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Experts cite varying definitions of “sexless relationship,” including having minimal sexual contact and avoiding sex within the relationship. Minimal sex is defined as having sex less than once a month or 10 times annually.
While there’s no prescribed perfect frequency of sex in a relationship, having a healthy sex life is important and contributes to feeling happy in a relationship. A 2015 Pew survey found that 61% of married adults said a “satisfying sexual relationship” was “important to a successful marriage” and is a factor in helping people stay married.
Sometimes relationships are sexless from the start. In other relationships, a shift occurs after a specific life event and sex gradually or suddenly decreases.
A lack of a satisfying sex life can do significant damage to a relationship over time, but does not necessarily mean your relationship is over. In fact, in relationships in which both partners have low libidos or identify as asexual, a lack of sex is not necessarily problematic.
Or if a couple is focused on other goals and values and does not view nurturing the sexual aspect of their relationship as a high priority, the relationship may remain undamaged. There can also be gender differences between men and women that lead to differences in desire and sexual satisfaction.
However, when there’s a discrepancy in sexual desire or when the lack of sex is a symptom of broader relationship or marital issues, trouble may occur. It can be challenging to sustain a deep connection over time without sex, and it’s not uncommon to feel hurt, angry, resentful, and rejected. You may begin to question your worth and attractiveness, especially if you’re the partner with the higher libido or you’re the one initiating and getting rejected.
Here are eight strategies to fix a sexless relationship and feel more satisfied with your partner and sex life:
Even the healthiest relationships have different degrees of sexual intimacy over time, and often these fluctuations correspond to life events and relationship stages.
For example, adjusting to life as parents and caring for a newborn is a time when sexual intimacy commonly decreases or becomes non-existent. Or external stress may cause a temporary decrease in sexual intimacy, and this may have nothing to do with the state of your relationship.
Do your best to stay connected to your partner during life’s ups and downs. That includes keeping your eye on your sex life and any potential problems and changes in behavior. That will lessen the chance of you jumping to the worst case scenario during times in which you’re less sexually active.
If you assume the worst at any sign of change in your sex life or relationship, you’re only going to feel anxious and stressed out. Be proactive and realistic in terms of keeping a regular sex life without being reactive and turning natural lulls into problems.
Outside influences include the media, romantic comedies, and porn. For example, young men often learn that erections should be easy to obtain and hold. This expectation causes many men to experience embarrassment and feelings of failure if their bodies don’t cooperate as flawlessly as outside influences portray.
It’s essential to understand that sexual experiences are often imperfect (even in the happiest of relationships), and not every sexual experience will result in both partners reaching an orgasm. Be realistic in the expectations you set for yourself, your partner, and your bodies.
Also, understand how other factors, such as stress, drugs, alcohol, sleep deprivation, age, hormonal changes, and mood, can interfere with sexual function, desire, and drive.
Reflect on the following questions:
Upon reflection, you may realize that you’re deeply unhappy with your sex life just as you may realize that you’re OK with the way things are. Every relationship is different, and, as I mentioned above, being in a sexless marriage or relationship is not necessarily problematic depending on the circumstances and how you both feel about it. By getting to know your own thoughts about sex, you will be better equipped to communicate clearly with your partner.
If you wait for months (or even years) to confront the problem, you will be faced with growing resentment, tension, anger, and feelings of rejection that can be hard to shake off.
I understand that it may be easier to ignore the problem, shut down or avoid communicating honestly as a means of protection. But avoidance and denial will only make things worse and harder to recover from.
The key is to communicate your feelings and concerns without assigning blame or pointing fingers. Approach your partner as your team mate and not your enemy. Give each other a chance to speak and listen so you can reach your goal of better understanding what’s going on in your relationship
Sometimes it can be difficult to determine if a lack of sex is causing issues in the relationship or if issues are causing a lack of sex.
For example, which came first: frequent arguing or a decrease in sex? Did an affair precede a drop in sexual intimacy or was it vice versa? See if you can assess when you first noticed changes in your sex life and look for patterns. Understanding the starting point and any specific events that may have triggered a decrease in relations will be helpful in identifying and resolving problem areas.
Give your partner an opportunity to share his or her perspective as well. These conversations may be emotionally heavy, but having an accurate picture of your relationship and gaining awareness is essential to moving forward in a positive way.
And get to know each other’s sexual wants, needs, and desires. Spend time discovering what is important to your partner in a non-judgmental way. Invite each other to share turn-ons, turn-offs, fantasies, cues, or what you find romantic or erotic.
Dr. Barry McCarthy, psychologist and sex therapist, calls these “bridges to desire.” These bridges may include bubble baths, candles, weekend getaways, hand-holding, or cuddling. Teach your partner about what you like and what turns you on.
Also, remember how vulnerable and shameful the topic of sex may feel, so be considerate and restrain from judging your partner even if his or her preferences don’t match yours.
Date nights as a couple without other distractions or stressors can be a great way to bond and increase loving feelings. Forcing things and putting too much pressure on having sex may only make things worse.
Instead, let physical intimacy happen naturally while working toward reconnection. Understand that getting back on track sexually will take time. Even baby steps, like increased amounts of cuddling or kissing, are signs of progress.
Also, make sure you are showing your partner love and appreciation on a regular basis to keep your spark alive and stay connected.
Despite your best efforts and intentions to address any issues in your relationship, seeking professional help is often the best method for healing, resolution, and change. Outside professional intervention is especially useful if you and your partner are not communicating about issues or are reaching roadblocks in your ability to communicate.
There’s no shame in obtaining support from a trained professional. In fact, when you’re struggling or hitting barriers in your relationship, being open to outside help can make all the difference.
Look for a mental health professional with an expertise in issues regarding sex and intimacy, including sex therapists, marriage and family therapists (MFTs), and couples counselors.
It’s essential to communicate concerns to your partner and address any underlying contributing issues so you can get your sex life back on track. Planning date nights and other couples activities will also go a long way in keeping your bond secure and strong.
It’s also important to understand that your relationship or marriage is not doomed if it’s sexless, but tackling issues regarding sex is a major emotional and time investment that will hopefully allow you and your partner to feel more satisfied in the relationship.