Lots of healthy and passionate women in lengthy intimate relationships are not having sex. I'm not talking about partners in sexual standoffs because of their toxic, disconnected relationships. This is a love story -- and growing trend -- about connected couples that cuddle and kiss, and perhaps play around in what sex therapists have termed "outercourse" -- which is everything but intercourse.
Though some happy mates aren't even going for that.
I heard dozens of stories about lasting love minus the sex during the research for my latest book "Sex After...Women Share How Intimacy Changes As Life Changes." My subjects spoke of being bound by the heart and history rather than the loins. I found it was the younger women of hooking-up age and older widows who were dating for the first time in 50-plus years that were the most breathless, even exploratory, about sex. Many midlife women were going through a dry spell -- that had lasted months, even years.
Dips in desire from dealing with menopause and erectile issues were only partially responsible. Women gave many different answers to the question: "Why aren't you having sex?" They talked of not wanting to be touched. Of being too busy. Too exhausted. Too self-absorbed. I often heard: "It's too much work."
"I need to feel sexy but I don't need sex," was one memorable line from Lynne, a 55-year-old woman who is "madly in love" with her husband with whom she just celebrated an 18th year anniversary. They peck hello and good night but haven't had sex since New Year's Eve, 2011. I heard from Lynne and others how the nature of true intimacy is about so much more than what our bodies can do. Here is more from her on going from daily sex to no sex:
When I met Ron it was extremely sexual -- our record was five times in one day, and we would average six times a week. Then the norm became once a week, then twice a month, and now -- nothing. When I hit menopause there was very little lubrication and at the same time my desire started to dry up. My husband was very accepting because his drop in libido matched mine.
We have all the cuddling and hugging and kissing, and all that's wonderful. I admit that I miss intercourse, of being joined as one. I just don't miss it enough to do anything about it. Without the inclination, there is no motivation.
So while I am having sadness over the loss of intimacy I don't have any real desire to have sex. So It's a Catch 22 -- I want to want to, but I just don't. We talk about having oral sex, we're just not hot and heavy enough to both head South.
Yet this is a man that I am more madly in love with than when we were having sex several times a day. We have so many life experiences together, raising children, traveling, talking for hours. On an emotional and spiritual level we have an incredible bond. It's more than a lack of hormones -- there are just no more feelings of wanting to jump on each other. And neither of us want to take desire-inducing drugs.
I spoke to my gynecologist about it, and she said: "There are a lot of women in my practice not having sex any more and they are perfectly happy in their marriages. So don't stress over it. You have a quality marriage without it."
I've had a lot of time in this new phase of our lives to think about what sexuality really means. I realize that our hotness for each other was never just sex. It was an expression of deep love. Now without the physical passion that spiritual passion has become even more fiery.
Lynne's story mirrors other women who shared how soulful love was sustaining their relationships more than mind-blowing sex. Gina, 52, is married for 20 years to a man who just turned 60. Their three children are in college. Like Lynne, she, too, was "hot, hot, hot -- we couldn't keep our hands off of each other," during their courtship and in the first years of marriage. And now?
"Little or no touching," said Gina. "Though I am still very attracted to him. I love his looks. I love the way he smells. But right now, I am in me-mode. I do not feel like sharing my body with anybody, even this person I love dearly. I want to get into bed and go to sleep, and not get all riled up and sweaty. We both hope that this is a phase, but I can't promise you this is a phase. It's starting to feel normal."
Is no sex increasingly becoming the new normal? The answer is "yes" if it feels normal to you. Normal sexuality between a couple is what those two people feel meets their emotional and physical needs. It's your relationship, not your sister's, not your mother's, and there is no gold standard number to aspire toward as a normal amount to get it on.
Your girlfriend who is always calling her partner "sweetie" and claims to be doing it every night may be flinging dishes at him when they get home, and they may sleep in separate bedrooms.
Even the most meticulous of sex researchers will never get accurate statistics on how often couples are having sex -- because people tend to lie about sex. So don't worry that your carnal activity isn't measuring up to the cousin or girlfriend who claims she's getting it every day. Because no one knows what's really going on behind closed doors except the two people in that room. Though many of those closed-door secrets and challenges are revealed in "Sex After...Women Share How Intimacy Changes As Life Changes."
Iris Krasnow is a bestselling author of relationship books and a popular keynote speaker on women's issues. Connect with her on iriskrasnow.com.