Figuring out the causes of a sexless marriage

sexless marriage is a vulnerable marriage. Sex promotes the flow of oxytocin, the chemical that promotes feelings of bonding. Sex also is a free way of having fun together. Lastly, when sex is a special activity that married couples share only with each other, sexual sharing enhances the importance of keeping the marriage partnership loving and strong.

So what can a couple, or even just one partner, do when sex has disappeared from the repertoire of activities that they do together and a sexless marriage has become their new normal?

A good place to start is by checking out what has caused the decrease in sharing this generally pleasurable activity. Here’s some of the most common factors that inhibit sexual sharing:

1. No private time together.

If spouses prioritize other activities over sharing sexual time, there may be trouble ahead. Sometimes there is little choice, as when couples have jobs with opposite hours. Most often however, setting up a schedule where there’s no time for sex is a matter of priorities. Think again!

Note also that to want to make love with each other, having time together to refresh your connection with other fun activities or even just “hanging out” helps greatly.

Be sure to keep the cell phones and computers away during such times. Interruptions destroy bonding.

2. No privacy.

If the walls where you live are paper thin or for whatever reason you fear that normal sexual sounds will embarrass you vis a vis others in the household, this blockage merits real attention. What could you do to create more privacy? There’s always options of some sort.

3. No motivation.

Some folks have minimal initial sexual drive. Others just don’t experience sexual pleasure during intercourse.

Irritability, judgmental voice tones, criticism, blame and other hostile ways of interacting can easily squelch a partner’s interest in sexual sharing.  Even if the receiver of this kind of negative energy is not intending to respond with resentment, revenge or tit for tat, few people feel affectionate towards those who hurt their feelings.

Still others have had sexual experiences earlier in their lives that may be blocking comfort with adult sexual sharing.  For this problem, acupoint tapping can be a good option, either working with a therapist or self-administered.  Check out Emotional Freedom Technique on YouTube.

4. Age, which decreases initial sexual interest levels.

Age is among the easier causes of a sexless marriage to overcome. Initial sexual interest levels diminish with age.  At the same time, once older folks “get going,” sexual activity can still be gratifying.

The key for seniors is to find a method, such as scheduling regular sexual times, to launch sexual interactions.

Few people feel like exercising before they head out the door for the gym.  Once they get going though, exercise, and sex likewise, feels good.

5. No one is taking responsibility for initiating sexual interactions.

Too much fear that the other may say no can block either from getting started. At the same time, too much saying No by one or the other partner can inhibit confidence about launching sexual contact.

6.  Biological factors and psychological inhibitors.

As one reader has written in, “The two largest causes of diminished sex drive and sexless marriages are chronic illnesses like lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, CFS, fibromyalgia, etc., which largely affect women and all the drugs that people (again, majority women) take, not just for physical ailments, but also for birth control and depression. Birth control pills and SSRI antidepressants slaughter libido. Together, they must work a special kind of sex-squashing magic.”

In addition, negative sexual messages or experiences earlier in life can make sexuality feel dangerous, as I mention in point #3.

For listings of further and deeper causes of sexless marriage patterns,click here and also click here.

Sexless marriage options: What can you do if any of these factors pertain to your situation?

There are three main ways to address sexless marriage situations.

One is to begin by talking about the situation. If you choose this route be sure to use your best skills for how to communicate in a relationship about sensitive topics, focusing especially on tactful talking and open listening skills.

The second strategy is to decide that sex is important, and therefore figure out what you yourself can do differently that could help.

Third, there is now an association of certified sexual therapists.  Google to find listings of these sex therapy specialists in your area.

Most importantly, if you are troubled by a sexless marriage situation, address the problem squarely.

Wait and see is unlikely to prove to be a strategy that leads to change.

Some couples are fine with a sexless marriage arrangement. If either of you however would prefer that sex return to your relationship, pay attention and put your mind to problem-solving about change options. Otherwise, as I wrote above, a sexless marriage is a vulnerable marriage.


Denver clinical psychologist Susan Heitler, Ph.D, a graduate of Harvard and NYU, is author of Power of Two, a , a , and a website that teach the communication skills that sustain positive relationships.  Click here for a free Power of Two relationship test.  Click the Power of Two logo to learn the skills for a strong, emotionally healthy and loving marriage.


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Susan Heitler, Ph.D., is a Denver clinical psychologist who specializes in treatment of anxiety, depression, anger, narcissism, parenting challenges, and marital difficulties. An author of multiple books, articles, audio cd’s and videos, Dr. Heitler is best known in the therapy community for having brought understandings of conflict resolution from the legal and business mediation world to the professional literature on psychotherapy. David Decides About Thumbsucking, Dr. Heitler’s first book, has been recommended for over twenty years by children’s dentists to help young children end detrimental sucking habits. From Conflict to Resolution, an innovative conflict-resolution theory of psychopathology and treatment, has strongly influenced the work of many therapists. The Power of Two and , and also Dr. Heitler’s  website for couples called, teach the skills for marriage success. In addition to her clinical work, Dr. Heitler coaches boards of directors in skills for collaboarative decision-making and, in the world of professional sports, Dr. Heitler serves as mental coach for a men’s doubles tennis team. Education Dr. Heitler graduated from Harvard  University in 1967, and earned her Ph.D. in clinical psychology from NYU in 1975. Awards and Accomplishments The editors of the master therapist video series Assessment and Treatment of Psychological Disorders selected Dr. Heitler from all the marriage and family therapists in the US to demonstrate the theory and techniques of couple treatment.  Her video from this series, The Angry Couple: Conflict Focused Treatment has become a staple in psychologist and marriage counseling training programs. The editors of the Psychologist Desk Reference, a compendium of therapeutic interventions, selected Dr. Heitler to write the chapter onTreating High Conflict Couples. Other editors of books on counseling theory and techniques have similarly invited her to contribute chapters on her conflict resolution treatment methods. Dr. Heitler’s 1997 book The Power of Two (New Harbinger), which clarifies the communication and conflict resolution skills that sustain healthy marriages, has been translated for publication in six foreign language editions–in China, Taiwan, Israel, Turkey, Brazil and Poland. Dr. Heitler has been invited to present workshops on her conflict resolution methods for mediators and lawyers, psychologists, and marriage and family therapists throughout the country.  She has been a popular presenter at national professional conferences including AAMFT, APA, SmartMarriages, and SEPI and has lectured internationally in Austria, Australia, Canada, China, Israel, Lebanon, Spain, and the United Arab Emirates. Dr. Heitler is frequently interviewed in magazines such as FitnessMen’s HealthWomen’s World, and Parenting.  Her cases have appeared often in the Ladies Home Journal column “Can This Marriage Be Saved?”  She is often interviewed by Denver TV newscasters for her perspectives on psychological aspects of current events. In May, 2004 Dr. Heitler appeared on the CBS Early Show where anchor Harry Smith introduced her as “the most influential person in my life—my therapist.”  He encouraged his viewers similarly to seek therapy when they are emotionally distressed and pre-marital counseling when they are contemplating marriage. Most recently, Dr. Heitler, three of her adult children and one of their friends were awarded a U.S. government Healthy Marriages Initiative grant to produce interactive games for teaching marriage communication and conflict resolution skills over the internet.  See to experience their fun, low-cost, high-impact methods of teaching the skills for a strong and loving marriage. Personal Dr.  Heitler and her husband of almost 40 years are proud parents of four happily married adult children and are grandparents, thus far, of a a baker’s dozen grandchildren.