Lack of sex can signal serious marriage problems, leading to even more negative consequences if the situation does not change.
The most burning questions include: Can it be changed? How many sexless marriages end in divorce? Is breaking up the ultimate solution for the spouses who have lost all hope to improve their sex lives?
Read on to find answers.
Is There a Normal Amount of Sex in a Relationship?
Sexual relationships can be an indicator of overall marriage satisfaction. For example, some studies show that married men and women are more satisfied with their sex life than singles or cohabiting couples.
The higher satisfaction levels are partly connected to the absence of fear of being rejected by the romantic partner.
The longer the spouses are together, the more they get used to each other—the feeling of novelty and exciting uncertainty changes to stability and calmness.
At the same time, sexual desire decreases compared to premarital level and comes to a normal state. The question is, how much sex in a couple means that their sex life is doing well?
One 2017 survey with 30 thousand participants found that the average amount of sex reported by established couples was once a week.
However, the level of happiness was more or less stable for all spouses with a different frequency of sexual contact (from once a month to three times a week).
It means that every couple has their definition of what is expected in their sex life.
As Dr. Peter Kanaris explained in his interview with USA Today, a couple shouldn’t establish statistical average figures as their standard of having intimacy in their marriage. What’s suitable for some spouses doesn’t always work for others.
Factors That Influence the Frequency of Sexual Intercourse
The stage of the relationship. Every marriage goes through several stages. Initially, six months to a year after the wedding marks a relatively high frequency of sexual relations.
Freshly-formed couples usually have no problems with intimacy and sex. However, the feeling of novelty is still quite strong, which fuels the couple’s constant interest in each other.
Then, after two to three years, on average, the frequency of intimacy begins to decline. It can be caused by various reasons, which will be discussed later in the article.
Age. The frequency of intimate intercourse usually decreases with age. The interest in sex drops starting from age 57 and can disappear by 85.
As a rule, sexual desire disappears quicker in women than in men.
Following the study on the sexuality of the older population, 50% of women aged 75-85 utterly lose interest in sex. In comparison, only one in four men in the same age group are not interested in physical intimacy.
The quality of the relationship. The frequency of sex in a couple usually depends on the psychological environment in the family. For example, unresolved relationship issues between the spouses (fights, mistrust, infidelity) may affect their desire to have sex with each other.
Religious beliefs. Several religions, including Christianity, see sex as a reproductive process, meaning it should only be for procreation.
Therefore, depending on the person’s attitude to religion and its particular norms, they can have sex more often or, vice versa, only when they want to have children.
Health status. An illness can reduce the frequency of sex in the couple, both from a physiological and a psychological stance.
For example, diseases of the endocrine system and neurotic disorders (depression, anxiety, etc.) can affect the production of testosterone and estrogen.
The insufficiency of these hormones causes low sexual response (sex drive). These sexual dysfunctions are pretty common – 43% of women and 31% of men suffer from them.
Thus, the healthier a person is, the higher their libido (compared to the average values for a particular individual).
How Many Sexless Marriages End in Divorce?
Sexless marriages are not uncommon. A 2017 study published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior revealed that among almost 18 thousand people surveyed, 15.6% of married individuals hadn’t had sex the previous year. Moreover, 13.5% hadn’t had it for 5 years.
Depending on the importance of sex for a person, the lack of it can become a reason to get a divorce. However, since no sex in a marriage is not grounds for divorce, many spouses start their divorce using no-fault grounds, such as incompatibility.
That’s why the percentage of sexless marriages that end in divorce is somewhat unclear.
Not all spouses think about divorce because they no longer have sex. Divorce is inevitable only when people in a marriage have nothing in common except passion. If it goes away, the relationship is likely to end as well.
But for some people, a no-sex marriage loses its meaning because multiple marital issues accompany it. Things worsen if the other partner cannot or does not want to recognize the problem and solve it together.
The Causes of a Sexless Marriage
Deeper problems in the relationship often cause a lack of sex. Finding and solving them are the easiest ways to improve sex life.
Boredom in the bedroom
We often hear that marriage needs work.
Since sex is an integral part of every relationship, it also requires effort from both partners, explains Grant Hilary Brenner MD.
He adds that sex boredom can appear in almost any couple under the influence of several factors, such as low sexual responses, lack of communication, infidelity, unwillingness to try something new, etc.
To maintain an exciting sex life, couples should diversify it with new sexual activities, settings, and other tricks they find in specialized informational resources.
The difference in sexual desires
One reason sex life fizzles in married couples is the mismatch of their sexual needs. These observations are confirmed by a 2015 study aimed to find the discrepancies in sexual desires in long-term relationships.
Among 82 couples who were together for more than two years, 25% said that the main issue in their sex life was different interest levels. Almost 40% of both men and women named it the primary factor influencing how often they have sex. The researchers also found that it significantly affected the overall happiness in the relationship.
No more passion between the spouses
A state of passionate love wears off approximately two years after the start of a relationship, says Sonja Lyubomirsky Ph.D.
Different studies confirm this thought. If in the first six months after the wedding, 83% of couples report that they are satisfied with their sex life, over time this percentage decreases to 55% for women and 43% for men, and in half of the couples it disappears altogether.
Like any other new thing in a person’s life, passion is prone to adaptation, adds Dr. Lyubomirsky. Sooner or later, sex becomes a routine or another responsibility, eventually making it a less-engaging activity.
Lack of sexual communication
Few couples can openly talk about sex because it often feels awkward. And yet, scientists have found that communicating about sex is the first step to improving sex life.
For example, a 2007 study on sexual communication confirms a clear connection between sexual communication skills and the presence of passion in relationships.
The more open the spouses are in expressing their sexual desires and the more they are willing to fulfill those desires, the higher is the level of marital satisfaction.
Thus, the critical aspects of improving the situation between the spouses are trust, communication, and openness in their wants and needs.
Unresolved family conflicts
Frequent fights between spouses negatively affect the desire for physical intimacy. For example, if the husband or wife insults and humiliates their spouse on an ongoing basis, the other partner ceases to perceive them as an object of sexual desires.
Another scenario is when one of the partners rejects the other to take revenge. Ultimately, lack of intimacy will become the new norm in relationships. If such couples cannot find a way to reconcile, they often consider filing for divorce.
One of the partners may begin to have inferiority complexes due to health problems or loss of visual attractiveness for their spouse. For example, women after childbirth may gain weight and feel unattractive.
Men may develop problems with erections, which also leads to psychological discomfort. If a person thinks that sex may worsen due to their flaws or health condition, they may begin to avoid it altogether.
Physical exhaustion and stress
Another reason for the lack of sex in a marriage may be the chronic fatigue of one of the partners. It can happen to women and men alike. The heavy workload and the constant stress that spouses experience every day can lead to sexual apathy in even the healthiest people.
The need to raise children
When the spouses become parents, they usually experience a temporary reduction in the frequency of their sexual contact.
Firstly, a few months after a child is born, many women experience a lack of sex drive.
For example, in one study of women’s sexuality, 138 women reported low to none level of sexual desire continuing 6 months after the baby was born.
Secondly, after the birth of one or more children, many families experience financial difficulties, which can also cause depression in partners. Family income decreases because one of the parents is more likely to take parental leave and stay off work.
At the same time, monthly costs increase because a working parent needs to provide for a new family member.
Is a Sexless Marriage Always an Issue?
The meaning that each person gives to sex depends on generally accepted norms. And society tends to overestimate the importance of sex in relationships. Most often, this happens under the influence of mass culture.
However, contrary to popular belief, not all couples suffer from a lack of physical intimacy. For instance, some spouses have not had sex for years, which did not affect their relationship.
In an interview with 105 couples who were married for two, three, and fourteen years, the researchers found no direct connection between the amount of sex and the level of marital satisfaction.
Instead, the family climate and satisfying sex life (everyone defined it differently) were more significant predictors of a happy marriage than the frequency of sex.
On the other hand, if the absence or lack of physical intimacy makes one of the spouses unhappy, we can talk about problems in this married couple.
How Does the Lack of Sex Affect a Relationship?
Physical attraction and intimacy are essential ingredients for a healthy and lasting relationship. If they are ignored, the consequences can be different, including the termination of the marriage.
Lack of sex in relationships is the most common cause of cheating among men and women. When there is no passion, sex, or physical attraction in a couple, spouses might start looking for these things in relationships with other people.
It is worth noting that many spouses do not think about cheating, even when they find themselves in a situation with the absence of sex in marriage.
But as the relationship worsens, many may change their mind to the opposite. And as soon as infidelity starts occurring, the chances of saving the existing marriage will plummet.
Lack of sex may negatively affect the functioning of some body systems. In addition, the long-term absence of intimate relationships in both sexes sometimes leads to changes at the physiological level.
The body produces fewer hormones in the absence of sexual relations, leading to hormonal disruptions, weight gain, tumors, etc. In men, prolonged irregular abstinence from sex can cause impotence, prostatitis, and infertility.
Research shows that having sex helps manage stress and beneficially influences a person’s mental and physical health.
Conflicts and divorce
When people find themselves in relationships that do not meet their needs, they can begin to release their negative emotions by showing annoyance with their spouse and constantly insulting them.
This behavior exacerbates an already difficult situation in a married couple. If partners do not solve the problem with sex, the conflict may end in a divorce.
For many people, sex is an essential part of a relationship. Some are sure that without physical intimacy, a marriage dies, and so they file for divorce. Other people stay together because they do not consider sex to be the primary foundation of their relationship.
Thus, everyone decides to divorce based on their feelings, desires, and vision of the future for themselves and their families.