Though rarely discussed, sexless marriages are far more common than you might think.
It’s been estimated that as many as 15 percent of married couples have not had sex within the last six to 12 months, according to a 2009 New York Times article.
Of course, partners’ levels of desire may fluctuate over time for a number of reasons ― for example, the birth of a child, health problems or medication side effects. And there are relationships in which both partners are perfectly content with infrequent sex or not having sex at all. But for many couples, it is an integral part of sustaining a physical and emotional connection.
We asked sex therapists to share some signs that a couple might be heading toward a sexless marriage. Below, 10 potential warning signs to look out for:
1. You’re starting to feel more like roommates than intimate partners.
“We underestimate the importance of physical attraction in long-term relationships. In the beginning, couples make commitments to grooming, wearing clothes that make them feel desirable and feeling good about themselves. When you start to feel like roommates, you might need to change out of your sweats and comfy clothes and get ready for an intimate night together. Take a long bath or shower, put on something that makes you feel good about yourself, and put energy into feeling sensual. Even if you are staying in for the night, put something on that makes you feel open for sex and connection, like your favorite lingerie or use a new massage oil or perfume.” ― Shannon Chavez, psychologist and sex therapist
2. You’re not comfortable talking about sex together.
“If you’ve never had an open conversation about sex, it’s likely that you’ll have a sexless period in your relationship. Communication is essential to a healthy sex life, and intimacy just can’t flourish without it.” ― Vanessa Marin, sex therapist and creator of Finishing School, the online orgasm course for women
3. You’re giving all of your time and energy to the kids.
“While most new parents need to focus much of their time, energy and resources on the newborn, it’s important to recognize that you need to nurture yourself and your relationship once the baby is a couple of months old. There are many parents who struggle to go out on a date after having children due to financial constraints. It’s important for partners to engage with one another as adults with a variety of interests other than their kids in order to keep the erotic energy going. You can have sex while your kids are sleeping, but if all you’ve been doing night after night is reading stories and cleaning up after dinner, the routine can become old and exhausting. It leaves little time to connect romantically and sensually with your partner.”― Sari Cooper, sex therapist and director of the Center for Love and Sex NYC
4. You avoid watching romantic or erotic scenes on TV or in movies together.
“Sex scenes in movies or on TV may inspire couples to get it on. They may see something they want to try, or they may get aroused just watching. If watching erotic scenes makes you uncomfortable, this may be indicative of a problem in your own sex life or trigger some aspect of your own sexuality that is shameful or confusing. Being able to enjoy a sexy scene with you partner is a sign of sexual health. If shame or embarrassment is getting in the way, it may be a sign of a problem. If you struggle to maintain sexual attraction to your partner, watching a sexy movie may serve as a painful reminder that you ‘lost that lovin’ feeling.’ It may also spark a conversation that you do not want to have. Honesty is the best policy. Communicating directly about your sexual satisfaction, expectations and preferences is the best way to avoid a sexless relationship.” ― Kimberly Resnick Anderson, sex therapist and associate professor of psychiatry at UCLA School of Medicine
5. You stop flirting with each other.
“When your partner is starting to feel like a ‘best friend’ that you want to gossip on the couch with after a long day at work instead of connecting in a sensual and intimate way, it’s time to create some space for being lovers and bring erotic energy into your connection together. Flirt, make eye contact, use body language to feel sexy and sensual. Move your body and be intentional about turning your partner on. Instead of turning to your partner and saying, ‘Do you want to have sex?’ at the end of the night, work on creating anticipation, hints outside of the bedroom, texting and communication that show you are interested in being connected and intimate together.” ― Chavez
6. Your partner makes fun of your sex drive, or lack thereof.
“If your partner regularly mocks or derides your sex drive, that’s not a good sign. All couples have sex drives that are mismatched to some degree, but it’s important to be respectful of each other’s needs even if they don’t match our own.” ― Marin
7. You rarely touch each other inside or outside of the bedroom.
“Perhaps you haven’t touched in months, even to kiss hello or goodbye. And you don’t touch while you watch TV on the couch or hold hands in the car. ” ― Tammy Nelson, sex therapist and author of Getting the Sex You Want
8. You purposely stay up later than your partner to avoid the ‘Not tonight, honey’ conversation.
“Being in the same bed at the same time as your partner increases the likelihood of having sexual contact. If you find yourself avoiding going to bed until after your partner is asleep, you may be consciously (or subconsciously) decreasing the odds of having sex. You need to ask yourself some tough questions: Why don’t I want to be awake in the same bed at the same time as my partner? Are there aspects of my sex life that are disappointing or anxiety-provoking? Avoiding may feel easier than hurting your partner’s feelings, but an honest conversation (first with yourself and then with your partner) may keep you from ending up in a sexless marriage.” ― Resnick Anderson
9. You jam-pack your schedule with other obligations, leaving little time for each other.
“While this could be true of many couples in this day and age — when work can call upon you wherever you happen to be via email or text — the couples that leave some time for fun, pleasure and intimacy are the ones who have a better chance of committing to creating time for sex. There are also hints that one or both partners are unconsciously avoiding intimacy through the overloading of their schedule.” ― Cooper
10. You have unrealistic expectations about what sex should be like.
“Focus less on the outcome or what you are doing during sex and focus more on how you are feeling and the pleasure you are experiencing. Sex that is focused on a goal will create expectations that are unrealistic and increase the potential for disappointment if those expectations are not met. The best focus for sex is to create an environment with a partner where you can give and receive pleasure. It should focus less on the mechanics of sex and more on the sensations, pleasures and connection you are feeling with a partner. Also, no two sexual experiences are ever the same so let go of the evaluation and grading.” ― Chavez