Sex is an important part of any relationship, but what happens if it stops? This is more common than you may imagine: research from the sociology department at Georgia State University in the US suggests that 15% of married couples have not had sex with their spouse within the past six to 12 months.
Last week, we looked at how you can get the spark back, with an article by Joan McFadden in which she offered advice to couples on how to cope with a lack of sex. She wrote: “Therapy can help you with working out what the underlying problem is and can also give you a sense that you are sorting this out together. At the beginning of a relationship, sex can be so easy, natural and exciting that it can feel a little sad that you might have to work at it, but the results can be well worth it.”
We also invited readers to share their thoughts and experiences. Here six people talk about what happens when passion leaves a relationship.
Paul, 36, Nigeria
When I got together with my now wife, the sex was fantastic. We were entirely compatible and had similar tastes. After a couple of years, that changed. Initially I thought it was just the natural ebb and flow of a relationship and life stresses etc were getting in the way.
However, by the time we got married everything changed: alarm bells rang loudly on our wedding night when my new bride was too tired to make love – this still stings several years later. After we got married, sex was routine and infrequent. Oral sex was almost non-existent and resentment began to set in. When I tried to address the problem I came up against a brick wall. I tried everything I could to find a solution, researching advice online, helping more around the house and trying not to be demanding while making it clear sex was important to me. The addition of children and the pressure that introduced was another nail in the coffin of our sex life. Sex was reduced to a one-off thing at Christmas or birthdays.
Years of neglect with seemingly no resolution in sight made me despondent. I began to feel resentment towards my wife and her unwillingness to engage with sex. I withdrew and the romance dried up. We went from being best friends to people who cohabit – the bitterness was palpable on both sides. This year a colleague and I had a short-lived affair. While it lasted it was wonderful and fulfilling to be valued and desired again. The affair ended when my wife found out, and we decided to give our marriage another try.
We are in the first steps of counselling where initially and correctly, we’re trying to undo the unacceptable and unjustified hurt that my betrayal has caused. If we can get past this hurdle we will then begin to work on finding a solution to our very different sexual ideals.
Sex is a beautiful and positive way to express yourself and it’s vital to any relationship. The intimacy and connection it brings helps me to feel loved and in love.
Anonymous, 30, Ghana
I have been married for nearly five years and haven’t had sex with my husband for eight years. That’s right, we last had sex three years before we got married. Our love life tapered off a while before that, with him rejecting me a number of times, until we both just stopped even trying. We thought maybe marriage would bring the spark back, but it didn’t. Once the passion is gone, it’s gone. We get on well and enjoy our time together but there is no intimacy. I talk about having children and he says it will happen one day – but when I ask how, he changes the subject.
When I try to talk about it, we say the same old things and we agree to try therapy but then don’t arrange anything. Sometimes I want to get a divorce (or can we have our marriage annulled?) but I am scared to be alone. If we ignore the sex thing, our relationship is solid.
I had sex with an old friend a few months ago. It was my first time in eight years. I don’t know if I feel bad about it. My husband doesn’t know.
I am confused. I don’t really understand marriage as a concept any more. We live together and everything runs smoothly in some ways – I feel safe and we enjoy each other’s company and could probably be married for ever. Maybe sex is just something we could or should enjoy with other people. I imagine that in practice that would be very hard to cope with, though.
Matt, 25, Canada
I have sex with my wife 10 times a year or less. We were in our mid-20s when we met, and we are an attractive couple, but she believes that sex should just be for reproductive purposes. Not only that, but she has a low sex drive.
It has affected my marriage greatly, to an extent that we go to bed with our backs turned. I don’t even attempt to try to have sex with her any more. We had a discussion three days ago about how sex is an important part of a successful marriage and that if we don’t do anything it will ultimately lead to problems in the future, maybe even divorce. I’ve found talking to my wife helps a bit. I came out with my issues one night. I’ve asked her if it’s me and tried to persuade her that sex is for more than just reproduction.
I know that sex is one of, if not the most important factors in a marriage. But it does change over time in a relationship and if you don’t spice things up it becomes dull. You need to find new ways to please your partner.
I just hope no one has to go through what I am going through. Try to be patient, but this only gets you so far. I am considering a sex therapist, but I am not sure how my wife will react to that.
Brian, 51, Australia
We’ve been together for 13 years. We continue to live together, but we have separate rooms and have had a sexless marriage for over two years. We have tried marriage counselling. At times it feels like we are making progress, but two or three years ago there was a sense of resignation (perhaps from both of us) and it has been no sex, no counselling, no real effort to rejuvenate the relationship – just a focus on making the household work and co-parenting our much-loved boys.
There is now no intimacy. I’m not blokey, I’m a feminist at heart, but I have to admit that sex did help as the gateway to intimacy, conversation and candour. That’s all gone now.
Perhaps I could have made a more consistent effort to be affectionate and caring and open, but we were stuck in a cycle; she would be critical of so much of what I did and the criticisms would make me withdrawn. Counselling was some small help for a while, but I think all those efforts are exhausted. Neither of us are suggesting that we go back. The effort now is to have a workable non-sexual, non-intimate, functioning relationship where the boys can grow up loved and secure.
Anonymous, 36, Nigeria
My partner and I have been together for eight years. We last had sex four and a half years ago. My early efforts to initiate sex were unsuccessful; if anything, they made things worse, as I invariably felt rejected. If I voice my unhappiness she becomes upset and feels guilty, so I try not to mention it. I have suggested relationship counselling, but my partner does not believe it will help – she insists the problem is with her self-esteem and body image, not our relationship. She has a number of long-standing medical issues and is reluctant to seek advice regarding her lack of interest in sex.
We love each other and want to be together, but from time to time I feel lonely and undesirable, despite her assurances that she still finds me attractive. I suspect my frustration sometimes manifests as irritation or impatience in response to unrelated, relatively minor matters.
It depends on the individuals involved. For me personally, sex has become a lot more important now that I’m not having it any more.
Anonymous, 31, South Africa
Last year we had sex six times. This year it was once. So yes, I am in a sexless marriage. Even in the three years before we got married 15 years ago, I realised that we had different sex drives. I practically had to beg my husband to make love to me on our wedding night. Yet I married him because I love him and so I take responsibility for my decision.
Over the years I have begged, cajoled, threatened, shouted, cried and done everything to make him aware of how I feel. He has done nothing to meet my demands. I am a very sexual person. I need sex like I need food and sleep. He does not – or will not – understand this.
He loves me very much. We get on very well. I love him very much. I have never cheated on him. Yet. I am sad and angry and disappointed. And I am grateful because some husbands verbally and physically abuse their wives or neglect them and their children. My husband has done none of these, although refraining from sex is abuse in a way. I will never forgive him for it.
I am very aware of sex and sexual people. I have seen men and women look at me in a sexual way. I have never responded. One day if the right person comes along, my children have left home, I might. But then I will probably lose my husband. I don’t know if I can emotionally afford to lose him. I depend on him for a lot, not just financially but emotionally, too. He makes me feel like a million dollars. Just not in a sexual way.
I have had to come to accept our relationship is never going to fulfil me sexually. I still think he is the cleverest, kindest person I know. I wouldn’t want to hurt him, but he has hurt me very much by not being interested in sex.
It would be difficult to say no if someone I find attractive offered sex. I just haven’t found anybody that I liked enough. Over the years I went through hell. In the beginning I thought he was having affairs, then I thought he was homosexual. I have spent hours agonising about him. And about my own attractiveness. Lately I have come to the conclusion that he is just a non-sexual person. One of his male friends told me that he has never met someone so asexual. I agree.