Do “No-Sex” Marriages Work?

man holding his woman's chin, woman holding her man's tie

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.

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  1. 41


    I was orginally drawn to this site because I enjoy the way Evan writes. But it’s the different perspectives of the commenters on love, sex, relationships and life in general that has kept me intrigued and reading for almost 2 yrs. If it was a site soley devoted to “What do I have to do to get married?” I would have lost interest long ago.

    Janet has also offered some different viewpoints here and I believe she is married. Would hope there is room here for all of us, even those who aren’t marriage minded at the moment.

  2. 42

    @ Steve

    From what I understand listening to sexologists, psychologists, etc., couples need to solve the underlying causes for why there’s no sex in the first place, then address the more, er, technical issues. If it’s simply a matter of time, technique, etc., your suggestions are right on track. But if there are deeper issues, like resentment over the division of labor, finances, infidelity, and the like, counseling may be in order first.

  3. 43

    @CurlyGirl #40
    Whoa- didn’t say that at all and did you forget how this whole discussion started?

    1. You have a history of posting comments indicating that marriage isn’t the only valid option for people, often after they’ve suggested that they’d like to find marriage or a LTR. Of course those aren’t the only comments you post, but it seems to make up a majority of them. You’ve mentioned that you do that on purpose, in efforts to show people another alternative. Fine.

    2. In this particular posting you question the point of the blog or who its geared towards as you felt this ‘no-sex’ marriage post didn’t fit in.

    3. I gave my opinion on the point of the blog and why I felt this post fit in

    4. You tell me you’ve been attacked by others on the board and how you’ve gotten push-back from a lot of people including me for expressing your views

    5. I mention why that may be from my pov (telling people that are looking for advice/info/whatever on ltrs and marriages may have already thought about the fact that being single is a valid life option, but have decided that it’s not for them). I also mention that the way you express your views could be a bit off-putting (of course, just a personal opinion).

    6. You accuse me of saying I didn’t read your post, saying that you attack marriage and saying you shouldn’t post here-none of that was the case. And none of what I said here was unsolicited- you started questioning who the blog was geared towards and talking about feeling attacked and push-back from several people on the boards, not me. You clearly felt it was an issue.

    Nothing about your words is threatening and nothing about your views bother me. Not sure why you seem to be so prickly about this or why you seem to be looking for ‘fighting words’ in my posts to you (they aren’t there) or how this got so far off course, but hopefully now you have a better idea of how and why this discussion unfolded and what was actually said. And if you don’t- there’s really not much more I can say.

  4. 44

    @CurlyGirl #40- I failed to address the other part of you post, about other people posting things that are not geared towards marriages/ltrs- I wouldn’t presume to tell anyone that they should or shouldn’t post on a board, just as I didn’t tell you that. You raised some questions about the blog, talked about attacks and push-back you were getting, so we engaged in a dialogue about it. I didn’t expect it to turn into some kind of issue.

    If anyone else had raised questions I would’ve engaged in a dialogue with them as well unless I felt they were just totally unreasonable and expressly looking to say inflammatory things to rile people up- then I wouldn’t see a point and wouldn’t have bothered.

  5. 45
    Curly Girl

    Jennifer: Too bad.

  6. 46

    @Cilla, #42

    I’m not a sexologist ( how do you get that job? ), but I would bet money that the majority of low sex marriages are the result of busy schedules and stressful schedules that are adopted to maintain a particular standard of living.

  7. 47

    Getting/keeping in shape, maintaining a wardrobe that flatters you, having interests that makes you interesting company, reading sex manuals, playing games, going on marital dates, and even just resting enough to have a better libido takes *time*.

    Are the couples willing to take lesser paying jobs and lower their standard of living in exchange for having the time to do those things?


    Are you serious? Most people do have some free time, and conscious appearance management requires little from most people once they know what they are doing. Shopping for clothes online is a major time saver.

  8. 48

    Since I have been invoked….:)

    I like what C.G. has to say and I agree with her for the most part. I think one of the best pieces of advice to young women is to “live as if there is no Prince Charming.” Which seems to me to be what C.G. is saying. I don’t think you are hearing it this way, Jennifer.

    I think the marriage myth that young women are fed is so damaging–esp. financially. The ignorance among women about the financial realities they face is simply shocking to me. It does seem that most women go through life expecting some guy at some point to step in and pick up the bill. And all the marriage myths support this type of infantile thinking in women. Sexlessness in marriage is a problem? How about dependent women who can’t support themselves or their children and don’t know the first thing about how the world of finance works? (Apologies to all you gals who have it together. Not directed at you.)

    But ask a guy and I bet you will hear a whole earful about the financial pitfalls of marriage–especially a bad one. As C.G. pointed out, there are no guys on this board going around getting on anybody’s case about their views on the feasibility of a “loving” marriage or LTR. They may want girlfriends, or dates, or something that isn’t really specified, but I don’t read any pollyanna posts here by guys. And guys are who the gals are looking to marry, no? Think on that.

    So, yeah. I can see C.G.’s frustration with anything that promotes the marriage myth. And there are a whole grab-bag of other goodies that go into the marriage myth bag, which I have already mentioned on other threads.

    Personally I am glad that EMK put up a post about sexless marriages. And why not a post about infertility, or Alzheimers, or infidelity, or the horrors of divorce? These are harsh realities that affect our marriages–and if this site is about getting to marriage, then let’s talk about what we are hurtling toward.

    The biggest indicator of how well your marriage will work is how your current relationships work–all of them, not just your dating relationships. If you have good relationships now, you will have a good marriage. Even if it ends in divorce. All marriages end in some way.

  9. 49

    @ Cilla – that’s one of the many, many reasons the BF and I have decided not to have children.

    Honey´s last blog post…Crummy Weekend

  10. 50

    Couples who haven’t had children yet (or don’t intend to) vs. empty nesters vs. couples with children still in the house = three totally different ball games which often present different obstacles to intimacy.

    I suspect childless couples might have an easier time of rekindling intimacy, provided they are not so enmeshed in their careers (and the lifestyles they afford) to make time for their mates. Of course the desire to do so has to be there too. I assume those are the couples you are referring to, Steve.

    Couples with kids still at home face so many obstacles, many of which boil down to time. Sick kids, kids who need or want their parents at night, kids who need help with homework, kids who have extracurricular activities (even those who aren’t ridiculously overscheduled), kids who just need basic help with feeding, bathing, and bedtime–all of those put a drain on finances, energy, and time. Now add housework, yardwork, pet care, the need to exercise and maintain one’s appearance, grocery shopping, cooking… oh, yeah and work (or looking for work, or dealing with pay cuts/furloughs)… and elderly parents… and.. You don’t need to be living a lavish lifestyle to feel like there should be 36 hours in a day to keep up with all of that.

    What drops off the list first? A clean and organized house. Then exercise and personal appearance. Then maybe date night. You’re so tired and overwhelmed you have to choose your battles, so you let little Jr. crawl in bed with you just so everyone gets some sleep. The wife has body image issues related to having had three kids in five years. She’s exhausted and distracted by the messy house when she finally hits the sack. She might be a little resentful of the husband, who hasn’t figured out the best foreplay in the world is doing the dishes or running the vacuum. The husband, oblivious because the wife hasn’t actually said this to him, or only brings it up in arguments, is himself resentful. Resentful that his wife is too tired at the end of the day, resentful that little Jr. is in bed with them, resentful of the lack of validation about his hard work day… and so it goes.

    It’s an insidious snowball that keeps growing, because it’s so insidious. By the time you realize you need to address it, you don’t have the luxury of time to do so. You feel like you’re just barely keeping your head above water every day.

    Most couples think they’re going to be different. They won’t let this happen to them. A rare few don’t, but most succumb. If they have the money to afford a nanny or housekeeper to lighten the load, then usually one or both parents have high-demand jobs, which puts them back in the same situation as the childless couples. Just trading one set of problems for another.

    With many couples I’ve known, it’s taken a precipitating event, such as an illness, job loss, or infidelity to realize they need counseling to unravel the tangled story of their loss of intimacy.

    At that point, it may be too late. That’s what happens to a lot of empty nesters (not all, but many). By the time they have a free schedule and the financial wherewithal to enjoy each other, they don’t even know or like each other any more. They’re facing additional obstacles like ED and menopause.

    It is possible to rekindle intimacy (or to make sexless marriages work), but it’s a little more complicated than keeping up your appearance and reading sex manuals. I think if more married couples thought about the consequences of high-demand careers and children (who are inherently high-demand), they might try harder to head off intimacy issues early on.

    I remember when I went hiking in Denali National Park. I had to watch videos about bear safety and how to ford streams. Maybe couples considering matrimony should be required to watch something similar on the topic of potential barriers to intimacy. 😉

  11. 51

    @ Honey

    I can certainly understand your reasoning. Kids are hard, hard, hard work. I fell into much of the cycle I described in my previous post, and I had only one child, who is relatively easy as kids go (obedient, academically gifted, relaxed, helpful, etc.). I can’t imagine how parents cope with more than one child, especially if one or more are special needs or behaviorally challenging. While I would still do it all over again, because I adore my kid (just bawled at his HS graduation), if I had the chance, for sure I’d do some things differently.

    I dunno, maybe 20/20 vision only comes with hindsight and parenting/relationship mistakes are something everyone has to go through. I keep gently telling my neighbor that sleeping in her daughter’s room, instead of with her husband, can be a source of future issues, but she insists it works for her. Yeah, sure it works for her *right now, in the moment*. A year or two from now, when her daughter can’t get to sleep without her, and when her husband’s eye is roving, it might not look like such a great decision.

  12. 52

    Cilla: Nail on the head, my dear!

  13. 53
    Curly Girl

    Thanks, Janet. That is what I’m talking about. I am also talking about the stigma of being single, that Steve discussed on another post and that people toss around all the time, often without realizing that they’re doing it. So I’ll respond when that kind of stuff creeps in — like EMK saying, “That’s why I’m married and you’re ’empowered’ “– which speaks badly of both marriage for women (not empowering?) and of single women (empowerment is a bad thing? female empowerment and marriage are opposed?). Now, EMK apologized on that thread, so kudos to him for recognizing the uncool implication in that.

    That was the clearest example I could think of, and I apologize to EMK for bringing it up when he’s on vacation and can’t respond/defend if he feels called on to do so.

  14. 54

    Janet #48:
    “Personally I am glad that EMK put up a post about sexless marriages. And why not a post about infertility, or Alzheimers, or infidelity, or the horrors of divorce? These are harsh realities that affect our marriages and if this site is about getting to marriage, then let’s talk about what we are hurtling toward.”

    Indeed. Along with the goal of finding “The One”, why not discuss what happens afterward? After the storybook wedding is over, the guests have gone home, the gifts have been put away – then what happens? The fairytales always leave this part of the story untold; copping out with “And they lived happily ever after”. But that’s where the *real* story just begins! Not the courtship, or the fait accompli of the wedding.

    Is it any wonder little girls who become young women buy into “the marriage myth”? They are never told the rest of the story.

  15. 55

    @Janet, #43

    Given that you think guys are cynical or at least more realistic about marriage, who do you think is feeding little girls the pipe dreams about it?

  16. 56
    Curly Girl

    [email protected]#55: There are two Janets on here?

    I think we’re taught different things. Boys are raised with the expectation to work and be held in esteem for that work. Girls are raised to expect a guy to take care of them while they take care of children. So just naturally, maybe, given their respective expectations of their futures, guys think more about practical realities, like money and work, and girls think more about relational things, like how to get and keep a guy. For our parents, who married in the 50s, 60s, or 70s, maybe that made sense. But it doesn’t anymore.

    To the first Janet: As I’ve mentioned before, my work is important to me and I have never, ever wanted to be dependent financially on a man. This has very much changed my view of dating and marriage–even moreso once I saw how much money it was possible for me to make–something my mother never could have dreamed of. What she taught me turned out to be completely false, and I had to relearn everything, based on what is real in my life. And so now, when I read things about women being turned on by power or finding millionaires more attractive I have to laugh–it seems so ridiculous. Of course I can date a millionaire–I probably have. I’m halfway there myself. A lot of women I know are. My female bosses make $300K a year. They’re almost all married–to their equals. They take care of themselves and are pretty. They have families or not as suits them. This isn’t a big deal anymore. And for women like this–women like me–you can’t do that traditional division of labor, so a guy who can’t do his share on the homefront or has a sense of entitlement re: chores and kids is a liability. Don’t want to date him, don’t want to marry him. And if you marry and divorce a guy who doesn’t make as much as you, you may end up paying him alimony.

    Once I started making some money and growing in self esteem, I started to see relationships/marriage from a guy’s POV. No way would I ever go back. It’s too exciting. And the guys who get it, and are my boyfriend or my regular guy friends, are an absolute joy to be with.

  17. 57

    There was a Jewish (Rabbi) expert on TV last night claiming that one-third of marriages are sexless and that lack of sex is the most common reason for divorce. In theory, it’s plausible, but if he is right, then many people are getting married for the wrong reasons.

  18. 58

    Rabbi Schmuley is his name. His book seems aimed at no-sex marriages.

  19. 59

    mic Jun 18th 2009 at 08:10 am 57
    There was a Jewish (Rabbi) expert on TV last night

    Aren’t all Rabbis Jewish? 🙂

  20. 60

    Mic, one big problem in all marriages, one,,, not two,,,, Sex/Money.

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