The Dangers of a Sexless Marriage

By Rosemary Black


A sexless marriage. While it’s not something you’d want necessarily participate in, experts estimate that nearly 15 to 20 percent of American couples aren’t being intimate regularly.

It’s a very rare marriage in which both spouses are happy with a no-sex policy, says Israel Helfand, marriage counselor, sex therapist, and member of the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists. Nearly always, he says, one partner is unhappy and unable or unwilling to initiate regular sex.

A typical case involves a man in his 50s or 60s who is on medication and experiencing erectile dysfunction as a side effect. Rather than try to address the problem, the

couple does nothing or maybe has sex three or four times a year. (Helfand says having sex three or four times a year qualifies as a sexless marriage.)

The Benefits of Intimacy and the Downside of the Big “No”

Though there are a couple of benefits of having no sex (limiting STDs and pregnancy), the disadvantages far outnumber these, Helfand says. “A good sex life is one of the major indicators of happiness, longevity, and health,” he explains. “In a woman, the vaginal canal stays healthier and the walls don’t get brittle when she has sex. For a man, having orgasms a couple of times a week is healthy for his prostate.”

And, adds his wife, Cathie Helfand, also a marriage counselor and sex therapist, “During sex, the dopamines, the endorphins, which are the happy hormones, go up. Studies show that individuals with a healthy sex life are less depressed, live longer, and report higher levels of marital satisfaction.”

Another danger of having a sexless marriage when one person isn’t happy about it is that this person may seek sexual satisfaction elsewhere, says Tina B. Tessina, Ph.D., author of Money, Sex, and Kids.

“Sex is a potent energy and if you are deprived of it, you may meet someone where there is a real turn-on,” she explains. “The marriage has a big hole in it and the new person could fill that hole. Sex is very important to a marriage and a satisfying sex life will do more to cement the security of your relationship than anything else.”

If your relationship is stalled in a sexless place, here are some of Tessina’s tips for revving it up:

  • Be honest about your sexual needs, and share your wants and ideas with your mate. “Your partner may feel more like you do about sex than you think he or she does,” Tessina says. “But you will never know that unless you’re willing to express your own feelings and listen to him or her.”
  • Set up a problem-solving session to talk about sex. It will help you create trust and sexual openness.
  • Don’t get “stuck” in roles, Tessina advises. Take turns initiating cuddling and making the moves that bring you into contact with each other. Try working out signals, like a flower or a lit candle, to announce your interest non-verbally.
  • Don’t say no for a silly reason. Constantly turning down your partner will turn him or her off. If you simply don’t have the energy for a complete sexual experience, tell your partner you will do whatever would feel good to him or her–cuddling, perhaps, or a massage.
  • Make sex fun and exercise a variety of options. Tessina recommends varying the places you have sex–maybe a rug in front of the fireplace or a beach towel on the kitchen floor, or a secluded backyard. Sex toys, massage oil, costumes, and a vibrator also help to create variety, she says.
  • Take time to listen to each other. Make eye contact to increase intimacy when you talk, and touch each other by placing your hand on his or her leg, arm, or shoulder. “You’ll find that your conversation becomes warmer and more caring,” Tessina says. “And after casual touching during the day, cuddling and sexual intimacy are easier to achieve.”