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Can You Save a Sexless Marriage?

A practical guideline to couples who are challenged with mis-matched libidos.

This article first appeared on the Good Men Project. 

Let’s be honest—sex is a big deal. Great sex makes you feel like you’ve transcended into some heavenly plane. For some people, it’s a bond between partners that can’t be created in any other way. When you look at it objectively, it’s sort of odd what a big deal we humans have made of it. It’s two bodies, moving in a weird way, with the ultimate goal of achieving orgasm, a goal which can be reached any other number of ways without all the mess. And yet if you consider all of our sex-related industries here in the USA—from pornography to Viagra and everything else—we worship sex probably even more than we worship any religion. Any way you look at it, sex matters to human beings.

That’s why a loss of libido is such a huge deal. When once you were full of desire and lust, now you feel like a flat line—no ups, no downs, no nothin’. You can observe someone is attractive, you can remember when you had insane sex, but it becomes sort of like skiing or shooting skeet. It’s fun to do a few times a year, but you don’t need to do it every day. You most likely don’t even think about it all that often.

In the times when a person’s libido is low, having sex is so far from his or her mind that often it doesn’t even occur to them that they aren’t having it. Lots of people find those times in life to be very productive for work and other non-sexual relationships. Of course, problems arise when person who is in the “flat line” stage is in a monogamous relationship with someone who’s still burning with desire. Then it feels terrible for everyone.


There are a lot of caricatures of a sexless marriage, first and foremost that of the couple who had a blisteringly hot sex life early on in their relationship, and once kids come along, the wife is no longer interested. Her sexy lace nighties become giant flannel pajamas buttoned up to the neck. Eventually, the husband becomes so weary from being rejected that he either has an affair or shuts down completely and becomes an asexual being, completely emasculated.

The next caricature of a sexless marriage is one in which the woman becomes a bitter crow of a wife who uses sex as a tool to get what she wants or as a weapon to punish her husband for being “bad”—and not in a fun way, like with a spanking—but by abstaining from him, forcing him to the couch. The man in this scenario is so sex-starved and sex-crazed that he will do anything to get some, and will always relent, leaving this caricature of a wife smirking over his shoulder with her new Prada bag by the bedside.

We often hear both of these scenarios referred to as “withholding sex”, when in truth, only the latter is actually withholding sex. In both situations, the couple isn’t having sex the way they used to, and both are probably dissatisfied. But in the first scenario, the person who has no desire isn’t “withholding it”—they simply don’t have it to give.

And that’s where the point of miscommunication becomes tragic. In many relationships (we’re going to presume the relationships we’re talking about are monogamous, for the sake of this article) both partners feel entitled to sex—and to a certain type and frequency. Both partners feel entitled to have their needs met by their partners, and because of their belief in monogamy, they cannot have their needs met elsewhere.

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