Do “No-Sex” Marriages Work?

We’re constantly on the go, busy from dawn ’til dusk with tasks that fill our entire day, and really, at the end of it, who has time for sex? According to this NY Times interview with Denise A. Donnelly, associate professor of sociology at Georgia State University, married couples don’t have the energy to keep the spark in their sex life:

“Married men and women, on average, have sex with their spouse 58 times a year, a little more than once a week, according to data collected from the General Social Survey, which has tracked the social behaviors of Americans since 1972. But there are wide variations in that number. Married people under 30 have sex about 111 times a year. And it’s estimated that about 15 percent of married couples have not had sex with their spouse in the last six months to one year.”

Donnelly cites a number of factors to why marriages become sexless:

Some people become accustomed to their spouse, bored even, and sex slows. For others, it is the demands of raising a family, establishing a career, and mid-adulthood. And there are people who have very low sex drives, and may even be asexual. They may have some sex with their partners to begin with, but it becomes unimportant to them (and usually not so unimportant to their spouses). These folks may also be dealing with guilt, issues with the human body, or feel that sex is “dirty” or only for procreation. A small number of couples showed a mixed pattern, where they would have periods of “feast” and of “famine.”

So, here’s what I want to know. Do you think there is hope to rekindle the passion in a marriage that’s become sexless? Please leave your thoughts and comments below.

And in case you didn’t know, I’m away in Bali for my yearly vacation. While I’m gone, I’m offering a $100 discount on my Finding the One Online CD series – but it’s just until I get back from vacation!

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Comments:

  1. 1
    Selena

    “So, here’s what I want to know. Do you think there is hope to rekindle the passion in a marriage that’s become sexless?”

    I’d venture there is more hope in a relationship that had passion to begin with.

    Less hope in those where a person “settled” without much of a spark to start with.

    1. 1.1
      Vern

      Our Marriage was filled with passion for the first two years then my wife started to mess around and that passion died from her to me. It has been a struggle to live with her continuous unfaithfulness until 8 years ago when she came home from a 14 month affair in another state. I had divorsed her then we began dating again. Long story short she says she loves me we got remarried and the passion died again. She gained over a hundred pounds in a year and is still growing. I dont believe there is another man in her life but we have a virtual sexless marriage for the past 7 years. She had no interest at all in sex, this cant last! Oh we have been married now for 39 years (moth marriages). It is very hard to live with her finishing my sentenses and never listening to just me. I dont get it.

  2. 2
    Steve

    So, here’s what I want to know. Do you think there is hope to rekindle the passion in a marriage that’s become sexless?

    How many couples are willing to ( or can ) reduce their obligations in order to have time off to recuperate their sex drives?

    How many couples are willing to work on their personal experience, read sex books, play games and experiment for the sake of their sex lives?

  3. 3
    Steve

    Married men and women, on average, have sex with their spouse 58 times a year, a little more than once a week, according to data collected from the General Social Survey, which has tracked the social behaviors of Americans since 1972. But there are wide variations in that number. Married people under 30 have sex about 111 times a year. And it’s estimated that about 15 percent of married couples have not had sex with their spouse in the last six months to one year

    In other words, the New York Times is reporting that many “married” people are really only glorified roommates most of the time.

    If you accept this at a gut level, does it change your perspective on how not-suitable for relationships single people over 40 who never been married are?
    http://tinyurl.com/lwmhg6

    Reading in between the lines of the snippet above all most busy married people are learning while being married is how to be a good roommate. They don’t have time for their partners.

    Maybe the never-marrieds of the same age are just as busy and missed a window when they were younger to hook up with a “roommate”/spouse ?

  4. 4
    Honey

    I do think there’s hope to rekindle a sexless marriage…though like any other marital problem, it takes both people’s equal committment.

    Though not married yet, I can relate to the career establishment being a killer for the sex drive. Currently the BF works about 60-80 hours per week – not only does this mean that he often doesn’t get home until after 8 p.m., he is frequently in the office one weekend day as well. Combined with the fact that he has a sleep disorder and often takes sleeping pills on the weekday…it is a challenge.

    However, he accumulated enough debt in grad school that his high-paying job is necessary at the moment. He has talked about changing jobs for something that would pay significantly less but that would offer him a better work-life balance once his debts are paid down a little more (same field, but probably working for the government rather than in private industry). I am fine with that, obviously!

    However, while we might not have sex as frequently as we’d like at the moment, we DO spend a SIGNIFICANT amount of time hugging, kissing, and cuddling – in the morning when we get up, when he gets home from work, and when we go to bed. We took one of those “love style” quizzes and my primary love style is touch, so this is absolutely ESSENTIAL for me. He is happy to oblige!

    Honey´s last blog post…How Much Do I Invest in Someone Else?

  5. 5
    Cilla

    I think there’s hope to rekindle a sex life if there is still emotional intimacy there, or if a couple is willing to re-find that emotional connection. If they’ve truly become estranged and are not willing to uncover and deal with the reasons, they will remain, in effect, roommates.

    Virtually all of my friends with young children have low-sex or no-sex marriages. This American idea that we have to put our children, jobs, and households ahead of our relationships is killing intimacy in our couples. It is exhausting being a parent, but you need to carve out time for each other, if you want the marriage to remain healthy. Parenthood and other pressures start to dovetail with the increased ease of committing infidelity (online dating, cell phones, text messaging) and a society that seems to condone it more and more. And at the age that most people are parents in the US, they are also facing the biggest pressures to perform at work, especially in the current economy–there are just too many things to compete with a marriage on the edge of surviving.

    The typical cycle I see: parents have a child or two. Time becomes a premium. Patience is pushed. Finances become tighter. The primary caregiver parent (and usually, but not always, there is one) becomes resentful of not getting enough help or validation and starts to nag, pick fights, etc. The other parent responds by retreating. By the time the kids are old enough that the couple might find a little time for intimacy, it’s too late–they no longer know or even like each other, have started an affair, or have become obsessed with career obligations, sports, whatever.

  6. 6
    Eathan

    It can be rekindled. It takes work and effort. Most divorced women that I date always speak of their marriage was getting boring. They didn’t go out, flirt, dance, and ect. Basically dating gives them the attention that they craved for previously.

    Once a week won’t ever work for me. Couldn’t do it.

    Eathan´s last blog post…Kiss Me You Fool!

  7. 7
    Janet

    Are we talking about sexless marriages? It seems to me from the snippets above that we’re talking about marriages where the sex has become less frequent but not extinguished altogether. So is the assumption that “less frequent” is bad and “more frequent” is better?

    In my POV there is only a problem if there is a discrepancy in desire between the two people: one wants more or less, the other doesn’t. Which would be a more interesting article–how to manage that situation.

    If a married couple isn’t having sex at all but they’re OK with it, why should I care?

  8. 8
    Paul

    I’m divorced and I WISH I had sex once a week! I’d be in heaven!
    Actually, when you’re a bit older as i am (50), the need for daily sex, or very frequent sex diminishes and companionship takes over to a degree. Age ranges weren’t included in the article, but can be assumed that at least some of those couples are older and well, guess what, they’ve been there and done that. It’s just not that big of an issue when you are older, or becomes less of a vital need, especially for men. My mother divorced and never had sex (at least that I am aware of – and if she did – don’t want to know!) for the rest of her life and it was no big deal to her. Same with my aunt the same age. But take communication away, or affection, and that’s another story! Harder for men to live without maybe, but sex is something that men use to prove themselves when they are young…older guys have already proven themselves. But any couple that is really close to each other and loving and really care about the other persons needs being met can improve or pick up their sex life, at any age…and should! As Dale Carnagie said 70 years ago…”sex isn’t the most important thing in a relationship, but it’s the kind of thing that if it isn’t right, nothing else can be”. He went on to say it is the lubricant to the relationship (no pun intended)…if that part of the relationship is good, then a lot of other things that would ordinarily be a burdon, or irritant, will simply be overlooked, or not given a second thought. It’s a fun, healthy activity for married couples at any age and a heck of a way to pass some time. And for men at least, fills you up with this sense of wellness and empowerment that allows you to go out and slay the dragons everyday. Remember the scene in Titanic, where Leonardo DeCaprio is at the front tip of the ship and gets up on the rail with his hands held high and says “I am the king of the world”? A mans attitude today has a lot to do with what happened in the bedroom the night before. That’s what he gets from it. It’s a very emotional thing for men, not just a physical thing.

  9. 9
    Curly Girl

    I’m a little concerned because we’re talking about a marriage issue on a dating site, and presumably married people aren’t dating. Or is this not a dating site anymore? If not, then why all the links to dating sites off to the right? Seems a bad combo–blogs about sexless marriages and a bunch of ads for online dating sites right next door.

    I’m confused!

  10. 10
    Blue

    Excellent point, Curly Girl!

    Also, Evan, do you want to get into a discussion about how hormonal birth control pretty much kills libido in a huge percentage of women, so once women can feel OK about not getting preggers (a BIG concern for most women EVERY time they have sex), they no longer have any desire for sex?

    Or maybe you’d rather start a discussion about why so many men make every excuse in the book to avoid getting a vasectomy, and still really want women to shoulder the responsibility for birth control?

    1. 10.1
      Dina Strange

      Great point.

  11. 11
    BeenThruTheWars

    Curly Girl @ 9
    With so much discussion about “why commit?” on these boards, it seems like a germane topic to me. There’ve also been discussions about low-sex girlfriend/boyfriend relationships, what to do about them, and what to expect, going forward. Hearing what married or formerly married people think about the subject over the course of a LTR might give people in live-in or simply monogamous situations another perspective to consider.

  12. 12
    starthrower68

    Steve @ #2,

    I could think of worse things to work on, lol!

    All kidding aside, I believe looking back that this was a major issue in my marriage, but I didn’t realize it until the marriage ended. Neither one of us really knew how to ask for what we wanted because we were very young. I hope that should I remarry, I will pay greater attention to that aspect of marriage and that I will have a spouse that would ask for what he needs. Yes yes I know I don’t have to get married blah blah blah. I’m not even gonna go there.

  13. 13
    Jennifer

    @CurlyGirl #9 My understanding/impression is that it is a site for people who are dating in order to find and sustain successful ltr’s and marriages. And before you get started I know, that’s not the goal for everyone. But based on the fact that Evan is a dating coach who is in the business of helping people improve their dating techniques in order to increase their chances of finding and sustaining successful relationships, and the content of this site and the majority of the comments, these are the bulk of the people you’ll find here.

    Just like if you were on a Christian based blog/website, you couldn’t be surprised by all of the mentions of Jesus there and wonder why no one was discussing the many virtues of other religions :-)

  14. 14
    Barrett

    I think it is indeed possible to rekindle a sexless marriage through breaking out of your box. It doesn’t have to be crazy but just trying to get your blood pumping is the idea. Read some stories, watch some movies, think about something fun you’d like to try. In order for it to work though it has to be mutual. I don’t think this can be accomplished without both partners being involved.

  15. 15
    downtowngal

    I agree with Selena above, if it was there at the beginning you can get it back.

    The people around me who’ve been happily married seem to make sure to take time out for themselves. Have a ‘date’ night or take a vacation alone once a year. Having been in a LTR where I lived with someone, we’d go through months of having sex maybe 1x week, then times when we were all over each other. And I could see how not spending time together/making each other feel special causes people to drift apart.

    When couples loose sight of why they got together in the first place is when the drift begins. Nobody likes to be taken for granted.

  16. 16
    hunter

    No sex marriages work, it takes two very patient people.

  17. 17
    casualencounters.com/blog

    RE: “Do you think there is hope to rekindle the passion in a marriage that’s become sexless? Please leave your thoughts and comments below.”

    If the reason it has “become sexless” is the asexuality of either partner it’s insulting to suggest that the lack of sex necessarily equates to a lack of passion. Plenty of asexual couples exist whose relationships are passionate with regard to any metric aside from frequency sexual intercourse.

    casualencounters.com/blog´s last blog post…Weekly Roundup – Top 10 Casual Sex Links from Around the Web

  18. 18
    Curly Girl

    Jennifer: Well, even if your idea is correct, isn’t it a bit premature to be worrying about the sexlessness of your marriage years before the sexlessness puts in an appearance? I mean, what good is blogging about sexlessness in marriage going to do for anyone on this board? The only people who can comment with any authority are divorced people who experienced that. And who cares what single people who are dating think about how to jump start a sexless marriage? What do they know about it?

    According to your logic we should also be discussing how to get your kids into good schools, whether it’s better to raise kids in the ‘burbs or the city, how and when is the best time to conceive, how do you tell your parents that your spouse doesn’t want to celebrate Christmas with them because he’s Jewish, do you stay or go when she has an affair, and, ultimately–can this marriage be saved?

    Makes no sense.

  19. 19
    Jennifer

    @Curly Girl #18- It doesn’t seem like an odd topic to discuss to me. The more issues you are aware of/ have an eye out for before you get married, the better you may be able to head them off at the pass. Particularly touchy (npi) topics like sex. I’ve found most problems in relationships have to do with people’s unmet (and unfortuantely unspoken, until it’s too late) expectations, so getting people thinking and talking about this issue can’t hurt.

    I do see where you are coming from, but it just doesn’t seem odd to me.

  20. 20
    downtowngal

    Jennifer & CG, I can see both your points. I find that many people who’ve never been married or been in relatinships beyond a year want to get married but don’t seem to fully understand what makes a marriage work. yes, it’s more than just the sex – it’s companionship, shared values/goals, etc. And the passion does die down, but there’s still desire.

    From what I’ve seen/experienced, lack of sex in a marriage (or even LTR) is a symptom of a bigger issue. and many couples get so into their routines (kids, work, etc) they drift.

  21. 21
    Curly Girl

    Well, Jennifer, as I said, why just the sexless part of marriage and not all of the other challenges that you would or could experience over the decades with someone–infertility, death of a child, major illness, unemployment, parental dimentia, mental illness, emotional estrangement, etc.

    I think the reason it’s THAT issue and not one of the other issues above is because the idea of rekinding a dormant sexual connection is titillating and these others are real buzzkills. Very not erotic. In an odd way, the question just supports the idea that marriage is SUPPOSED to be this ongoing, highly charged sexual experience. But judging from the outside, it doesn’t seem to be after the honeymoon is over. The highly charged sexual experience really is the hook up. But you can’t build a relationship on hookups.

    So I agree with you. Let’s get realistic about what marriage offers. I’ve been saying that all along. But when I suggest that the reality of marriage is sobering and I urge caution, caution to the point of saying that marriage is not for everyone and maybe we should regard other forms of relationship with equal respect, I get push back from you (and others). Anyone who suggests that marriage might be flawed, judging by what is readily observable to all of us, and who suggests something other than submitting ourselves to years of “work” and awfulness gets attacked.

    I think my POV is first, very realistic, and second, very positive and open. I am suggesting that we change the way we view marriage. That we change our expectations. That we change what we teach people is “true” about male/female relationships and romance.

    I say dump the 1950s-influenced beliefs about marriage and the nuclear family. It doesn’t work, for the most part. Those beliefs would be: 1) that the erotic experience of “falling in love” is the best way to select a partner; 2) that your marriage should be some sexual nirvana; 3) that the woman’s main role is to “nurture” and the man’s to “provide”; 4) that any feeling toward another person is in and of itself sustainable and unchanging over years and years; 5) that erotic-based marriages and resultant families are insular, vacuum-sealed units of stability and the only relationships of “real” value.

  22. 22
    Curly Girl

    I would also add that hookups and love affairs have value, that friendships have value, that our work relationships have value, that children born outside of traditional marriage are just as valuable as any other child, that abstinence has value, that one’s relationship with something larger than oneself has value, that work can be a creative, joyous, life-affirming enterprise.

    Marriage and the LTR and the nuclear family do not trump any of these things, in my book.

  23. 23
    Selena

    Curly Girl,

    I think this “No-sex” post makes a nice counterpoint to the several over the last few months about “settling”, “not chasing chemistry”, and that marriage is about “building something” for the future.

    Many of these folks who want to get married so they will have something “built” 40 yrs. from now, who don’t care, even expect, such a marriage will be sexless – like roommates – may not realize how much EARLIER this could happen. It’s one thing to think you might not be interested in sex when you’re in your 70’s-80’s, but in your 30’s? And there are some people who think they’d better get married soon, because no one will want them when they are older. Older, being over 40.

    This particular study seemed to focus on couples who were “too busy” for sex. Didn’t really go into other reasons like lack of interest to begin with. Or, the “bait and switch” – engaging in sex in order to get married – not really being all that sexually interested in the person, but sex being a means to an end…marriage.

    Nor did it address that “sexless marriages” are often NOT by mutual consent. The guy who was picked because he would be the best candidate for paying the bills and putting up the swingset, might end up being the guy who files for divorce, or becomes drawn into an affair due to his sexless marriage. Same could be said of the woman who “picked” him for the stability and found her life lacking without passion.

  24. 24
    mic

    Funny how few people actually tried to answer the question. Of course there’s hope, in many cases. All the underlying problems aside, in a significant number of such marriages, appearance improvement alone would help. There is research attributing some problems to weight gain, for example, and clearly many people put less effort into style after marriage, which can affect perceived fitness, among other things.

  25. 25
    Curly Girl

    Selena: Points all well taken.

  26. 26
    Curly Girl

    mic: Nobody is trying to answer the question because none of us are married. We’re dating, so we’re not having this problem. Do these marriages “work”? What does it mean to say it’s “working”?

  27. 27
    Lance

    Never been married, but I know 10 married couples that are approximately my age and have shared details of their sex lives with me. One couple has sex once per week and they’re totally happy with it (they state quality over quantity), and one other couple a few more times than that. The others are way off the map, like once every 3-6 months. It’s pretty disturbing because these are close friends. Two of the couples are getting divorced. Interestingly, the one couple that has sex 2-3 times per week are both VERY physically attractive people.

    I’m sure it’s possible to rekindle a married sex life but the probability is really low. I’m going to say this now and get ready to get flamed, but ultimately sex doesn’t have to be the big factor in a successful marriage. I say prioritize the companionship/family/personal development aspects and supplement with sex from another source for both partners.

    On another note, I’d be interested to see data from the same couples about how often they thought about sex with other partners, masturbated, and even attempted to “cheat.” That would give you some insight of what the actual sex drives of the individuals are and where the conflict is.

    Lance´s last blog post…Away We Go

  28. 28
    Cilla

    @ CG

    Actually, I was married for 15 years, many of them sexless (he was traveling for business and cheating). At the time, our child was young, so I can also speak to some of the effects that child rearing has on a marriage (at least from one point of view). I see a lot of what happened in my marriage happening in my friends’ and neighbors’ relationships.

  29. 29
    Cilla

    @ Lance

    I sort of agree–ultimately I would choose companionship and general compatibility over sex in a relationship that extended into retirement years. But why not strive for both? There’s a lot of commentary here that makes it seem like companionship and a good sex life are mutually exclusive. In my opinion, they go hand in hand. The better your sex life, the better your friendship. The better your friendship, the better your sex life (assuming you can agree on frequency, etc.).

  30. 30
    Kristyn

    I just can not fathom marrying someone I wasn’t passionate about or being content to be “glorified roomates” at any time in the relationship!

    Having said that, I believe you can rekindle, if you had passion to be begin with, if you practice the things you did when you were dating. I think most people let those little thoughtful things they did for each other when they were dating slip away, thats whats getting lost in the “I’m so busy” life.

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