How To Survive A Sexless Marriage In 2024

Most sexless marriages start with an emotional disconnection. So in order to not only survive a sexless marriage but to actually thrive, you and your partner need to have a deep conversation about your desires and fantasies both directly related and adjacent to your sex life. We can help you navigate those sensitive conversations so that you can both become more fulfilled in your relationship together and finally learn how to survive a sexless marriage.

Being In A Sexless Marriage Hurts

If you are reading this, then you are most likely struggling with feelings about being in a sexless relationship. For some couples, this is the result of a recent negative experience such as an affair. For others, it has either been missing for years or was weak from the beginning and is in need of significant change. Either way, our goal at Marriage Quest® is to help you explore what can realistically improve in your sex life and how to rekindle a physically intimate connection with each other.

What is a sexless marriage?

Different professionals have different definitions of what constitutes a sexless marriage. According to the American Association of Sex Educators, Counselors, and Therapists (AASECT) a sexless marriage is a relationship where the couple has sex 10 times or less in a year. While they might have an emotional connection, they do not have a physically active sex life together.

Why are so many marriages sexless?

We are living in a fast-paced digital age now where people are gaining a sense of intimacy and connection through their phones and computers more so than in-person relationships. Many younger couples today are choosing to live together without getting married, and some people are choosing to “hook up” with close friends without the commitment of living together or a marriage.

Past Traumas Can Influence Sexual Openness

Men or women who have had sexual trauma in their childhood or adulthood may avoid being sexually open with their partner. They may consciously or unconsciously avoid being vulnerable physically and emotionally and seem like they are not interested in sex much at all. This is their way of protecting themselves.

Having Young Children Is Exhausting

Parents of young children may struggle to find time to be intimate physically and even emotionally together. Kids take a lot of time and effort and many parents don’t prioritize the physical and sexual needs of their marriage. Other priorities get in their way including the need for sleep and basic self care.

Physical Challenges Can Impact Your Sex Life

Accidents and physical illnesses and can make it challenging to have a fulfilling sexual relationship. Anything from the aftercare from an accident to post operation recovery can leave someone in a challenging situation to be physically active. These situations almost always impact the ability to get into many sexual positions, and the physical discomfort can impede someone ability to orgasm.

Emotional Disconnection Can Be Painful

If you have been cut off sexually from your partner, you probably feel hurt and rejected, and perhaps angry and confused. Sometimes this is a consequence of a negative sexual experience, or sometimes it is the result of a slowly disintegrating connection in your relationship. Some spouses also turn to porn as a way to satisfy their sexual needs, which can leave the other partner feeling inadequate or abandoned.

What Are Common Red Flags In A Marriage?

We view healthy sexuality as the glue that holds the couple together through both good and bad times and is an expression of your attachment with your spouse. It strengthens your marital connection with helps stabilize the relationship in the long run. It’s also normal for your sex life to ebb and flow in the natural stages of a healthy relationship, and a lack of sex can be fixed.

Most couples commit to each other during a time they are have a highly satisfying sex life. Unfortunately, sexual satisfaction can decrease for many reasons. A sexless marriage is often a symptom of other relationship issues. 

Some couples see sexuality as their primary issue while other couples wish to focus on other challenges before they are comfortable enough to go there. Either way we are here to help navigate your marriage through the maze of confusion or frustration to a new deeper understanding and ultimately incorporating new behaviors into your relationship.

empty bed image representing bored couples uninterested in sex

Uninterested In Sex

Feeling bored with your sex life or not attracted to your partner can cause issues in the bedroom. No one wants to be bored with their sex life. Yet many people don’t know how to spice it up, not even how to begin that conversation with their partner. We help couples to feel more comfortable with the subject, learn how to increase desire, and to navigate those difficult conversations.

broken chain link image representing emotional disconnection in a sexless marriage

Emotional Disconnect

Most couples who feel disconnected emotionally do not want to connect on a physical or sexual level. After years of emotional stress, sex usually ends. While this pattern can take years to form, the good news is that it can be undone in far less time when both partners are motivated and applying the right skills.

unhappy man feeling disconnected in marriage by wife who has found new and different interests and hobbies

Past Trauma

Trauma can wire your nervous system to become hypersensitive to situations, conversations, or other moments where you feel attacked or unsafe. Many couples with trauma trigger each other to the point of escalation or complete avoidance. These patterns create emotional disconnection and in most cases a lack of intimacy of many kinds.

image of mother and young child representing how parental demands limit privacy needed for sexual intimacy

Young Children

Finding private time for an active sex life and physical intimacy becomes much more challenging with young children. Those nights of swinging from the ceiling or an echoing orgasm through the hallway give way to tidying the house or catching up on sleep. This is a very challenging time for many new parents.

clock and to do list representing the busy life couples have and need to schedule sex

Busy Lives

Many couples get busy with kids and work and don’t find the time to be skin-on-skin together. Scheduling sex is a good idea for these couples. We schedule everything else in life so why not schedule some sexy time, and it might even happen. It certainly is more likely to happen.

image of man with chronic health issues in a struggling marriage

Chronic Health Issues

Chronic physical and mental health issues can put a big strain on a marriage and can shut down you sexual relationship. Many physical handicaps can have a work-around if the couple is open to being creative.

Is A Sexless Marriage Unhealthy?

For most couples, being in a sexless marriage is a sign that there has been a communication breakdown in their relationship. Most people want to have some kind of physical and sexual connection with their spouse, and being sexless or having a limited sexual connection can leave them feeling sad and lonely.

Some couples experience a “dry spell” due to life circumstances, such as pregnancy and childbirth, busy lives, illnesses, and recovery from surgeries. For those couples, this is usually a temporary situation that will change in a relatively short period of time. When sex is not possible during those times, they can often find other types of intimacy together to satisfy their needs.

Why Does It Feel Like My Spouse Doesn't Need Sex?

Sexual intimacy is often replaced by a substitute. The substitute can be of a sexual nature such as infidelity, pornography, chronic masturbation, and more. The substitute can also be of a non-sexual nature such as psychological dependencies on the children, work, food, gambling, gaming, sports, shopping, pets, community activities, etc. Unfortunately, these substitutions can make you or your partner feel undesired.

Dealing With Different Levels Of Desire

Some couples think they are incompatible because one partner wants sex much more frequently than the other. Desire is measures in many different ways, and some people see sex as the ultimate expression, while other’s prefer other forms of quality time to feel connected in a relationship. These other activities often serve as foreplay for later sexual activity as well.

Additionally, what worked when you started dating may be the source of contention years later. In the romantic phase weaknesses are cute. Fast forward and those same weaknesses may annoy you. When couples are first dating, they are high on endorphins. By the time many couples get married, the endorphins disappear and triggers begin to appear. Working through the natural shifts in the relationship often help balance levels of desires within the marriage.

Is Porn A Good Substitute For Marital Sex?

While porn can add spice to your sex life, it is generally not a good substitute for sex with your partner. Some people who are in a sexless marriage choose to pleasure themselves with the use of pornography, which tends to cause long term harm even though it provides immediate relief.

Many people get upset when they find their spouse using porn regularly. They may find it to be offensive because of religious reasons. Some people object because they assume that the women are treated poorly, paid low wages, or other reasons.

As with other kinds of conflict in marriage, it is useful to talk about what you want in your sex life together and what is okay or not okay. Some couples find a way to enjoy pornographic movies together as part of their lovemaking adventures. Other couples use it to explore fantasies and sexual desires. Today, there is female friendly pornography. These are more romantic and loving images than the more traditional porn.

Is Masturbation A Good Substitute For Sex?

Some couples consider themselves and their relationship as being sexless, but they masturbate (self-pleasure) regularly to satisfy their libido. Self-touch is easy and there is no need to engage in a real intimate relationship sexually. Masturbation also allows you to be in full control of the situation including physical sensations and posture. 

Many people with trauma say that pleasuring themselves is safer because they can’t be judged by another person for their strange noises or expressions. Masturbation in these situations can be healthy, but many couples want to learn how to turn that erotic energy back towards the marriage, which is very possible.

What Is The Psychological Damage Of A Sexless Marriage?

A healthy sex life has many benefits, so living in a sexless relationship can create several psychological problems including:

How Long Can A Marriage Last Without Intimacy?

Sexual satisfaction is extremely important for marital success and affair prevention, so whether you are experiencing a sexless marriage, feeling sex deprived, or just generally want to enhance your sexual satisfaction we can help. It is very common for partners to have different levels of desire, libido, or interest in sex overall. We can help you negotiate and bridge those gaps. When you find yourself feeling responsible for your spouse try labeling that feeling as anxiety, not responsibility. As psychiatrist Murray Bowen explained when you want to come to their rescue come to your own rescue.

Some couples will continue a marriage for years without intimacy, but that usually means both feel distant and unfulfilled. Most spouses report that a healthy sex life is highly important to their overall happiness and intimacy in their marriage. There are some exceptions, but most couples want to have a fulfilling sex life. We have helped couples who have been in a sexless relationship for nearly a decade finally reconnect with each other emotionally and physically.

How Does Past Trauma Effect A Quality Sex Life?

When marriage is done right, we get to heal our old wounds through the marital relationship. Considering so many childhood wounds come from not feeling worthy or craving unconditional love, fulfilling these psychic holes and shedding light on that darkness is the path to personal healing and marital satisfaction at the same time.

Most arguments that escalate have very little to do with the current situation but are rather due to past triggers being activated that cause an emotional outburst. If both partners have childhood traumas, then even a simple conversation about where to get dinner that evening might turn into a war. By treating each other as though they are capable of being all they can be, you can self-regulate together. Navigating past triggers can be very complicated, and it often requires professional support to learn the right skills.

The Impact Of Sexual Trauma

Resolving trauma requires working through emotions that accompany the trauma and helping your partner feel safe. If sex was historically a difficult experience for you or your spouse, then improving your sex life will require compassion, patience, and clear lines of communication. Many rape, incest, and other sexual assault survivors are able to have profoundly healthy sex lives with their partners when given the opportunity to heal.

Turning Trauma Into Growth

We turn PTSD into post traumatic growth. This is where treatment goes beyond talk therapy to experiential, and beyond educational and communication skill-building to visceral and body memory. Feeling the experience in your body and learning how to soften your fight-flight-freeze response will allow you to feel a deeper sense of intimacy with yourself and within your marriage.

Common Hurdles To Fixing A Sexless Marriage

Whether you are trying reconnect after a difficult conflict or years of turmoil, improving your sexual connection with your partner will require good communication and healing past resentment. Some people fall into unhealthy patterns due to stress from children, careers, or other life situations. It is also common for past traumas to trigger issues in your current intimate relationship. Fixing the root of these problems and learning lifelong skills will ensure that you and your partner can have the most fulfilling and fun sex life possible.

Couples Communication

Feeling unheard, misunderstood, or dismissed leads many couples to consider the fate of their relationship. There are many barriers to effective communication, and the most common is when one spouse becomes triggered and then lashes out or avoids further conversation. This also creates defensiveness for both partners.

Resentment In Marriage

Resentment in marriage usually builds up over time from unresolved conflicts. Failure to develop closure around disagreements, traumatic experiences, and other tense moments in your relationship tend to fester and become worse with time.

Sexless Marriage Advice: How To Repair The Situation

Talking about your sex life can be awkward whether it is with your partner or a therapist. Sex should be fun, and we help bring that back. We have extensive training in how to help both of you discuss sex in a way that will move you towards making positive changes and improve or resolve past sexual concerns. Sex is an important topic for most couples, and it can even create deeper healing within the relationship when addressed successfully. Improving the feelings of connectedness, desire, and desirability is one of our goals as your therapists. Sexual satisfaction improves as the overall health and wellness of the relationship improves.
icon image of 2 hands holding a heart - importance of making sex a priority

Make Sex A Priority

A healthy sex life takes work and effort. You both have to prioritize each other to make it happen, but many couples start to distance themselves as they feel a lack of emotional connection. This cycle feeds itself so that the lack of emotional intimacy, leads to unwilling sex, which leads to further emotional disconnection and often resentment. Some couples sex life suffers when they feel unattractive. It’s valuable to “act as if” you are hot and sexy even if you know you have a mole on your back that is ugly or are several pounds overweight. If you act sexy your partner will see you as being sexy and will want to jump in the sack with you more often for some quality sex.

image of couple with heart symbol above symbolizing how asking for what one wants in bed improves sex life

Spice Up Your Sex Life

We help couples recapture the passion by exploring their erotic nature. While many couples find that emotional intimacy leads to sexual intimacy, it is also true that too much closeness can sabotage a “hot” love life. Dealing with the daily business of diapers, bills, and dishes can (and often is) a mood crusher and usually interferes with lust and passion.

icon image of frustrated man in sexless marriage

Increase Emotional Intimacy

If you want to have an emotional connection, you have to share your thoughts and feelings with your partner in a safe and effective manner. This can be especially difficult for couples who have a history of triggering each other or avoiding difficult topics. Our process is designed to hold your hands and coach you through a conversation while you begin mastering the communication skills that will improve your emotional intimacy.

image of flower in hand representing new growth of marital bond after sex therapy

Engage In Sex Therapy

Our experience over the years is that many couples have attempted to improve their sex life either through individual therapy or in couples therapy where they didn’t talk about sex. If you want to improve your sexual satisfaction, then you have to discuss sex with your partner. Because sex is such a tender topic, it’s best to have a skilled guide to start the conversation on the right trajectory.

Frequently Asked Questions

Many people in a sexless relationship wonder, “Is it okay to cheat if you are in a sexless relationship?” Generally, the answer is no. If your marriage is important to you, then straying from your partner could be devastating to both you and your spouse. If you feel comfortable, sit down and talk with your spouse about your sexual needs. If that conversation feels too difficult, get some professional guidance.

Many couples have dry spells when sex is infrequent or nonexistent. This is common after childbirth, surgeries, or traumas. While this is normal, it is not really healthy. Find ways to get back on the horse again and find ways to be creative if needed.

Find a time when both of you can be calm and attentive without distractions of children or phone calls. Usually, mornings are best for big subjects, but everyone is different. Begin by sharing how much you love your spouse then talk about what you want emotionally and sexually. Be clear and positive. No blaming or accusations.

Yes. Unfortunately, it is relatively common for a couple to have less sex later in the relationship. However, this doesn’t mean you are doomed for life. Understanding and addressing the root issues behind your sexless marriage can help rekindle that spark once again.

Researchers today estimate that 15-20% of marriage are sexless at any time. Many couples are sexless for a specific reason such as pregnancy and post childbirth or dealing with physical challenges. Other become sexless over a long period of time of withdrawal and disconnection in the marriage.

In general, yes, and it depends on your value system. Many people turn to pornography if they are not having sex in their primary relationship. Most partners see this as a better alternative than having a full-blown affair with a real person.

However, many people also use porn to fulfill a fantasy that they are afraid to share with their partner. Learning how to integrate those desires into the relationship will lead to a more fulfilling sex life and a closer emotional connection.

A Marriage Counseling Retreat Is Your Solution

If you are frustrated and trying to fix your sexless marriage or relationship, we can help. A private Marriage Counseling Retreat can help you and your partner enhance your sex life by addressing the underlying issues through a compassionate, direct, and effective process.

Let's Plan Your Couples Retreat

Contact one of our well trained therapists today to make sure we are a good fit for your relationship and marriage goals. You can send us an email or schedule a free 20-minute phone consultation to answer your questions and provide information on available dates and pricing.