There are varying definitions of a sexless marriage or sexless relationship: no sex in the past year, no sex in the past six months or sex 10 or fewer times a year.
According to one study, approximately 15 percent of married couples are sexless: spouses who haven’t had sex with each other in the past six months to one year.
I was in a sexless relationship.
I have debated admitting this publicly, but my story feels different from the narrative advanced by our patriarchal society. Why? Because I was the one begging for sex from an uninterested male partner. Sex 10 times a year would have been 10 times more than what I was having.
This topic comes up a lot in my work. As a gynecologist, I’m frequently asked about the “right number” of times to have sex a month. The answer is that there isn’t one. If both people are truly happy, then it’s a healthy sex life.
Of course, libido ebbs and flows, and there will be times when one partner is temporarily uninterested. Back in 2003, I was home with two premature infants, both on oxygen and attached to monitors that constantly chirped with alarms. Had even Ryan Reynolds – circa The Proposal, not Deadpool – shown up, he would have needed to display expertise in changing diapers and managing the regulator on an oxygen tank to interest me.
Looking back on my relationship, the frequency of sex dropped off quickly. I told myself it would get better because there were other positives. I falsely assumed that men have higher libidos, so clearly this was temporary.
Pro tip: Nothing in a relationship ever gets better on its own. You might as well ask the ingredients in your pantry to bake themselves into a cake.
My experience led me to listen differently to women speaking about their sex lives with men, whether in my office or in my personal life. The spaces between words tell entire stories. When I ask someone about her sex life and there is a pause or a generic “Okay,” I say, “You know, the libido issue is often with the man.”
I say this to friends, acquaintances and even people I barely know (after they learn what my job is). Women’s responses are so similar I could script it.
Libido can be affected by a number of things, including depression, medication, stress, health, affairs, . sexual trauma, pornography, pain with sex and relationship dissatisfaction.
Erectile dysfunction is a factor for some men, especially over the age of 40. Other men may have low testosterone (although there is a lot of dispute in this area). There is also the possibility that one partner in a heterosexual relationship is gay.
New love is intoxicating, and I’m not being metaphorical. A functional MRI study suggests that new love activates the reward centers of the brain and, like opioids, increases pain tolerance. I wonder how much new love affects libido? If some people are simply on a lower libido spectrum in everyday life, might they revert to that once this “love drug” subsides, leaving those with a higher libido frustrated?
I want women to know that if they are on the wanting end for sex, they are not alone. If you love the person you’re with, then the sooner you speak up, the better.
Waiting for months to pass can weaponize the bedroom. It will add so much more complexity because resentment compounds like a high-interest credit card.