Don’t Go Sexless—Part One

The big trend today is to go “-less”. The grocery stores want us to go “bag-less” and bring our own totes. Companies ask us to go “paperless” and pay our bills online. Of course most of us have gone “wireless” long ago, but there is one area of married life people shouldn’t go “-less” in…and that’s sex. Yet, according to surveys, an estimated 20 million couples have done exactly that.

Sexless marriage is defined as having sex less than ten times a year. Some couples say it’s a lack of time. If that’s you, read my post on Scheduling Sex. Others say they lack desire. For those of you stuck on that one, read the posts The Desire Myth and Sometimes Sex is Just Sex. Sex is very important in a marriage and I’ve written additional articles on the subject that you should check out in the archives of my Marriage Insights Blog.

Men and women give a variety of reasons as to why they are in a sexless marriage, but there is only one real cause: They STOP. Pretty simplistic reasoning, I know. Actually, in reality it’s usually because one person in the marriage says “no” and stops. For the purposes of writing this, I’m going to say that it’s the wife. I do recognize that in some cases, it’s the husband who won’t have sex, so try to flip-flop it and apply the concepts to your marriage.

There could be serious issues such as infidelity, physical or health problems, pornography use and masturbation, past sexual abuse, etc., that lead to a lack of sex. The following advice will, mostly likely, not apply to you if you are dealing with anything of that nature. Those are much more complex issues that need to be addressed with the proper professional support and counseling, and are not the scenarios I’m talking about here. I’m speaking of much simpler and straightforward situations.

As in a recent email I received from a woman who said she cut off sex for a reason she saw as a legitimate issue: his poor hygiene. Who wants to get up close and personal with someone who stinks like last week’s garbage or visits a toothbrush once a month whether they need it or not? Another reoccurring theme I often hear is that the guy doesn’t take his time. He’s the “two-minute wonder”…if he even makes it that long! The woman doesn’t get any pleasure or enjoyment from the act of lovemaking and feels used when he just “hops on and hops off”. So she ends up saying, “No”, when he approaches her for sex.

I get it—there are genuine sources of trouble that lead to issues in the sex department. But just saying no isn’t the answer. Saying no to a guy and shutting him down causes a man to lose his confidence. As little as two or three rejections in a row will make many men back off and not want to try anymore. He’ll simply quit asking. Women fail to realize how very fragile a man’s ego is…especially in the area of his sexual prowess.

It’s not just sex he steps away from. Often, as a move of self-preservation, the guy will begin to back off emotionally, too. He stops paying attention to and stops really engaging with his wife. Most all forms of touching stop because it only leads to sexual frustration. Everything a woman wants from her husband apart from sex now goes out the window. The best example I’ve seen that shows how this plays out in a marriage is in the recent movie Hope Springs, starring Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones. If you are dealing with a sexless marriage or especially if you have just begun to struggle in this area, you must see it. (Still playing in theaters and available on DVD December 4, 2012.)

Trust me, you do not want to become this couple. You really need to watch it to get a good picture of what your life will look like if someone keeps saying “no”. What a husband and wife go through and where they end up is really depicted well. It’s emotionally brutal to watch. All the anger, loneliness, sadness is palpable. Apparently, it was supposed to be a comedy, but there is nothing funny about the situation these two are in. The reason they are so miserable is because they allowed the marriage to die. On the eve of celebrating 31 years of marriage, they are sleeping in separate rooms, he’s angry and bitter, she’s hurt and devastated by his lack of interest in her.

She ends up scheduling a week long counseling intensive for them to attend, in hopes that it will fix the problems so they can have a “real marriage” again and end the five-year drought in their sex life. (Quick disclaimer here: I totally disagree with the lust-based practices the therapist employs to “spice up” and get their love life back on track. In the end, they find that it’s just good-old-fashioned, lust-free sex that works.)

The Streep and Jones characters go through several therapy sessions, and then spend uncomfortable evenings awkwardly trying out exercises assigned by the therapist to improve their ability to touch and reconnect with one another. It isn’t until more than halfway through the movie that the truth finally explodes when the guy says, “You’re the one who stopped.” He then explains how he, in turn, shut down in both sexual and non-sexual ways, and became disconnected and disinterested in his wife.

She admits that, “Yes, I stopped for a while” but can’t understand why he stopped after that and never restarted when she wanted him again. Like in any marriage, there were issues and reasons why she stopped. But during all their years, he didn’t know what those issues were. She never told him what she needed or wanted.

She just said, “No”.

The big problems start when you simply S-T-O-P. You can’t just say, “No”. By doing so, you risk the other person shutting down completely and eventually the whole relationship derails and dies. Your spouse must hear some version of “yes” from you. The solution is to say, “Yes, IF….” and tell the guy what it is you need from him to make this a win for both of you.

Before I get emails from people freaking out saying, “You mean women have to put out matter what!?” Take a deep breath and relax…that’s NOT what I’m saying. Of course, a woman doesn’t have to put up with ridiculous, abusive or immoral behavior from a man and “shut up and put out” as some very misguided people believe and teach.

Like the poor lady who approached me at one of my marriage conferences with tears streaming down her face. She went on to explain that her husband never talked to her.

I questioned, “He never talks to you? That can’t be possible?”

To which she drilled back, “No! He NEVER talks to me!”

I asked her how her love life was. She explained that it was fine.

“So how is it that your love life is fine, if your husband never talks to you? You mean you are still having regular sex with him?” I queried.

She cried, “Well, that’s what they teach us at the women’s conferences. That you shouldn’t turn the man down, and it’s a wife’s duty.”

I told her, “You’ve gotten some bad teaching, Sweetheart! You can still have sex with him but the next time he reaches for you, say, “I’ll knock your socks off and make you a happy boy! But first, we are going to talk for fifteen minutes.”

See, she didn’t have to subject herself to the hurtful behavior, yet, could tell him “yes”. Now, it’s a win/win scenario. I will continue explaining why this is so key to a successful marriage and more of what “some version of yes” looks like in the next post.

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25 Responses to “Don’t Go Sexless—Part One”

  1. Chris says:

    Mark, I agree. However, I find that the most pleasurable part of my marriage is doing life together with my wife. Whether that be doing the dishes, talking, playing board games, driving or planning something together, it is the intimacy we share outside of the bedroom that makes me look forward to being physically intimate. And guess what, the fun that we create in day-to-day life certainly spices up the journey!

    • Liza says:

      Thanks for this, Chris. This is what I desire: to do things together with my husband. For him to show an interest in my life and to share his with me. Being intimate is wonderful, but tasteless without the living together part.

  2. Alethia E. in SC says:

    This particular article is certainly helpful. I am 10 mths into my marriage, but I have been a single mom for over 12 years so sex really for me I could take it or leave it. I love my husband greatly but how do I express to my hubby that the “social” things we deal with (finances, spousal duties, children) sometimes thwart my desire for sexual intimacy. I love that he cooks and takes our youngest to the bus in the am. But how can I relay with out causing distain … pick up your socks, put the toilet paper on the roll if its empty, put a load in the wash if you need more socks? Please help community with some insight for a newlywed.

    • Egbert says:

      For one, keep reading Mark’s articles and writings.

      Second, talk to him … have time together and mention that you love men who pick up their socks! And then SHOW him. He wanted you enough to marry you … whet his appetite and tell him how sexy he looks when putting socks in the hamper! (Then *prove* it!)

      I’ve been married nearly 25 years now. My wife is the hottest ticket out there (and no, fellas, the ticket office has been closed since the 80′s, LOL). If the lady winks at me and suggests I do a load of laundry … it gets done! And then … well, let’s just say we’re a deliriously happy couple of lovebirds!

  3. david says:

    mark thank you for being straight forward in this marriage relationship adventure. i’ve been married for 23 years. i enjoy the sex part of our marriage. my wife can do with it or without it. after asking,begging,bribing, i have became tired of trying. it is building up resentment and a i don’t care attitude. i could’nt finish the honey i am sorry without crying. i don’t look for outside relationships i just read and become more disgusted. instead of being like a knight in shining armor, it is like the mule going down to the bottom of the grand canyon.any advice thank you dave

  4. dee says:

    Sometimes one partner has physical issues that interfers with the physical sex. Then they shut the other person out completely! and tell the other they dont love them, theres no one else they just dont want a relationship. My husband is this person and I need lots of prayer, this has been going on for months and I believe God will work in his heart. My husband did not want any other types of intimacy and said when he looked at me all he could remember is all the fooling around we used to do. Hes been to dr’s and took pills and he refuses surgery he was going to a psyhcitrist for a short time then he himself decided he was no longer depressed. Now he just seems angry and cold and generally just toward me. Please pray and yes, physical sex important but as is physical intimacy in general, ie: hugging holding hands someway to stay connected. Please keep us in prayer. any insight would be appreciated.

  5. Liza says:

    Thanks for all these wonderful insights, Mark.

    I have a little issue to ask about: When we first got married, sex was great. Usally rather quick, but so new and it was great to know I was loved. Then, as the children were born, it dwindled, to about once in 6 to 12 weeks. Most were quickies and not very fulfilling, at least not for me.

    Then something changed. We started having wonderful, very fulfilling sex, very often, about 5 times a week. I loved it.

    Now, my husband seems to have lost his desire for me. He does not pay attention to me, does not want to do things with me, does not want sex. I have tried to seduce him with sexy nighties, etc, but he falls asleep next to me. I tried to make dates with him. We can be at the most romantic places, but he is totally indifferent. It is only very occasionally that he wants sex, but will often stop midway. We are both in our mid fifties.

    The problem is that I do desire sex, and since he usually doesn’t want me, I feel so humiliated, rejected and isolated. This leads to quarrels, but he does not get it. At times I feel so terrible about myself, that I would scratch my breasts, even slap myself through the face, saying the most ugly things about myself. Please don’t tell anybody. I despise myself for what I do. Of course that makes his desire for me even less.

    Sometimes I think there is something very wrong with me.

    I really crave his loving me. I cannot live with the stress any longer.

    Do you have advice for me?

  6. Deb says:

    my husband will not go see a Dr. about his “man” problem — I don’t want to try to encourage sex and or even touch him because he gets mad at his self for not being able to perform the way he should — what do I do — out marriage is good but we are losing out in time and togetherness (after 32 years) together and we got married young to grow old together — not to grow apart and be and thoughts

  7. Jennifer says:

    Hi Mark,

    I read your articles with great interest and thoroughly agree and understand all the attitudes you are helping us create in our relationships.

    My marriage is done and dusted, 22 years with someone who, bottom-line, was not prepared to own adultery. (Something I have always abhorred.) Trust of course was non-existent. Although I worked to love my husband not his actions and attitudes, at the end of the day his own actions and decisions “outed” him thoroughly.

    My main problem and question is this. Once initiated into a regular sexual habit with a partner, regardless that is became quite physical, on my part, due to lack of perceived sincerity from husband. How does one cope with the strong urges that go unfulfilled ongoing while one waits for God’s chosen partner???

    I do not want to close myself off by being negative and turning into someone else than is not emotionally warm. However it becomes a constant source of frustration?? You know what, I mean I expect!



  8. Penny says:

    As a single, I really struggle, but am obedient, to a life of purity. There is very little help for us out there that we can be built up to stay this way. Although I am 48 yearsold, most think I am crazy at this age, but My God’s word does not change with the times. I was a very active partner in my marriage. Please can you help me, not just for me but I have many single friends who feel that Gods word is not specific, cause they have reasoned themselves out of being obedient int his area.

    Please Help!!!!

    • Johanan Rakkav says:

      One thing that has helped me to remain single for 54 years (I’ve never married, but the winds of change are finally blowing there) is the cultivation of women, both married and single, as *friends. It’s easier to do this when you’re taught, and they’re taught, how to put the spiritual fellowship one should have as Christians first. Cultivating women-friends outside one’s Christian framework is harder, but not completely impossible with due caution.

      This hasn’t mitigated all problems or temptations for me but remember: being “under grace” means that when you “miss the mark” (sin, violate God’s law as 1 John defines the word), you have permission to keep shooting at the target without fear that the Head Archer’s going to have you beheaded for missing the target earlier. The Head Archer doesn’t demand that you hit the bull’s-eye the first time. What He demands is that you keep shooting, and thereby improve your aim. He’ll help you develop your skill along the way, and sooner or later you’ll start hitting the bull’s-eye consistently.

    • Johanan Rakkav says:

      Mr. Gungor quite likely would point out that God’s Word IS specific about the aim of the single life – certainly in principle – and much of that aim is described in 1 Corinthians in several places. Paul also addresses what one’s aim should be if he or she can’t exercise self-control. None of this is easy advice to follow – but it’s the only advice that really works.

  9. angie says:

    I agree, the sexless thing doesn’t work, BUT…
    when I have sex with him he thinks everything is fine…and NOTHING is fine! He doesn’t handle the financial things that are devastating us…we get out of one terrible situation and right into another. We’ve been to counseling, we’re Christians and are pretty handsome people, but I can not continue to “chase” (because he is shy sexually and not free to enjoy it anywhere but in a dark bedroom) when I can’t relax because he requests “coaching” (why can’t he read a book?!) and I know in the morning the same problem looms there for me – there is no security. I don’t want to be the mom (i.e: in control) of everything (take care of the family, the house, pay the bills, go to work, etc) especially during sex and I can’t have sex with someone I don’t trust. We have discussed what’s desired, but he continues to hurt me emotionally and financially in the same ways. It really is crazy to ask the woman to continually “give in” when he’s not romancing her by speaking her love language and caring for her in meaningful ways. If she presents herself to him in a way he desires, why doesn’t he have to keep himself maintained? No one wants a constant “fixer-upper”!

  10. Susan says:

    Sometimes there are more issues than just stopping…medications that make libido nonexistent…inability on the part of the man….tried meds for that…sort of worked, but he felt terrible on them, so we have stopped. It majorly stinks, but we share so much of our lives together, it is what it is. We have a lot even without sex.

  11. Jackie Looney says:

    Mark, sorry if this is a long post, but I’ll try to keep it short:

    My husband and I have one of the more unique marriage situations I have known:

    1) We both married in our early thirties

    2) We both are proud to say we were virgins on our wedding night (VERY rare nowadays, sadly)

    3) We’ve been married for a little over two years

    4) There are four boys living with us: 13, 9, 7, and 5; adopted from a mother who cared only about her drugs and sex life and not her children, so we adopted them

    5) We also live with my parents due to economic issues and my dad being handicapped

    That being said, it feels like we’ve been married for almost 15 or 20 years! We have the long days, the frustrations, the busy schedules, and everything else that an “old married” couple has (in terms of years married, not ages!) The clincher is that when we decided to get married, we had seen friends and families have marital issues that resulted in separations, heartaches, and divorces…and we didn’t want that. We got “Laughing Your Way” book and DVDs, along with some Kevin Leman books, to show us how to start off with a good marriage. The biggest thing we talked about was sex, but because of all the Godly advice we got BEFORE getting married, it’s helped us appreciate each other in all aspects of our lives together. I understand that he craves respect and appreciation, and he understands that I crave intimacy and appreciation. We both slip up at times (he gets a little narrow minded and forgetful, and I sometimes forget to ask more than once or praise him when he does what I ask him to do), but we do find that the less arguments and more communication we have outside the bedroom…the more fun our “in bedroom time” is! *wink wink* Thank you for that, and God bless you and your family!

  12. Torry Zupke says:

    Stressful job, kids (young) and limited
    Time put the crunch on “mommy and daddy
    Time.” When your tired and fatigued it’s
    Easier said than done. With pleasure
    Comes work and vise versa. It’s putting
    Time and effort into something that matters,
    Not to mention all the research that backs
    Up the positive effects of sexual contact. It’s
    Free, good for you (in most cases),
    Releases all the good hormones and
    Chemicals, again that are free and is one of
    Best abilities God ever equipped us with.
    So, instead of making excuses why you shouldn’t,
    Make excuses why you should. As a foot note,
    My wife and I tried the 30/30, thirty times in
    Thirty days and you guessed it, we failed, but
    We had fun trying. Be creative and keep your
    “Agape love” strong.

  13. J says:

    According to your statist I have been in a sexless marriage from day one. Hubby’ s reason “it’s not that big of a deal”. From the the day we got married, I was lucky if I “got lucky” four times a year. And non-sexual contact was just as rare. We have been to couceling, and marriage seminars, and small group study. Relationship wise things would get better for a little while. Once in a while he would be more physical but it was always short lived. That was until last year. The last time was right around our 14th anniversary and It’s been more than a year. The hardest part for me is it happened after I was diagnosed with BRAC (same thing Angelina Jolie has).I have head a complete hysterectomy that has sent me into medical menopause and a bilateral mastectomy. I am competing the reconstructing but without him wanting anything to do with me has made me feel damaged and undesirable. I am overweight, never been one of the “pretty people” and now damaged good. I pretty much have given up and just go through each day because I need to. I don’t really contemplate affars or divorce because if many husband don’t want me, why would anyone else.

  14. Robert says:

    I would love if my wife could have an intimate relationship with something other than her phone… perhaps even with me.
    That would be something.

  15. Robert says:

    “Sexless marriage is defined as having sex less than ten times a year”

    Do we realize that there are some of us out there that would LOVE to have sex ten times a year..? Right now I am lucky if there are bedroom activities for anniversary, birthday and father’s day.. And for sake of equality, I will say that this goes for both boys and girls, because there are some men out there that denies sex to their wives too. The big majority, however is guys that complain about this.

  16. Greg says:

    My wife and I never have sex and haven’t for years – since our son was born and he is 11 now. I wanted to have sex with her for probably 9 or those 11 years but she didn’t. Now I’m not sexually attracted to her any more because she’s been so hostile about sex for all of those years.

    Her reasons for no sex has varied. She’s told me several times recently it would be ok with her to never had sex again. She has mentioned pain with sex which I understand, but mostly she’s just not interested and gets angry if I mention sex. I’ve been slapped away and told “no” so many times it hurts. Menapause has been over for several years so I know that’s not the cause, although it was a factor for years.

    The only thing she wants to talk about is herself and her job. She is very self-focused. I’ve tried asking to go out on “dates” with her but she doesn’t want to. For several years she slept with each of our three children and didn’t sleep with me.

    And this was all during a time when we were getting along fine and loved each other.

    I don’t understand it and don’t think I ever will, no matter how long we’re together.

  17. Kelly says:

    My marriage has been sexless since the very beginning, and that was only 4 years ago. I’ve been intimate with my husband once in 2014. Twice in 2013 and this scenario has been ongoing since I took my vows. He doesn’t seem to know why he isn’t really interested. We’ve been down the road of researching medical issues – and he is okay according to his doctors. He had low testosterone, but even with T-therapy, and normal levels for almost 2 years, he still isn’t interested.
    I don’t know what to do. I used to cry about it late at night. Now, I’m just numb. I am no longer attracted to the man that I married simply because he never desires me at all. Divorce is the last option, but now an option nevertheless.

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