My husband and I haven’t had sex in two years. The drought began after I had our third child. I’ve never really enjoyed sex. I was always tired, and I just didn’t think it was worth the effort anymore. Now, we don’t even talk about it.
My wife and I got married about eighteen months ago. Because of sexual pain, we have not been able to have sex. Does that mean we aren’t really married? We have started talking about whether we should even stay together if we can’t have sex after trying so many times.
We used to have a decent sex life, but ever since my infidelity my husband doesn’t want to come near me. He says he’s forgiven me and we’ve been through counseling, but it’s as if that part of our marriage just kind of died.
As these scenarios illustrate, there are many reasons why couples are in sexless marriages. In most cases, one or both spouses are not happy about it. Experts generally classify a marriage as “sexless” if the couple has sex less than once a month. If this describes your marriage, you are not alone. Approximately 15-20% of marriages fall within this category.
You may wonder, how important is sex to my marriage? Is it possible to be good friends and partners without sex?
Your marriage is about far more than having sex. Sex doesn’t make you married. Instead, God gives the gift of sex to you because you are married. A Christian marriage is a covenant relationship, a promise to be faithful and committed to each other and to share the rest of your lives together. God created the gift of sex as a physical way for a husband and wife to symbolize and remember that covenant. Just as you promised to share your lives with each other, you have also promised to share the intimate and vulnerable journey of sex with your spouse. You give your bodies as a symbol of how you have pledged your lives to each other.
The importance of sex within marriage is not only a spiritual principle but just plain good marriage advice. Research indicates that having sex at least once a week is correlated with lower divorce rates and greater overall satisfaction in marriage. Certainly, couples who enjoy each other outside of the bedroom are more likely to have a good sex life, but the inverse can also be true. While sex cannot fix a highly dysfunctional marriage, addressing sexual challenges and issues has been shown to improve most marriages.
Our brain chemistry helps explain part of the reason sex can be a blessing to your marriage. When a couple is sexually intimate, both spouses are meant to experience the release of dopamine (a neurotransmitter we associate with pleasure), oxytocin (a hormone that promotes bonding), and endorphins (hormones that create a sense of wellness and peace). When sex is painful or triggering or the relationship is highly conflictual, the brain will respond with stress hormones, like cortisol and adrenaline, reinforcing fear rather than promoting healthy pleasure and bonding. This is proof that, while sex is supposed to be good chemically, not all sex is good sex, and so it is important to explore physical, emotional, and relational factors behind the way you experience sex.
Regardless of what has caused the absence of sex within your marriage, here are three things you can do to reintroduce sexual intimacy into your marriage:
1. Identify and address the barrier.
While you may already know what’s getting in the way, sometimes barriers exist as the elephant in the room that you never name. A physical problem. Exhaustion. Unresolved conflict or betrayal. Lack of sexual enjoyment or arousal. Shame about your sexuality. Emotional triggers from past trauma. No affection for or from your spouse. Take a moment to identify what is causing the absence of sex in your marriage.
You might ignore these barriers because they feel too overwhelming to address. Whatever the barrier, help is available. We live in a day and age where we have information and resources to address physical, emotional, spiritual, and relational problems. Unfortunately, there are some roadblocks in your sexual relationship that will not simply disappear. Restoring a marriage or healing from trauma takes time, and there are physical and emotional limitations that might just be part of your reality. However, addressing and seeking help will give you the best chance of minimizing and growing through that barrier.
2. Reframe sex as intimacy rather than activity.
One of the biggest mistakes we make is thinking about sex as an action–namely intercourse. When sex can’t happen, we resign ourselves to a marriage without sexual intimacy. Intercourse is just one of the many ways couples can be sexual together. The greatest intimacy isn’t formed by the act of penetration itself. Instead, it is the journey of sharing your sexuality with one another, in good times and through struggles.
Sexual intimacy is not just what’s happening to your body–it is the soul-to-soul sharing of what it all means. There are couples who have regular sex for decades without ever experiencing true sexual intimacy. Their bodies go through the motions, but they’ve never learned how to communicate their feelings and experiences with each other.
I know many couples who have developed the deepest levels of sexual intimacy not in spite of but because of a significant barrier. The affair. The cancer. Infertility. Sexual pain. These obstacles forced them to stop having intercourse but invited them to begin learning about each other’s sexual journey.
3. Create a plan together to foster sexual intimacy in your marriage.
Nothing will change if you change nothing. Even if you may not be able or ready to have intercourse, there are things you can do to build into your sexual relationship. Your sex life is worth fighting for, and you may indeed have to fight for it. So, what are you and your spouse willing to do? Go to counseling or see a doctor. Read a book about sexual intimacy together. Schedule times to explore sexual touch with each other. Pray about your sex life. Attend a marriage intensive.
Sex is, indeed, an important part of marriage. But don’t measure your sex life by how many times you have sex a week, a month, or a year. Instead, begin measuring it by the effort you are putting into restoring it.
→ Are you a wife whose sexual pain is a barrier in your sex life? Join our new coaching intensive, “Journey of the Courageous,” with Debby Wade. This is an 8-week interactive, educational, and supportive approach for wives who experience sexual pain with intercourse. Learn more and apply here. (The deadline to apply is April 10.)