is unable to please his partner. This same sexless marriage effect on a husband prevents him from discussing it or seeking help.” Likewise, even women may feel they aren’t pretty enough for their partners to feel sexually attracted to them, which can lead to feelings of inadequacy or low self-esteem. This is among the foremost sexless marriage effects on a wife
- Irritability: A prominent effect of a sexless marriage is irritability. When two people get intimate, they release sex hormones such as oxytocin (also known as ‘the cuddle hormone’), which are primarily responsible for the bonding in a relationship and also lead to positive emotions. So, lack of sex, in the long run, leads to irritability
- The definition of a sexless marriage is relative, as some couples may lay stress on regular sex, while others may not engage in regular sex by choice
- The reasons for a no-sex marriage may include childbirth, menopause, serious health issues, and age, among other things
- Some signs that you should walk away from a sexless marriage are infidelity, the partner not seeking sex therapy or marriage counseling, and mismatched sex drives
- When to walk away from a sexless marriage depends entirely on whether the causes for the sexless marriage are unhealthy
- Some effects of lack of sex in marriage are cheating, irritability, sexless relationship depression, and lack of self-confidence
Getting no intimacy in marriage from husband or wife? We hope it all makes sense now and you’re no longer wondering what is considered a sexless marriage, what are the signs and causes of lack of physical intimacy, or when to walk away from a sexless marriage. If you can relate to more than a couple of the signs mentioned in this article, it’s best to cut ties and find a way to heal. Remember, while sex may not be the ‘be all and end all’ in a relationship, it definitely is an extremely significant part of a marriage or any romantic relationship.
Can a sexless marriage survive? Well, while you can try and mend ways in some cases, it is incredibly hard to make a relationship work without physical intimacy in the long run. And how long is too long without sex in a relationship? Well, it depends on the couple. Don’t wait till bitterness clouds your connection and stresses you out. Coping with a sexless marriage is tough. So, make the best decision and choose to walk away at the right moment.
Wondering how long will a man stay in a sexless marriage? If there is a mutual understanding and emotional intimacy between a couple and both are comfortable with an asexual co-existence, sexless marriages can last for decades.
The answer to “Can a sexless marriage survive?” is: yes, a marriage can survive if both spouses still maintain an emotional connection and are in sync about the lack of sexual intimacy.
Expressing love and affection through non-sexual gestures, finding means and ways to connect on a deeper level, and inculcating other types of intimacy are some ways in which you can survive a sexless marriage without cheating.
If sexlessness is the outcome of unhealthy relationship dynamics and you feel that it is beginning to hamper your quality of life, seeking divorce due to sexless marriage is justified. But when to walk away from a sexless marriage entirely depends on the dynamics of the couple involved, though nobody has been able to throw much light on the sexless marriage divorce rate as of now.