Top Google searches for sex and sexuality were spotlighted in a recent and enlightening New York Times article. According to author Seth Stephens-Davidowich, “sexless marriage” is the most Googled phrase about sex and marriage — even beating out “unhappy marriage” and “loveless marriage.” Stephens-Davidowich claims over 21,000 folks search for sexless marriage results every month.
But I wondered… what do people consider a sexless marriage? And what drives them in droves to a search engine for information about it? So, my psychotherapeutic interest piqued, I distributed a survey to find out more and hundreds of responses rolled in.
The majority of survey respondents were male — almost 60 percent. Almost all respondents were in heterosexual marriages. Nearly all said they were sexually attracted to their spouses before marriage, while 76 percent said they enjoyed an active sex life with their partners either before or early on in the marriage. Sexually speaking, it appears most of these marriages were off to a good start.
So, what happened? Well, a number of things.
When asked when their marriages became sexless, the most popular response (30 percent) was, “after we had our first child.” That was closely followed by, “before our fifth anniversary.” Some mentioned health issues as the catalyst. Others said time (being married over 10 years) was to blame.
So, here was a surprising one: The majority chose this answer to define their sexless marriage: “We have sex more than 12 times a year.” So, sexless marriage to most respondents meant having sex an average of once a month. Only 13 percent said they never have sex.
3. Who’s to blame?
“My wife isn’t interested” was the number one response. Only 21 percent said their husbands were to blame. Those respondents who chose to explain why their marriages were sexless cited stress and exhaustion as culprits. One respondent wrote, “I’ve lost interest in sex. I want other expressions of love to be explored… instead of the same old sex that’s supposed to fix everything but doesn’t.”
4. Who cares?
Well, 75 percent do. They claim they’re unhappy about the state of affairs. And over 50 percent said they wouldn’t have married their spouses if they had known the marriage would be sexless. Would they mind if their spouses went outside the marriage for sex? Heck, yeah. A whopping 75 percent said this was definitely not okay.
5. What are they doing about it?
Most respondents report they’ve grown tired of being rejected by their spouses and have stopped making efforts. One respondent wrote, “There’s nothing left inside me for this marriage. I’ve given it all I had and it’s time to move on.” Another wrote, “Emptied out and objectified. Sex was not based on connection so I quit having sex.”
In order to bring the spark back, respondents said they would like their partners to ask what they need in the bedroom and then do it. Others wanted more romance out of the bedroom. “Actually want me and be an active participant,” one respondent wrote. Sadly, 33 percent believe nothing will lead to improvement. “I no longer want to have sex with my husband…I do want to have sex again, though. Just not with him,” claimed another.
Respondents were nearly split on whether they were more — or less — eager to improve their sex lives as time went by. But the majority said they would make an effort to have more sex if their spouses threatened to end the marriage because of it. Most reported frequent masturbation and watching porn as alternative avenues for meeting their sexual needs. Only 12 percent confessed to having had an emotional or sexual affair.
6. What do they want?
The respondents named, 1) friendship/companionship, 2) sex/intimacy, and 3) love, as the most important qualities in a marriage. And though their requirement for sex/intimacy wasn’t being met, most didn’t want their marriages to end. Nearly 50 percent of respondents said lack of sex in the marriage was not a deal breaker. Conversely, 33 percent said they do think about leaving.
The findings from this survey struck me as particularly optimistic. For one thing, most of these folks are committed to their marriages despite their unhappiness with the sexual side of things. And many felt “happy” when their spouses did approach them for sex. Even more respondents felt “hopeful that things will start to improve.”
The overwhelming majority said, “We talk about it but nothing changes” but only 14 percent had gone to couples counseling and only 3 percent to a sex therapist.
If you’ve been wondering about your own sexless marriage, you’re obviously not alone. And the message from this survey is crystal clear: Expend energy making your spouse feel desirable. Initiate sex. Take pride in your physical appearance. Get some professional guidance. In the words of one respondent, “I told my husband he better get on it before someone else does!”