When a couple stops having sex, it doesn’t just affect things in the bedroom — it often puts a strain on the entire relationship.
If both partners are content with little to no sex, then those dry spells (which are quite common, by the way) may not pose a problem. But in relationships in which one or both partners value their sex lives, a dead bedroom can bring up painful emotions, fears and resentments that just push them further and further apart.
“Couples collude in silence,” sex therapist Kimberly Resnick Anderson told HuffPost in 2018. “They decide it is easier to have no sex at all than to deal with the hurt feelings and unpredictable emotions, such as guilt or anger.”
We asked women who have lived through sexless marriages to reveal what the experience was like for them and how it affected their relationships.
For privacy reasons, some respondents’ last names have been withheld or a pseudonym has been used. Interviews have been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.
‘Not Good Enough’
“I didn’t want anyone to know about my sexless marriage so I hid behind a smiling facade. Inside, I was drowning in a maelstrom of emotions: shame over experiencing pain from intercourse (instead of orgasms), then not wanting sex altogether. Fear that the pain was serious, my body damaged, defective. Disappointment in myself that I was not the sexual woman I’d imagined myself to be when I married the man of my dreams. Anger that this was not how it’s supposed to be — this was not the dream. Confusion over why I didn’t want sex with the man I loved. And powerlessness — over everything.
I tried to will myself to be sexual. It wasn’t working, which led to more of the same — shame, fear, disappointment, anger. With every gynecologist I saw, every test I ran, I got the same response: There was nothing wrong with me physically. ‘Then it must be me and my sexuality. I’m the one who’s broken here,’ I concluded. My biggest fear — that I am not good enough as a woman and as a wife — permeated almost every thought and preoccupied me day and night. I blamed my body for being fat, not sexy, not worthy of sex — which led me to put on an 40 extra pounds.
But the most painful part was that I felt so alone. My heart was hurting — but I did not have the words (or permission) to confide vulnerably in my husband about this inner struggle. I was on my own. All I knew was to act out my frustrations and fears — with angry remarks, followed by apologies — that only made me hate myself more and drew us further apart.” — Irene Fehr
“In my experience, a sexless marriage begins when conversation dies and then it’s a natural progression to physical and spiritual celibacy between two people. Even writing these words draws up those feelings of deep loneliness and feeling unloved. I guess he may have felt the same except he was still trying to initiate physical sex but without putting in the effort to kindle desire through attention and conversation.
“I blamed my body for being fat, not sexy, not worthy of sex.”
– Irene Fehr
Ultimately, the state of the marriage was impacting my health: I went into depression and my weight went up to more than 350 pounds. I could not contemplate creating a new life as I was utterly detached from who I had been pre-marriage. I was lost. I am forever grateful to a dear friend who wrote to me about my health. It was the first step in acknowledging the truth of my life at that time and then initiating plans for a better future. Looking back, I don’t regret this time of my life, as I have learned from the experience and my life is full of titillating, scintillating and hilarious conversations with the person I love. Even though we might only do the horizontal tango a few times a month, we are committed to celebrating each other every single day: small acts of kindness, a pinch on the bum, and a slow kiss every morning and night.” ― Susan Jarvis
‘I Felt Guilty’
“I went through a sexless period in my marriage, but the reason for that was entirely on my end. My husband had a high sex drive and still found me desirable, but I was almost never aroused. I had an undiagnosed chronic illness that messed with my hormones and libido. I still loved sex. I missed having sex. And I really enjoyed sex when I had it. I wanted more, but I could only bring myself to do it once every month or two.
I felt frustrated because I wasn’t able to give myself what I wanted. I felt guilty because I couldn’t stop thinking that I had tied my husband down to this relationship and now he was cheated out of having a normal sex life. And I felt scared because I didn’t know how long he’d put up with it. He said he was fine and that he loved me too much to live without me, but how long would he really put up with a sexless marriage? One year? Five years? Ten?
After a years-long dry spell, I finally saw my way out of it. I started writing about sex and that helped. But it’s going through hormonal replacement that really pushed things forward. My health is still very much a work in progress, but things are looking up and I’m back to having sex regularly.” ― Emma Austin
‘I Was Shamed About My Body’
“Our relationship didn’t start sexless. To the contrary, we had sex every day. It was wonderful and I felt alive. It was affirming. I’ve struggled with my self-esteem since I was a young gymnast, and here was this man that seemed to want me. Then it dropped off. My weight became an issue, reaffirming all my worst fears. I shouldn’t have married him.
For our wedding night, he had arranged for his brother to be in our suite. I spent my own money to book another. Then it only happened on special occasions, and then for two years, nothing. I was shamed about my body. There were a number of factors but it ended our marriage.
My self-image has been so harmed by this. When we’d first broken up, despite looking relatively normal, I felt too ugly to go outside, too ugly for makeup. I still struggle with people taking pictures. I’m a doctor, I take care of my family, and I still feel like my entire worth rests on my appearance. Weirdly, when my husband and I did split, he seemed horrendously hurt that men were interested in me and I basked in that interest. He did not want his trash to be another’s treasure. It’ll take me a long time before I trust a man long-term again. Longer still before I feel worth something.” ― Alayna
‘I Felt So Unattractive’
“My partner and I have been married for two and a half years, together for nine. Our relationship started with sex and it was intense. Our libidos matched, we could talk outside the bedroom about what we liked and didn’t like and what we wanted to try next. When I moved in, all intimacy seemed to vanish overnight. It went from once every two weeks to once a month. He always had an excuse, he was tired, not feeling well, too busy. He would physically push me away and say ‘Get off me.’ It was devastating but I kept trying, I was so attracted to him.
I knew what the problem was. He had gained weight and his overall health went downhill, resulting in little or no libido. But he never shared that with me, just deflected or made me feel bad about desiring my partner. The times we did have sex, there was no foreplay, no flirting in the kitchen, whispering dirty things in each other’s ears. So once we were in bed, I wasn’t ready and he complained. I ended up in tears more often than orgasm.
“I hate feeling undesirable to the one man who is supposed to love me before all. I became terrified of his rejection.”
One night, I said to him that the night before was fun and I would like us to go to bed together again. He jumped up, told me I was stressing him out and walked to the bedroom. He came out a few minutes later to apologize, but the damage was done. I stopped initiating and planned to leave. I hate feeling undesirable to the one man who is supposed to love me before all. I became terrified of his rejection. I was depressed and tried medication. I never cheated because I couldn’t hurt him and also because I felt so unattractive. My partner doesn’t want me, how could anyone else!
The relationship is over. There were many other issues besides the lack of intimacy, but the lack of intimacy seemed to magnify all other problems. If I had felt loved and desired and cared for, maybe I could have overlooked some issues.” ― Lindsay