Sexless marriage is one of the top google searches when it comes to researching marital challenges. Couples often feel shame when they are not having sex, so let’s make this a shame-free zone. Read this blog in an attempt to reach a better understanding. It’s important to apply anything you read to your own unique relationship. Pick out the bits and pieces from this blog and apply it to what might resonate with your relationship. Always remember that one size never fits all when it comes to individuals and relationships!
The singer ‘Pink’ spoke about her ‘sometimes sexless’ marriage recently stating that there will be times when you don’t have sex for a year. It is helpful when people open up about the reality of marriage and the challenges all of us face.
Most remember sex to be exciting, fulfilling, and amazing at the beginning of a relationship. We believe (and hope) that is an indication of how we will always feel in our relationship. However, the beginning of our relationship is void of being hurt by the other person. It is void of knowing them deeply. It is also void of a deep knowledge of the each other: this person does not yet know us with all of the things that we don’t always like about ourselves and we won’t always like about them. The beginning is void of the day-to-day turmoil that we experience. When we date, we put aside all of the day-to-day challenges that we go through and simply enjoy one another. This is not easy to do in marriage and long-term relationships and unfortunately, it also impacts our sexual intimacy.
I’m going to break this topic down into many possible different reasons that people find themselves without a sexual relationship. Many already know that having children and the business of life can make it challenging to come together sexually. I’m going to talk about additional challenges that can contribute to the lack of sex in a relationship.
Hurt, Resentment & lingering issues:
Unfortunately, it is often the case that any hurt, resentment or unresolved issues will surface in the bedroom. During sex, we are both physically and emotionally vulnerable. We are giving and we are receiving. If there is unresolved hurt – it is probable that we will shut down emotionally by not being able to give or receive love.
Not only is it important to work through unresolved hurt, it is equally important to move toward a place of forgiveness, in addition to remembering the importance of self-forgiveness. Forgiveness is profound – a woman in a marriage was hurt because her husband did not initiate sex with her. They had been working through an injury in which her husband had a relationship with a female that crossed the line. Both worked hard on repairing the hurt in their relationship and it was when she got to a place of being able to say to him “I forgive you” that he was able to move forward sexually in their relationship. During the time that he had to face how he had hurt his wife, he struggled with remorse, and shame, but her forgiveness helped him to move toward self-forgiveness. He said, “that meant so much for me.” He had no idea that he struggled to approach her sexually because of his shame and because he felt undeserving of sexual fulfillment. But keep in mind, this didn’t happen out of the blue: he did the necessary work so that she could work through her hurt and pain in order to reach the step of forgiveness.
Hormones & Health:
I always start here in my therapy sessions when the issue of sexless marriage is brought up. Many people are aware of erectile dysfunction; however, hormones can also play a role in the existence of a lack of sexual desire. As men age, they have a decrease in testosterone which can impact desire. Estrogen levels can impact desire as well as our cortisol hormones (our stress hormone). It is worthwhile to have your hormone levels checked before immediately jumping to conclusions that there is something wrong with your relationship!
Fear & Vulnerability:
I can’t think of a time that we are more vulnerable than during sex. This is why so many challenges can appear in your sexual relationship. Just to name a few challenges: the fear of rejection, and the fear of vulnerability in communicating sexual needs and desires with one another. There is also the fear and vulnerability in hearing about the sexual needs and desires of their partner. This might elicit fear of feeling or being seen as sexually inadequate. Remember: fear can be paralyzing. When fear of vulnerability surfaces in the bedroom it can paralyze your sexual relationship. This is why it is so important to be kind, gentle, and understanding with each other regarding any fears and vulnerability that surface in your sexual relationship.
In therapy sessions, men have said to me that they connect by having sex and women have said that they need to feel connected to have sex. Woman express thoughts such as “what’s wrong with him that he wants to have sex with me after a huge fight?” Men express that they want to reconnect again and sex is how they reconnect. What is important here is to recognize the differences. Women can learn that men do want to reconnect so when they want sex it is not an attempt to be disrespectful or disregarding of the feelings of women. I am not suggesting however that women should engage in sex when they feel disconnected. Couples can work toward reconnecting is ways that work for both of them before connecting on a deeper level by being sexual with one another.
This challenge applies to women and men. Cultural images of body expectations are brutal. And I find that more and more men are expressing that they struggle to feel sexual when they don’t feel good about their bodies. The following might help: most people are drawn to confidence, so try (I know it’s hard) to focus more on your inner health by taking good care of yourself. And I don’t just mean diet and exercise, I’m referring to self-care. Life is so busy that we forget to take care of our own needs, whatever that might mean for you. When we feel depleted, we don’t feel good about much of anything. Self-care can lead to feeling confident in one’s body and besides: you deserve it! I have witnessed people in therapy move out of body-shaming and move toward body confidence when they engage in self-care.
It is estimated that 75 percent of women do not achieve orgasm by vaginal intercourse alone. It’s important to keep in mind that many women need the use of a vibrator or other stimulation to achieve orgasm. Simply put, if women are not having orgasms, sexual satisfaction is diminished. And I find that both women and men sometimes feel intimidated by the use of a vibrator. And men have expressed that they feel inadequate if their partner needs to use a vibrator for orgasm. It would be helpful if couples could talk about these differences so that both partners may enjoy a fulfilling sexual relationship!
Mutuality & Respect:
To feel desired is one of the most important aspects of a sexual relationship. Initiating sex with your partner is one of the most loving gestures you can make. However, it might be possible that your partner does desire you and yet, might fear the vulnerability of rejection. It is necessary to remember that when one says ‘no’ to sexual advances, it is not a rejection of you but more about other things, such as being tired, not feeling well and so on. Also, it is respectful to accept that your partner may not always feel sexual and that’s okay, it is not meant to be ‘against’ you. It is simply meant that it is not a good time and you are still loved.
It’s been awhile:
Both face the awkwardness of reconnecting sexually, even if there is desire, when it’s been awhile. You can address this in a few ways. It might be helpful to verbally acknowledge the awkwardness of reconnecting sexually to each other. You might also try reconnecting by dating, but try to not put the expectation of sex on the table, as it might be too much pressure! You can reconnect physically by cuddling and enjoying being physically close with one another. And one of you may have to take the leap, move through fear and awkwardness and make the first step! Finally, visualize in your mind the two of you being sexual again. It helps sometimes to simply remember that feeling of being close.
I’ve only scratched the surface on each possible challenge that leads to lack of sex or no sex in a marriage. But it’s a beginning for you to explore a bit further in order to reach a better understanding in your unique relationship.
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If you want to learn more about relationships – I wrote this for you “Ten Essential Things I’ve Learned About Marriage & Relationships” I’ve included the lesson that saved my marriage. I care about the work that I put out to you, and I hope you find it helpful. Let me know!
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Details of any stories told in my blogs have been changed to protect the identity of people that I work with in therapy.
Photo Credit: Ignacio Espana@flickr.com