If you’ve noticed a lack of sex in your relationship, you’ve probably got a lot of questions: What factors contribute to a lack of sex in a relationship? Is a lack of sex in a relationship healthy? And perhaps the most frightening question to ask yourself, especially if you’ve been in this relationship for a long time and adore the person you’re with. Should you continue to be in a sexless relationship? Here are all the answers you seek, direct from sex and marriage therapists.
What is a Lack of Sex in a Relationship?
A lack of sex relationship is one in which the couple engages in little to no sexual activity. There is no exact way to quantify what constitutes a lack of sex in a relationship because everyone has different sex expectations and desires.
According to AASECT-certified sex therapist Jessa Zimmerman, having sex 10 times a year or less is considered a sexless relationship. However, it is highly dependent on the individuals. For example, some people are perfectly content with sex once a month, whereas, for others, that may be infrequent enough to consider the relationship sexless.
“It’s a little arbitrary,” Zimmerman admits. “I am always hesitant to define what amount is a problem or to focus on frequency because simply meeting a number does not imply that your sex life is functioning properly. I believe we are having the wrong conversation when we talk frequently; it should be about quality—the degree to which both people find it enjoyable, engaging, and positive in their relationship.”
Lack of Sex in a Relationship Statistics
In the 2018 U.S. General Social Survey, approximately 19 percent of the 659 married people who shared details about their sexual frequency were in what could be considered sexless relationships, reporting having had sex “once or twice” or “not at all” in the previous year.
In comparison, approximately 35% of married people had sex one to three times per month, 25% had sex weekly, and 21% had sex several times per week. In general, sex in long-term relationships fluctuates in frequency and quality.
According to one study, four out of every five couples experienced mismatched libidos in the previous month. “Lack of sex in relationships happens all the time,” says Lexx Brown-James, LMFT, a marriage therapist and certified sex educator.
What Causes a Lack of Sex in a Relationship?
There is frequently not a single direct cause that leads to sexless relationships, but rather a plethora of factors that contribute to how a relationship gradually becomes sexless over time. According to Brown-James and sex therapist Vanessa Marin, LMFT, the following are some common contributing factors:
- Neither person is particularly interested in sex.
- Being so preoccupied with work that sex suffers as a result.
- Ignoring intimacy and, in general, pleasure
- Relationship conflict that leads to disconnection
- Health Concerns (e.g., sexual pain, dysfunction, aging-related changes, etc.)
- One or both of the partners is asexual
- One or both partners have experienced sexual trauma, which makes sex more difficult or less appealing.
- Incompatibility of libido or other forms of desire discrepancy
“There is also a lot of misinformation about sex out there, which can lead to people developing unhealthy relationships with it. For example, some people believe that sex should always be spontaneous “Marin continues. “And sometimes couples end up in a sexless marriage and have no idea how they got there.”
Can a Lack of Sex in a Relationship Cause Depression?
If there is no intimacy between the partners, the relationship may suffer. Living in a sexless relationship, or being without the physical contact and reassurance of love that sex provides, can be harmful to a marriage. Feeling unwanted by your spouse or dealing with a sexless relationship can lead to major depression. Symptoms of this type of depression include:
2. Insomnia or excessive sleeping
3. Significant weight loss or gain
4. Appetite suppression
6. Anxiety and stress
7. Panic attacks
A lack of sex in a relationship can lead to depression and the desire to have an affair. Insecurities may arise as a result of a lack of love and desire, which you may try to fill with another person. This can be extremely damaging to your marriage or relationship.
Lack of Sex in a Relationship Effects
Are you noticing that you and your partner aren’t having enough sex over time? Are your sexual experiences traumatic? You’re not reaching the peak as quickly as you’d like? Is it all about giving and receiving nothing in return? Do you want to have physical intimacy on a regular basis but your partner refuses? If you answered yes to all of these questions, you may be in a rut.
Just as emotional unavailability or distancing can devastate your marriage or relationship, a lack of sex can do the same. Its effects are more rooted, and it can then seep into other cracks in the relationship, resulting in a larger problem. Lack of sex or a lack of sex in a marriage can cause major problems. Let us take a look at a few of them:
Misunderstandings are one of the serious consequences of a lack of sex in a relationship. When you or your partner is upset about something, the frustration can build up and manifest in other ways. That sexual frustration has now boiled over and messed things up even more!
Tip: Instead of fighting and arguing, take a deep breath and wait 10 seconds before responding.
2. Affects Marriage Self-Esteem
A lack of sex can have a negative impact on your self-esteem and confidence. You may begin to suspect that something is wrong with you, which can have an impact on other areas. You may become overly self-conscious, which can have a negative impact on your professional or personal life outside of your relationship.
Tips: To begin, try getting cuddly or slipping in some naughty texts to test the waters.
3. Isolation Feelings
A sexless relationship can sometimes run its course faster than it would have otherwise. Feelings of isolation can develop as a result of self-esteem issues. Overall affection and emotional intimacy can suffer, potentially leading to separation or divorce.
Tip: If you’re feeling lonely, anxious, or want to isolate yourself from the rest of the world, it’s time to call your friends and family before you sink any deeper.
4. Scattered Marriage Thoughts
Although this may appear to be a hazy situation, a constant sense of dissatisfaction can lead to a pool of thoughts that can leave you confused about yourself and your relationship.
Tip: To clear your mind, it’s best to hear it straight from the horse’s mouth. Sit down with your spouse and be as honest as you can about where you stand, allowing the conversation to lead you to a solution. Be cautious, be truthful, and avoid being disrespectful.
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Is a Sexless Relationship Good for You?
Yes, sexless relationships can be beneficial. “There are some people who are perfectly content without sex, so there is no issue. Even if sex is an issue, the rest of the relationship can be healthy “Zimmerman claims It all depends on the couple, their individual needs, and how they communicate and tend to each other’s needs.
“However, if one or both people are unhappy, it will inevitably lead to a negative cycle and some spillover into the rest of their relationship,” she observes. “Just because the sex life isn’t ‘healthy,’ doesn’t mean the relationship isn’t, but it can take a serious toll.”
Is it possible for a relationship to survive without intimacy?
A relationship can survive without intimacy, and sexless relationships can as well. A relationship without intimacy, however, is not the same as a relationship without sex. Some people may not have a lot of sexual activity and aren’t bothered by it, especially if they have other types of intimacy such as emotional and spiritual intimacy.
However, if there is no type of intimacy in the relationship, that is a separate issue that may or may not be related to the lack of sex.
“Empty love” refers to a relationship that lacks intimacy and passion and relies solely on commitment, according to Brown-James, citing psychologist Robert Sternberg’s triangular theory of love. “These relationships can last; however, partners may appear to be more like roommates than lovers.
There is one exception in which marriages without passion can survive and thrive. When passion is absent, relationships, where friendship and commitment are the foundation of connection, survive and thrive.”
Should you stay in a Lack of Sex Relationship?
Whether you should stay in a sexless relationship is determined by how important sex is to you. “People who value sex can be happy in a sexless relationship,” Brown-James says. “While sex is one way to bring pleasure into a relationship, it is not the only way, and for some, it is not the most important way to connect. It’s really a personal choice whether or not a person wants to stay, and it requires an honest conversation with yourself about desire and sexual needs.”
The decision to stay in a sexless relationship is also influenced by your willingness to work together to create a mutually satisfying sex life. Have you started a conversation about the state of your sex life with your partner, and have both of you put in the active effort and care to resolve this issue?
According to Zimmerman, staying in a sexless relationship may not make sense if any of the following apply to you:
- When your partner refuses to work with you to resolve this issue.
- Your marital problems are so serious that there are other reasons to divorce.
- Your sexual interests are so dissimilar that you can’t have sex together, and you don’t agree; to find another way to explore those interests.
“Belief that their relationship is doomed is one of the things that can keep people stuck and not dealing with the issues,” Zimmerman adds. “It doesn’t have to mean that, but if people don’t understand how to address the issues, they’re more likely to avoid the issue and do whatever they can to fix it.”
How to deal with a lack of sex in a relationship.
Consider working with a sexuality professional if you’re in a sexless relationship and really struggling to get your sex life to a place that feels good for both of you. Bringing in a supportive, unbiased third party can often help clear the air and set you on the right track. In her own words, here are five more tips from Zimmerman:
1. Discuss it.
Have a different kind of conversation, one that will get you working on it as a team; as allies committed to a win/win situation. Most couples in this situation believe that their interests are diametrically opposed (more sex vs. less sex). However, it is critical to collaborate on a sex life that works for both people. That must be reflected in the discussions. And you must keep the topic on the table, not just once a year.
2. Locate the impediments.
What’s standing in the way of sex? Instead of being angry because you aren’t getting what you want, cultivate curiosity about why this is such a struggle for your partner. Many things can get in the way, such as relationship issues, power dynamics, the meaning of sex in your relationship, the sex itself, and so on. You must identify what is impeding progress and collaborate to change those aspects.
3. Create a new paradigm.
Experiment with sex expectations. Discover how it works. Redefine it so that it is not tied to specific acts or outcomes. Increase your options for sharing your sexuality. Learn how sexual desire actually works, and approach sex with an open mind to play rather than having specific success metrics.
4. Approach sex as a “playground” with no expectations of a positive outcome.
Create space for “maybe” rather than a binary yes/no (as many people do). Let’s get this party started and see what happens. Make those opportunities and enjoy them together, whether or not they result in “sex” in the way you think of it. This is how you can relieve stress by learning to play; enjoy and create a way of engaging in which there is no failure.
5. Make it a priority.
Make time for this playground, for this “maybe.” Make it a regular part of your life to be physically intimate in some way, without feeling obligated to perform any specific act (s). Also, keep talking!
There is no right or wrong amount of sex, and the best frequency varies from person to person. It is unlikely that abstaining from sex for an extended period of time will have a negative impact on one’s health.
As long as everyone involved is clearly consenting, there is no right or wrong way to express sexual feelings. No one should ever feel compelled to engage in sexual sex. Avoiding sex does not harm a person’s health and may even be beneficial.
Anyone who is concerned about their sexual desire or the effects of infrequent sex on their relationship can speak with a doctor or therapist about it. Medication, therapy, lifestyle changes, improved communication, and a variety of other approaches may be beneficial.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can a relationship last without sex?
Yes, sexless marriages are possible.
Some couples don’t mind if their marriage is devoid of sex. According to AASECT-certified sex therapist Jessa Zimmerman, a sexless marriage isn’t a problem if it’s not a problem for the couple. “It’s common, almost universal, for a couple to struggle with sex at some point during their relationship.”
How often should couples have sex?
What is the appropriate amount of sex for a couple? Experts recommend once a week as a starting point. This statistic varies slightly depending on age: 40- and 50-year-olds tend to fall around that baseline, whereas 20- to 30-year-olds tend to average around twice a week.