Several studies this year have found that couples are having less sex or are in sexless marriages, but does that mean couples – married or otherwise – are unhappy?
Not necessarily, relationship expert Chantal Heide says, but it has the potential to negatively affect a partnership.
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“Most people can agree that if you or your partner have had no sex, or have had sex less than six times in the past year, you can consider yourself in a sexless relationship,” she says. “There is no normal when it comes to sex. We all have our reasons for wanting or not wanting it at various points in our lives, and sometimes they coincide with our partner’s own fluctuations and sometimes they don’t.”
So what are some reasons that can explain why some partnerships go through these dry spells?
It’s not you, it’s me
There are many reasons why sex can disappear from a relationship, Heide says, and most of them don’t have anything to do with the other partner.
“Age can affect hormone balance in both men and women,” she says. “Men with lower testosterone but still working long days will feel a lack of energy and drive, while women entering menopausal years undergo changes in their vaginas that can make sex uncomfortable, making them more than willing to choose a dinner date over a sex play date.”
Busy schedules can also be a factor, especially for parents who are exhausted from juggling work and parenting duties, Heide adds. Not to mention new mothers can feel sore or tender for a few months following birth and/or who may be uneasy starting up sex again.
“When these are the reasons why your marriage or relationship have become sexless, rest assured – if you continue to infuse your union with love and appreciation, all it will take is time, patience and an unwillingness to let this turn into a large issue, and your sex life should come back on track,” she says.
Lack of intimacy
Sometimes, however, the absence of sex can be a symptom of a bigger issue – lack of intimacy.
“In these cases, where it’s neither physical changes nor a lack of time that are involved in the reasoning, one should be taking a close look at their relationship,” Heide says. “Do you need counselling? Probably, so look up a good therapist if this is the relationship you want to stay in, and address this issue before it tears you apart.”
Signs you’re in a sexless marriage
“If you’re having sex less than once a month then you could be headed towards even less from there,” Heide warns. “Once you hit that once a month frequency for a three- to four-month stretch, then have a conversation with your partner where you can put everything on the table.”
Talk about what role you think you’re playing in the drop in frequency, Heide says, and ask your partner what they think and feel about the situation.
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Lack of sex between two people in a relationship can also cause insecurities in one or both partners as well, Heide points out.
“If there is any insecurity in the relationship for either partner, a lack of sex can exacerbate the issue, driving the partner waiting for sex to feel rejected and wonder, ‘What’s wrong with me? Aren’t I attractive enough?’” she says. “This nagging thought can hurt, and since anger is a byproduct of hurt, unless addressed this sort of scenario can turn into fights that further drive a wedge in a relationship.”
This can then change the dynamics of why your partner isn’t interested in having sex from feeling too tired for sex to not feeling close to their partner because of constant anger and frustration, Heide says.
What to do
If sex is lacking because of busy schedules, hormones and/or fatigue, it’s important that people give their partners space to go through this phase without adding pressure to have sex on a schedule, Heide says.
“Exercising understanding and giving space that allows your partner to have their personal evolutions can help you feel like human beings with each other, and create a safe space within your relationship to be yourselves,” she says.
Or, if you’re feeling like you want to take charge of the issue, then try setting a “100 days, 100 times we have sex” project up to get the ball rolling again, Heide suggests.
“Regardless of which direction you take … you’ll both have to agree 100 per cent,” she says. “If you can’t find common ground then it may be time to start seeing a therapist.”
If time and energy aren’t the issues, however, then try experimenting.
“Start exploring ways to spice up your sex life and do create a schedule for having more sex,” Heide says. “Be sure what you’re wanting from your partner is something you’re contributing yourself.”
If that’s not working, dig a little deeper, Heide advises.
Talking to a professional and exploring your personal reflection will help guide you towards the next step, she says. And make sure to often ask yourself what you want in the relationship.
“If you feel you’re holding on just because you’ve been together for a number of years and loathe to start over and look for a fresh relationship, then you need to re-evaluate your reasons for being in this union and start being more courageous about taking control of your life and happiness,” Heide says.