I’m going to say something that really shouldn’t be controversial or provocative …
If you neither enjoy nor desire sex with your partner, it’s time to break up.
Because honestly, if I never hear another woman complain she dreads sex with her husband again, it will be too soon.
And I know the women I’ve talked to about these aren’t outliers.
Research suggests as many as one-in-three couples are currently “sex-starved” (which means one partner is receiving far less physical intimacy than they’d like), and a study by Relationships In America found 12 per cent of married couples haven’t had sex at all in the last three months.
Of course, it’s not entirely surprising, given we live in a culture that equates success with suffering.
Relationships are meant to be hard work, we’re told. It’s normal for married couples to stop having sex! Love means resigning yourself to a life of quiet sexual frustration and growing resentment!
There are no take-backsies and no Get Out Of Jail Free cards once you’ve committed. Do not pass GO – you made this sexless bed, now lie in it!
There are people who’ll read this and want to argue sex isn’t everything, and that a tapering off of intimacy is natural and to be expected.
And I wouldn’t disagree with those people.
I’m not advocating for prioritizing sex above all else in your relationship, or attempting to pathologize the very normal decline in sexual frequency that happens once couples progress past the honeymoon phase.
The reality is, even the most passionate, loved-up couples experience lulls in their desire for intimacy. Work, stress, children, illness, and myriad other factors are constantly influencing our energy, libido and sexual function.
However, it would be folly to suggest a relationship can thrive in the complete absence of sexual intimacy (keeping in mind I’m obviously not talking about asexual people, people with chronic illnesses or disabilities that affect sexual function, or couples who have agreements where one or both parties can seek sex outside the relationship).
Sex is essentially what separates a great friendship from a great romance – it’s the thing that distinguishes our mates from our dates. Without it, we become, as so many sexless couples often say of their relationship dynamic: “more like flatmates”.
A Pew Research study even found a fulfilling sex life was the second most important predictor of marital satisfaction next to fidelity.
But because we measure the success of a relationship on its longevity, rather than the ways it enriches our lives – mentally, emotionally, and sexually – a lack of physical intimacy is often viewed as an inadequate reason for calling it quits.
And this is despite the fact research overwhelmingly shows a satisfying sex life is critical not only to the quality of our relationships, but to our own sense of wellbeing. A 2019 paper published in PubMed suggested simply having more frequent and better-quality sex can lead to improved mental health outcomes for couples.
For this reason, a sexless relationship (which is defined by most sex therapists as a relationship in which a couple has sex less than 10 times a year) shouldn’t be viewed as an inevitable consequence of being in a long-term relationship, or an insignificant event.
A dry spell on its own needn’t be cause for concern, but if it extends into sexlessness that’s unable to be resolved within the relationship or in couples therapy, and if the thought of being intimate with your partner elicits dread and resentment instead of joy and enthusiasm, it may be worth considering whether it’s time to walk away.
Because – contrary to what we’ve been led to believe about relationships – committing to making a bed with someone doesn’t mean you have to lie in it indefinitely.
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