First up, a sexless marriage isn’t a 'bad marriage' nor is it a sign that you’re destined to divorce. There are so many reasons that sex and intimacy look different as we muddle through different stages of life.
Living life in a sexless relationship could be due to many things, like a new mum navigating matrescence, a seasoned mum struggling with the mental load, or a dad who has lost his sexual identity. The reasons are many and varied, and it's important to know that you’re not alone. If you’re reading this article then two things are probably happening;
- you’re searching to see if it’s ‘normal’ to not have sex regularly or,
- you were served this content and the headline was a ‘that’s us’ gut punch and you had to find out more
Whether it was 1 or 2, we’ve got the info you’re after. We know that - as with most couples - when you first got together, you knew how to spice up your relationship, you and your partner probably couldn’t keep your hands off each other. Then, flash forward to pregnancy, leaky and sensitive boobs, and a kid or two, and now the only action you seem to get is from your collection of vibrating friends. Relationships typically change once the ‘honeymoon period’ is over, and while we probably all know this truth on some level, we don’t support ourselves in navigating it, choosing instead to pretend it isn't happening.
Whether married, living together, LGBTQI+, non-monogamous or anything in between - the advice in this article can help strengthen your relationships.
It’s normal for you to become more comfortable with each other and for the need to prioritise your relationship to not be the same as it was (hello kids taking the lead on that front). And it's normal for the urgent rip-each-others-clothes-off-as-you-walk-in-the-door sex you may have had, to decrease a bit. But what do you do if you suddenly find yourself in a sexless relationship? We speak to parents who are going through the same thing and experts, Clio Wood and Dr Barbara Green for expert advice.
Definition of a sexless marriage
There are many different definitions of a sexless relationship: no sex in the past year, no sex in the past six months, or sex 10 or fewer times a year.
"A sexless marriage is characterized by a scenario in which a couple engages in sexual activity less than ten times annually." Dr Limor Gottlieb tells us. "One study showed that the average frequency of sexual interactions for well-established couples stood at once per week. An interesting finding of the study was the reported levels of happiness among the 30,000 participants which remained relatively consistent, regardless of whether they had sex three times weekly or just once a month." Shocked? We were too so we dug a little deeper. Clio Wood, a sex positivity and women's health advocate, and author of Get Your Mojo Back, Sex, Pleasure and Intimacy After Birth tells us; “A sexless marriage will be different for each couple - typically we define it as low or no sex in a marriage.”
According to a study by Relate, 28% of women in their 40s say they are in sexless relationships. Many parents in the survey admitted that having young children is a ‘passion killer’. And this is understandable as kids under 10 are so dependent on you, our Goodto columnist Cat Sims reported on this recently in one of her articles I find out just how much sex parents are really having.
A recent study from the National Library of Medicine shows that 'regular partnered sex' promotes psychological well-being and healthy aging. So if you're wondering if you should look into 'fixing' the sexless-ness in your life, it's probably your mind body, and soul urging you to. Mum-of-three, Joss tells us; "I completely ignored the fact we hadn't had sex in over a year 'because of the baby', that baby is now six. I reminded myself that a sexless marriage isn't always destined for divorce. I still fancied my husband, so we took our lack of sex to a couples therapist and it's helping so much more than I thought possible. We are prioritising each other again."
Mum-of-two, Lucy tells us; “I struggle to feel sexy with one mum ear on the baby monitor. I can’t compartmentalise the two versions of me. The only time I really ’let go’ and enjoy sex like we used to is if we go away. And my husband said we ‘can’t pay £600+ every time we want to have sex’, and the man has a point. But until my children don’t need me so much I can’t see an alternative.”
Rob, dad to Oli tells us; "I commute over two hours every day and am just mentally and physically exhausted, after playing with the kids before bedtime I just want to crash on the sofa, and not talk."
Life and kids getting in the way is the main reason why couples stop having regular sex, it's simply exhaustion from the daily routine. You’re up at 6am after the baby had you up throughout the night, get the kids ready for school, drop them off, head to work, call your sister, make dinner, get the kids to bed, and next thing you know, bam, it’s 10 pm, and you’re doom-scrolling on the couch. The next day, it’s the same old story. "Here’s the caveat", Dr Limor tells us, "there are couples who are happy in a sexless marriage. They've got their reasons, and they're cool with it. Sex might be a game-changer in relationships, but it's not the only player when it comes to love."
Mum-of-one Louise agrees, she tells us; “All my patience and tolerance capacity is used up on getting my 7-year-old to and from school. Oh, and fitting in a full-time job, running a home, and just generally existing What I need is to be left alone to decompress.”
Clio, a women's health advocate, explains; “[when it comes to defining sexless marriages] tolerance levels and expectations will be different for everyone, so one person's once-per-quarter sex might be sexless, and another couple might think that once per quarter is fine.” So it's all about finding out what works for you. Mum-of-three Dee tells us how it's her who wants sex; "My husband has no libido, it' me that's always pawing a him. When he rejects me it's hard to bounce back from that - we need to talk about it as needs deserve to be met on both sides of the relationship."
Clio Wood is a maternal health and sex positivity advocate, journalist and author of Get Your Mojo Back, Sex, Pleasure and Intimacy After Birth (Watkins 2023). She is also the Founder of &Breathe, an award-winning women's wellbeing retreat company, which she started after her first daughter was born and noticed a lack of proper postpartum care. She lives in east London with her husband, Bryn, and daughters, Delphi and Echo, and loves unusual names, travelling, reading and eating too much ice cream.
Dr Gottlieb is a Sex and Relationship Psychologist. Her research focuses on the psychology of sex and relationships and she has just become a new mum herself.
According to Dr Barbara Greenberg in Psychology Today after decades of helping couples as a clinical psychologist some of the other top reasons couples give when they stop having sex are;
- Becoming 'business partners' - a life where money is discussed but emotional needs are not, where the couple is working together to keep the life they are used to or need.
- Not feeling body confident - Bodies change over the years for many reasons, but whatever the reason, if people don't like their own body they're less likely to want to share it.
- Boredom - This one's a stinger, it's not nice to hear your life is 'boring'. But in reality, the novelty wears off, and a sexual routine kicks in.
- Bad hygiene - A sensitive one to broach, but with WFH on the rise, your partner may have stopped prioritising showering and general hygiene which is a turn-off.
How to know if you're in a sexless relationship
You might be sat there panic-counting on your fingers how often in the last month you’ve had sex, but there is no right or wrong number really. It’s how you and your partner feel about it. Clio agrees, “Ask yourself how you feel about the level of sex you're having - and then check in with your partner to see if you're on the same page. Remember that both of you need to be happy and satisfied with the level of intimacy you're experiencing.”
How to deal with a sexless marriage
The good news is that sexless relationships aren’t doomed to stay sexless forever. But to bring this issue up to your partner and make changes, you need to understand your own feelings around sex and intimacy. You need to be able to identify your beliefs and expectations around sex, and the role you want it to play in the relationship. Start by doing some self-reflection. Ask yourself questions like: “Why haven’t we been having sex? Are we just too busy, or is there an underlying cause? How am I feeling about my partner right now? How important is sex to me? Is a lack of sex something I can really live with?”
Clio tells us how hard it can be to talk openly about this; "talking about sex can feel awkward, but like with most things, the more you do it, the easier it gets. If you don't know how to begin, try talking side by side instead of face to face and whilst you're doing something else. This could be on a walk, while you're driving, or on the sofa watching TV - you might even find a handy television storyline to introduce the subject for you..."
Mum-of-one, Keira agrees; "I grew up with a mum who still whispers the word 'sex' so the thought of talking openly about it fills me with horror."
Clio goes on to share her top tips; "Establish if you're both on the same page; talk about how this makes you both feel; work towards more intimacy or another solution. The second two stages can be eased or enhanced by having couples therapy sessions too, to provide a neutral third party to aid the conversation and establish the reasons behind the intimacy discrepancy, which can be deep-seated and indicative of other issues."
Dr Limor shares her three steps to trying to overcome a sexless marriage.
- Get intimate – this doesn’t mean sex, it can be massaging, kissing, cuddling but it can also mean deep emotional connection through simply conversation – Research shows that affection, whether verbal or physical, may be an effective way to increase the likelihood of sex. Initiating a dialogue with your partner is crucial in addressing dissatisfaction, particularly when your levels of desire differ.
- Small acts– If you have children making time for romance can seem impossible. But couples must rediscover their romantic roots- find ways to reconnect with each other emotionally – walk down memory lane, remember how the relationship started, the fun and romantic moments you shared before kids, how can you recreate that at this stage of your relationship? Can you have a date night, preferably once a week? Can you get a family member to look after the baby and escape for a night to the countryside? Can’t hire a babysitter and go out there are many ways you can be romantic at home. And then there are the more basic things that we take for granted but that matter the most daily, such as kissing your partner in the morning when you wake up, greeting them by the door with a big hug when they come back from work, bringing them a cup of coffee, texting them during the day to check in and say I’m thinking of you. It’s the small acts of kindness that show our care and love for each other.
- Schedule sex – if you and your partner are busy, it may be a good idea to schedule sex in your calendar. Scheduling sex can have so many benefits other than making sure you’re having sex it also builds anticipation for the date which can serve as foreplay. Remember that even if you’re not in the mood, sexual contact is shown to increase libido. And keep it interesting by spicing things up. Research shows that couples who have more variety in their sex acts report greater sexual satisfaction. So come up with fun ways (locations, outfits, toys) to include novelty in your sex life.
When should I walk away from a sexless marriage?
This question is understandable, as it can seem like nothing will ever change. Clio agrees, telling us; "This answer will be different for everyone. In most cases a low/sexless patch can be fixed and worked on. If it is the result of underlying long term and more serious issues, then don't dismiss the idea of ending the relationship, of course, but do this in a considered way, and perhaps with therapist/counsellor guidance so that you work through the options properly and a plan to separate amicably."
Dr Limor assures us that you're not alone if you've thought of walking away. "Every couple hits a rough patch now and then, especially in times when life throws all kinds of stress at you. It's normal, and most couples go through it. But when those dry spells start stretching out, and you're not having sex as much as you'd like, there might be reason to walk away, especially when that dry spell turns into a full-on sexless marriage."
Now, if you just had a baby, cut each other some slack. "Babies bring chaos, from sleepless nights to extra workload. Give it time, because the postpartum phase is no joke and can linger for up to a year." Says Dr Limor. "Talk openly, and seriously, make time for each other. Remember that how we communicate can impact our sex life, so if your communication sounds like a mix of anger, contempt, criticism, and sarcasm, the desire for sex will decrease."
Think of your relationship like a plant – if you forget to water it, it might wither away."
When your partner is choosing everything and everyone over your relationship, love and connection can fade away. Intimacy, both romantic and sexual, releases those feel-good hormones, like endorphins and serotonin. Without it, you're more like roommates than spouses, stuck in what they call "roommate syndrome" – emotionally distant, passionless, and sexless.
If you've tried reviving the romance, spilled your heart out to your partner, and they're still not on board, it's time for some soul-searching. There could be deeper issues, like physical stuff (e.g., erectile dysfunction or hormonal imbalances) or relationship drama, like cheating or a trust breach. That's when you might want to consider getting professional help– a medical expert or a couples therapist. Keep in mind that a sexless marriage doesn't always mean a loveless one, but when it does, ending the relationship might be the lesser evil.
Where to get support
If you're ready to face the sexless-ness in your life then you might want to know where to turn to first;
- Relate £75 per session (though they have criteria for free counselling)
- Marriage Care £25 per relationship counselling session
- Harley Therapy from £290 per session (though sister company harleytherapy.com offers therapists from £60 per session)
- Klearminds from £130 per session
The good news? Well, according to the Relate research, parents struggling with a lack of sex life has a short-term effect, and as children grow older their parents’ physical relationships tend to recover. Those reporting sexless relationships over the past year include 31% of those with at least one child under 2, but 19% of those with at least one child aged 14 to 17 so there's always that to cling on to.
Parenting advice, hot topics, best buys and family finance tips delivered straight to your inbox.
Stephanie Lowe is Family Editor at GoodToKnow covering all things parenting, pregnancy and more. She has over 13 years' experience as a digital journalist with a wealth of knowledge and experience when it comes to all things family and lifestyle. Stephanie lives in Kent with her husband and son, Ted. Just keeping on top of school emails/fund raisers/non-uniform days/packed lunches is her second full time job.
- Clio WoodMaternal Health Expert
Grandparents share their thoughts on today’s most popular parenting trends - and you might be surprised at what they have to say
Parenting looks a lot different today than it did just a few decades ago, but what do grandparents think of the change?
By Charlie Elizabeth Culverhouse Published
Previously unreleased Spencer family photo shows exactly where Prince Archie and Princess Lilibet got their red hair
There's no doubt about it, the Spencer genes are strong!
By Charlie Elizabeth Culverhouse Published