Married and celibate: Adjusting my relationship expectations in a sexless marriage

Guest post by Anonymous
Photo by spablab – CC BY 2.0
Photo by spablabCC BY 2.0

My husband (let’s call him H) and I have been together for seven years, and I am still madly in love with him. I find him just as smart, funny, and sexy as I did in those first heady days of flirtation and courtship. I would happily make love to him as often as he liked. Unfortunately, this means that we have sex only a few times a year.

We’re barely in our thirties, but H and I are currently in a “sexless marriage” (defined as a couple who have sex “10 times a year or less”). I’m writing this because I want other partners in similar situations to know that they aren’t alone. Most media representations portray men as crazed sex-beasts with insatiable needs. So when you’re rejected by a supposed sex-beast, it can seriously shake your own sexual confidence.

In the first two years of our relationship, we had amazing, beautiful sex. I didn’t expect that giddy passion to last forever, but I was totally unprepared for the sex to stop almost completely, as it has in the last several years. At first, being rejected by my partner confused me. I spent a lot of time worrying: What’s wrong with me? Does he still love me? Does he still find me attractive? Is there someone else?

I have a pretty healthy sexual appetite, but H no longer desires any form of sexy kissing, touching, or physical intimacy. Sometimes we hold hands… but that’s it. And I’m not going to lie: I grieve for this loss.

Losing our sex life has felt like a small death. Though I still deeply love and respect H, and I’m trying to accept him for what he can and cannot give right now, I don’t want to live like this for the rest of my life. At times, this loss feels unbearable. I stay up for hours after he goes to bed — reading, doing work, looking at Facebook — because I’ve had my hopes crushed too many times. If we’re awake in bed together, there is a small chance that he might touch me or kiss me.

But he very rarely does. And since the occasions are so infrequent, when we do have sex, the stakes are much higher. I make dark jokes to myself in my journal (“the old ‘180 days without incident’ sign is hanging up by my vagina again, ticking off the days”), and I can talk about the problem with one or two close girlfriends. But mostly, I feel very alone.

In desperation, I have tried to find explanations/solutions online. Most of the advice is truly terrible. Most sex advice boils down to incredibly superficial solutions: Surprise him with lingerie. Make the first move. Massage each other. I wish it were otherwise, but desire can be so much more complicated than that, especially in long-term relationships.

After a series of painfully awkward rejections, it became clear to me that H was not waiting for me to “initiate desire.” Nor did he give a damn about lingerie, coy suggestions, or frank proposals for sexytime. If anything, I learned that this pressure made things worse. It took me a long time to realize that there was really nothing that I could do or say that would make a difference and that in fact my overt attempts to seduce him were huge turn-offs.

If one partner is suffering from physical/emotional exhaustion, stress, or depression, pressuring them into sex is only going to lead to heartache and resentment for both partners. I am sure that H did not enjoy turning me down. Though perhaps it would have been easier if he had just talked to me about how he felt, I understand in retrospect why he didn’t. Trying to explain why your desire has disappeared, when maybe you don’t understand exactly why yourself, is probably a pretty fraught task. Especially when your partner feels hurt and angry about being repeatedly rejected.

Despite this heartache, I still fiercely love H. There are some really good reasons why he has just not been interested in sex, though I won’t go into them here. But in general, dealing with death, financial hardship, and stressful work/life situations are all pretty big boner-killers for everyone. Though it has been very difficult, I have initiated long discussions with him about how we can get rid of some of these stresses and hopefully one day get our sex drives back in sync. Having these conversations was really scary; we both cried. But over time, these conversations also have made us more emotionally intimate and comfortable with each other in a new way.

In a few weeks, our lives will change significantly: new jobs, new schedules. We’re planning to take a short vacation together — something we’ve never before had the resources or time to do. If these big changes aren’t enough, our next step is counseling.

I hold out hope that things will eventually get better. That there is some light in the dark. That no matter what, I will keep choosing to love and respect my partner, the person I cherish above all others.

Sex without the sex? Lots of masturbation? Writing of sweet letters? How do you cope with a sexless marriage?

Comments on Married and celibate: Adjusting my relationship expectations in a sexless marriage

  1. My boyfriend and I are currently going through a situation similar to this. We are both in our late 20s and we got together during a particularly trying time in both of our lives. There was a very significant “before” and “after” with us as my bf is a recovering alcoholic. When he was still drinking, he was a little more affectionate and we would have sex fairly regularly. I lost my virginity to him (I waited until I was in love – just happened to be with an alcoholic) and that awakened my fairly healthy sex drive. He has since quit drinking and has led a sober lifestyle for quite some time now. However, a month after he stopped drinking, he made it clear we wouldn’t be having sex for awhile. He was the victim of childhood sexual abuse and he states that for the first time he is truly dealing with it. We’ve had A LOT of conversations about it due to my feeling of constant rejection. He isn’t affectionate in any physical way. We don’t do anything remotely sexual anymore, even kissing is just a peck.

    I know that we signed up for a long healing process when he got sober. But I can relate to the pain it causes the other partner who just wants that physical intimacy. He grew up in a very dysfunctional home, so hugging, kissing, anything remotely affectionate is foreign to him as a sober man. He was extremely sexually active from the age of 15 on, and now he feels as though, at the age of thirty, he no longer has a sex drive.

    I love him madly and I can’t imagine a life without him. He shows me love in other ways, but its incredibly difficult. Especially since my sexual awakening happened just 2 months prior to his new lack of sexual desire.

    I support him as best I can and I learned quickly that it must be his decision and choice before anything will ever happen physically between us again. We haven’t had sex since he got sober, and you can imagine the questions that race through a girls’ mind. It’s a blow to self-esteem and has led to much self doubt about his love and commitment to me. But until he’s ready, I must wait. And it’s way more difficult than I ever imagined.

    I honestly just pray that God helps me accept a life of celibacy because I feel that he might never truly want to have physical intimacy in any way again.

  2. The details of my marriage and what OP here describes is so similiar it is actually scary. We were also together for 7 years, me late 20s, my husband early 30s, married for almost 2, and we also had a sexless marriage. We were both also on the verge of starting new careers too. And I was also madly in love with my husband despite us never having sex. But see, I discovered that he had a sex addiction. I knew nothing of it, as he had hidden it so well. My advice is that having no or very little sex is NOT normal, no matter how you try to slice it. It is not. It will never get better for you, in fact, it will always get worse. Have a look, do some investigation, because there MUST be some reason as to him not having any desire. If it’s medical, it explains it. But I see too many similarities in my own story and yours to think that it is innocent. You deserve a good life filled with love (physical, emotional). Do not make the same mistake I did by trying to come to peace with a sexless marriage, trying to explain it away or trying to think it will get better. I repeat: IT WILL NOT GET BETTER. EVER. Get out of that situation. Much love to you.

  3. Married 50 yrs and now retired and what do I have? Nothing as far as i’m concerned, I do have a nice home which I never helped pick out, depression, high blood pressure, cholesterol problems, ulcers and a very lonely and depressed wife and a sexless marriage. This SUCKS! I worked hard and super long hours 60-80 hours a week including the weekends. I had no free time to even be alone for a few minutes. When i did head for home sometimes I would fall asleep before even getting out of the parking lot. I could have gotten a different job but jobs were hard to come by at the time. Its to late to feel sorry about anything its all in the past. Being retired isn’t any great shakes, I don’t want to do anything, talk to anyone, or touch me.

  4. Sorry to hear of your unhappiness. I’m 68, live alone (divorced since 2000) and I am certainly happier now than when I was married. Yes, I get very lonely at times and envy those who are happily married, but i’d rather be single than endure an unhappy marriage. Been there! I learned to ride a motorcycle 10 years ago and that is now my passion. And I love to read and watch news programs. I try to keep busy and count my blessings. I’m still alive and many at my age are dead! I live for my son…and that’s what really keeps me going. Please find something in life that brings you joy and get away from your wife, you don’t owe her anything. But you do owe yourself happiness. Seek it! Christine

  5. Wow. Just wow. My husband of 36 years has rejected ALL of my initiating sex our entire lives. He is 63 I just turned 57. My husband suffers from anxiety and depression and has always had a lower sex drive than me. We have raised two children with both of us working, me as the wife and mother working 40 full time night shift and part time work while our kids were in school and the rest of the time was spent caring for our kids and my aging grandmother. This was difficult for all of us, but my husband could have carried more of the burden to help. Instead, he became introverted and blamed me for neglecting him. Money has always been an issue for us, but I am the one ALWAYS picking up the slack.
    This has been very hard on me and when I asked him he summed it up like this: “Sex to men is physical . Sex to women is emotional, that’s why it bothers you more than me to go without it.” Okay, I still didn’t understand. I am told it is a two way street and I know what turns him on. When I try that, I am rejected and told that it was a turn off. Dealt with a one year of no sex when he finally saw a doctor and had a minor problem addressed. We have had basically a 1-2 times a year sex life but we held hands, kissed and cuddled all the time. I just always thought something was wrong with ME. Why did he not want me.
    I had a hysterectomy 9 years ago and I think that also had an effect on him. On me it actually increased my sex drive as now the possibility of pregnancy was gone.
    Money has still not changed. I received a fair inheritance and it was spent in 4 years as my husband lost his job and decided to semi retire, officially retiring two years ago. So he is now home while I babysit our granddaughter and still work 3 days a week. So I am always busy and he sits around the house. He is upset when I am not home, yet when I am he ignores me. I have to work to compensate for his retirement as it has put us in a financial bind….yet he spends money like crazy.
    We took a big road trip this year and the entire trip was to be a camping experience. He backed out of that, opting for hotels. I was upset until the last few days as He actually ended up having sex 4 times on this 10 day trip.
    But we have not had sex since. When I bring it up he is angry and then doesn’t want to talk. I bring up retirement and his sitting around may be causing depression. So I have now been told I am mean and that we have grown apart. This was not what I expected to hear and I was crushed. I felt all my love for him everything that kept me with him…leave my heart. I stopped wanting to be here with him. When I conveyed this his response was not positive toward our relationship, but rather “I am not giving up, what am I suppose to do? Live in someone’s basement?” So glad to know his priority is where he will live, not how do we fix our relationship.
    Needless to say there has been zero discussion, zero effort on the relationship. I am kissed on the head or cheek, but our usual cudlyness is non existant. I can’t bare it, due to his actions and words, I now feel my whole marriage was together only because I did everything. I waited on him. I made sure we had enough money to pay bills and afford his hobbies. I waited for him to change, to”feel better”. And now I feel that I gave up so much of what I wanted in life trying to love him, support him, and have patience while he never considered me or my feelings once.
    So a sexless marriage in my experience, means a loveless marriage. Don’t wait until life is half over to realize this.

  6. I don’t have any expectations in our marriage! married 51 years and the last 40 years have been loveless and sexless. I didn’t know before our marriage that he was heartless, sexless and loveless wanted no kids. I think he put up with me for the first 10 years, I wasn’t the perfect wife but he never said anything. But one day he said that he never really was in love with me, he liked me as a friend only. Also he stated that he couldn’t get an erection any more not even morning wood. His doctor said it was nerves now sex wasn’t great any way but something. He seemed really happy to be able to not have sex again, this upset me horribly. Also he said if I wanted to leave I could, he had no problem with that. Back then there were no little blue pills! He told me he wasn’t interested in sex or intimacy ever again and I was to leave him alone and say nothing. He changed his whole life moved his job to the midnight shift, worked all weekends, holidays and all his vacation and moved to our basement that way he wasn’t around me. He turned his job into his wife and lover and only friend. I should have left when he offered but I didn’t, but I learned to love myself, do my own thing. I don’t have any interest in men any more, I can’t even talk to them any more. He scared me but its also my fault for not leaving. What a stupid mistake I made!

  7. It is normal for guys to not want much sex. I have never had a high sex drive even though I have no testosterone problem. It has always been easy for me to get big. I am 25. I neither play video games nor watch porn. I don’t even watch movies.
    Men are simply not as desperate as the media makes you think.

    It is the woman who is the problem here. Just why is she so desperate?

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