Sexless marriages: causes and what to do about it


Are you in a sexless marriage? If you’re not sure, a sexless marriage is when a married couple has little to no sexual activity in their relationship.


Researchers often define this as being sexually intimate fewer than 10x a year, which according to a National Health Survey, would include 20% of married couples. Newsweek magazine estimates between 15 to 20% of couples are in sexless marriages.

So WHY are couples in sexless marriages? I want to give you 5 categories of reasons to consider.


Physical reasons can be anything from hormone imbalances, illness, medications that impact libido or sexual function, depression, or complications or changes after childbirth.

Physical can also be actual distance or circumstances that result in prolonged absences. This is really common in some forms of work.


Some people have experienced a history of physical or sexual abuse that can make it difficult to engage in a sexual relationship.

Additionally, You learn scripts for sex and sexuality growing up, sometimes people learn that sex is wrong and so when they are “allowed” to engage in sex it is difficult to overcome a deeply engrained script that says “sex is wrong.”

Another old school, yet surprisingly common, reason for sexless marriages is the Madonna-whore complex. This concept was developed by Freud and it essentially suggests that some men develop a dichotomy in how they think of women: good and bad. The good women are nurturing and caretaking and the bad are promiscuous.

Men who suffer from this belief have difficulties feeling attracted to the woman they love but can’t love the women they’re sexually attracted to. This leads to chronic dissatisfaction in relationships (Bareket, 2018).

Typically men who have this complex hold more patriarchy endorsing perspectives and are sexually attracted to their partners up until the relationship becomes committed. So your sex life may be good before marriage but not after.


Relational reasons are anything that has to do with the relationship dynamic. This can be anything from:  conflict, resentment, power struggles, passive aggressiveness, or betrayed trust.


Extra-marital has to do with anything outside the marriage that may be taking away sexual desire and attraction such as: pornography use or addiction or an affair (emotional or physical).


This reason for having a sexless marriage is really about the choice to either engage or not engage. Perhaps your partner little desire or low libido, but ultimately he/she may be choosing not to participate much in the sexual relationship.


If you believe that you and your partner are in a sexless marriage, it is so important to take the necessary steps to work toward improving the sexual relationship because this deficit can leave the relationship vulnerable.

Being in a sexless marriage can feel unloving. So many men and women in sexless marriages feel alone, embarrassed or ashamed. This type of marriage can slowly erode your feelings of being loved, sexiness, attractiveness, and desirability. Please know it is more common than you think.

Often one partner believes that other aspects of the relationship are “good”, so it’s just “this one part”. However, intimate touch is a higher-order need. It isn’t the same as a compliment or gift, it produces physiological effects and promotes closeness and bonding. It is critical that this aspect of your marriage is prioritized.

Here are some suggestions if you are in a sexless marriage:


The first step is honest, open, and non-defensive dialogue about what is happening with your sexual relationship.

If this step is unobtainable or if it has become too “hot” of a topic to discuss, you may need to call in reinforcements in the form of a professional counselor, therapist, or coach.

If you struggle to talk about your relationship, we have a guide that walks you through 7 critical and transformational discussions about sex. When you purchase this guide you also receive an audio version, so that you can just pop in your AirPods and listen. You can check the guide out here.


Take a look at the 5 categories above: physical, psychological, relational, extra-marital, and willful. Do any of these seem to fit?

If necessary, some of these may need to be evaluated, ruled-out, or may require the involvement of professionals.

I want to make two disclaimers here. First, sometimes the reason is “willful” yet it is masked as something else, like “exhaustion” or “busyness”. In this case it is paramount that the resistant partner, takes responsibility for participating in the sexual relationship.

The second is that some of the “relational” reasons can create a standoff that the more sexually resistant partner will need to break in order for the standoff to be over.

For example, if one partner suggests that he/she would be “in the mood” if the other talked to him/her more BUT the partner who wants to have sex feels rejected and unwanted therefore has pulled back and is talking less, it is best resolved if the sexually resistant partner engages more in the sexual relationship.

I realize this may be somewhat controversial; however meeting the emotional needs before having sex can take much longer to satisfy and is also really subjective. One partner may feel like he/she is sufficiently meeting this need yet the other partner may not.

So sex is off the table until then?  This approach creates unreasonable conditions in the relationship, puts one partner in a position of power over the other and doesn’t demonstrate mutual respect for one another and the sexual relationship.

Therefore, some of these reasons (especially willful and many relational) will require that the resistant partner to get on board with prioritizing the sexual needs of his/her partner, even when they aren’t in the mood or when they don’t “feel like it.”


If both partners are able bodied, then ultimately, the resistant partner needs to take OWNERSHIP of the sexual relationship in their marriage.

Why? Because you love your partner, and not being open to a sexual relationship is hurtful and leaves your marriage vulnerable to things like: growing apart and extra-marital activities.

Ownership may look like this: committing to be receptive to advances # times a week or month, or initiating 1x a month, or sending dirty text messages through the day, or scheduling one day a week to have sex, etc.

A sexless marriage can feel devastating…It is so normal to feel disconnected from your partner, undesired, unattractive, and overall incomplete in your relationship.

If you believe that you and your partner are in a sexless marriage, it is so important to take the necessary steps to work toward improving the sexual relationship because this deficit can leave the relationship vulnerable.

I would love to hear your thoughts and comments on this blog post! What am I missing? What do you want to hear more about?

If you struggle with talking about your sex life, checkout our guide: 7 Conversations to a Better Sex Life. This transformative guide can help you navigate conversations that typically stir up defensiveness or awkwardness with ease. When you order the digital guide, you also get the audio version free.



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