How to recover from a sexless marriage?

Submitted by James Bonding on
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Several weeks ago I found (I Live In A Sexless Marriage), an active forum with about 1200 members, 40% women and 60% men, who are not getting enough sex in their marriages. Their definition of "sexless marriage" is one in which there is sex less than 10 times per year.

Only about 5 of the members have reported recovering from the sexless marriage status by increasing the sex frequency to an acceptable level. The usual advice is "get a divorce" or "outsource" (find a Friend With Benefits).

I went through 7 years of NO sex or sleeping together at all, and then recovered (maybe not getting as much sex as I would like, but certainly a lot more than 10 times a year), so it seems my experience is quite unusual and maybe sharing my experience might help others.

I'd also invite others who have recovered from a sexless marriage to share their experience and suggestions.

My history: In the first 20 years or so of our marriage, we had sex about once a week, then there was the 7-year drought, then we got together again and had sex about once every 10 days on average for the last 8 years. Most of the relevant details are in this post: (in particular the section that starts "* More communication, don't assume she knows how I feel or how serious the situation is.") which I highly recommend reading. The rest of the thread about "Not Enough Sex" may be interesting too, though it's rather long!

(Note to people not familiar with the Reuniting forum or the practice of karezza: karezza can be defined as intercourse without orgasm. Avoiding orgasm has some benefits that are explained elsewhere on this site. But for the purpose of understanding these "How to recover from a sexless marriage?" and "Not enough sex" threads, you can consider "karezza" to be equivalent to intercourse or sex.)

After I wrote that post 2 years ago, the sex frequency dropped off again. Recently I got unhappy with the once-every-10-days sex, did some more research and took some actions which have increased the sex frequency to a more satisfactory level. I might write about it in a separate post in the future.

I think the conclusions I had in the above post are still valid and apply to both no-sex and low-sex relationships. The only additional thought I have now is this: for whatever reason (probably: financial stability, and wanting to avoid the upheaval and uncertainties of divorce), my wife really seems committed to keeping our marriage together. So, when she understands that I'm unhappy enough about something to seriously consider divorce, she will do what it takes to make me happy - in my case, providing sex at a reasonable frequency.

So, her desire to stay married (and my willingness to divorce if necessary) is a lever I can use to get what I want. If she had wanted to stay married, but wasn't willing to have sex with me, I would have been willing to find and live with a girlfriend, without getting a divorce. That would be another way to resolve the problem.


A shift in perspective

For me, the problem (of not enough sex) had a lot to do with thinking about sex as a thing I want and my wife as the one who has it and can give it to me. It turned out to be sort of a knot with lots of things tied up in it, and little clarity on which part of the string to pull on to unravel and straighten it out.

The first piece of the puzzle came to me when I realized what a disease porn addiction is. For many reasons, my porn use had reinforced the already unhealthy view I had on sex, distorting it even further. I really had no idea about the true purpose of sex in a relationship, or even what healthy, satisfying sex even looks / feels like.

When my wife and I started practicing Karezza, it was initially to help me reboot from porn use without completely avoiding sex. One thing I discovered in that process was that sex, the way we were doing it, wasn't enjoyable for either of us, especially her. Looking back, I can totally understand now why she wasn't excited about "giving me sex", and was looking for ways to minimize the frequency of that "obligation". So I can't say that applying leverage to counter this would have been a good approach for me.

Now, she loves having sex with me, and fully enjoys multi-hour sessions as often as 3x / week when we have the time. My point is, through removing the porn, practicing Karezza, and using sex in our relationship as a way to connect and be present with each other (in the deepest possible way), the sex is actually enjoyable for both of us, so I don't have to convince her to do it, she wants to.

My other point is, before going down this road, I didn't believe this outcome was even a possibility. I've tried explaining all of this to friends of mine who are in sexless marriages; they don't believe that it would work for them. I guess I can see why - it's not a simple fix, but takes time, practice and patience before seeing results. Plus, Karezza requires that you (more or less) give up the one thing people think of as the big reward in sex, so it sounds crazy out of the gate (it sounded crazy to me at first).

the sexless marriage path

I would never have gone down that path. I was and am too interested in sex to give it up. 

That position has meant that even though my wife isn't thrilled with sex all that much, we have a lot of sex.

And Karezza makes it enjoyable for her. We schedule it and have it 4 times a week, 30 minutes or so each time.

I wish she enjoyed it more. I'm not sure why she doesn't, but that is her problem and not mine. And it's not a problem for her, so it's not one for me either in general.

I think people who let a marriage go downhill like that in the sex department need to stop it right there. For me, it was porn and masturbation that had taken the place of sex. When I stopped all that, I then focused my attention on my wife and that created a time of neediness and difficulty in our relationship.

In retrospect this was unavoidable and really, entirely healthy. We rebooted our relationship in the bedroom, and kind of re-negotiated. That is really the word for it.

It's been harmonious for years now, and even though I have a "zero sex drive" wife, we have plenty of sex. And it's 100 times better for me than it's EVER been.

If we can do it, anyone can.

A widower's story

My story will be different than what has been discussed above. In my introductory post several months ago I told of being widowed after 39 years of marriage, as well as a fairly mutually satisfying sex life tapering down in the latter years. As I recall, possibly the last two years, and definitely the last year fell under the less than ten times/year threshold mentioned above. Although if I was asked about how satisfied I was with the development, I would have expressed dissatisfaction, I admit that I was complicit in the decline in frequency.

When ED became a factor for me, Viagra was there to help out. But it does not make you 25 again. There are mild side effects, and some adjustments in spontaneity and planning that one adjusts to, using the blue pill. The last year or so, I started to recognize that anticipation of sexy times was one thing, but the doing of it was becoming somewhat like a chore. This is speaking totally for myself, and I wonder now if it was similar for my wife, for reasons peculiar to her aging issues. The result was that both of us were rarely initiating sex, although I believe that both of us would have said that we should do it more often.

Having learned about karezza after my wife's passing, I wonder what difference it would have made. The only thing that we knew during our life together was sexy time until orgasm. That is when we knew that we were done. And of course this requires a firm erection. A "soft-on" is a disappointing show-stopper. She rarely came from only PIV stimulation, so I would manually bring her to orgasm, but neither of us liked one-sided sexy times, so Viagra was the obvious the solution. But what if there was another choice, one that was not performance and goal based? I would have liked to have had the opportunity to explore that option for sex in our sixties.

How, exactly, did you recover?

I started this thread in order to provide some information and suggestions to people in sexless marriages to try to help them get their situations turned around. Thank you to the people who responded, but I didn't see anything that could be turned into actions.

* DID you turn your marriage around, from sex less than 10 times a year to a more acceptable frequency?

* What ACTION did you take to turn it around?

* What were the necessary conditions/circumstances that enabled the turnabout to occur?

In my case, the necessary condition was that my wife was committed to keeping the marriage together, while I was willing to leave, thus giving me some leverage.

The action was getting her to understand that I was serious about wanting to leave, as was preparing to do so.

It would be hard to overstate how difficult it was to get her to understand... I gave her handwritten notes, typed and printed-out notes, emails, had several verbal (and usually heated!) discussions, made preparations to sell the house, explaining to her (twice!) that that was in preparation for divorce, told her that I would visit another woman and then did so. Even then, it took a couple more months before she decided to get back together with me.

About the only action that would have spoken louder would have been to actually file for divorce as soon as I decided that was an acceptable option. That would certainly have gotten her attention, and would likely have resolved the situation earlier, one way or another. One reason I didn't officially start the divorce proceedings was that I wasn't confident I could find another woman who would like me and be willing to hang out with me. Visiting that other woman gave me that confidence and so was an important part of turning my marriage around.

By the way, my post on about "How I recovered from a sexless marriage" now has 85 views on iliasm. Most of those viewers probably followed my link to this thread on Reuniting. So there's quite a bit of interest in this topic. Marnia, do you have some sort of estimate of how many people are active on Reuniting? From that we could make a vague estimate of how many people on this forum have turned around a sexless marriage.


To me, marriage is a sexual contract - as well as being several others sorts of contract, too, encompassing companionship, finance and family.

So I don’t think it’s unreasonable for you to use the leverage you have in one area to swing the balance a little more in your favour in another.

I haven’t had to turn around a sexless marriage, but there were a number of periods where the importance of sex seemed to come low down our list of shared activities. There was also a prevailing sense that my wife needed to be persuaded by me before showing much interest that left me feeling a bit predatory.

It was only when we scheduled sex, in the same way we schedule nearly everything else of importance in our lives, that matters improved. At first I didn’t like the idea of this, as I equated schedules with less desirable activities such as dentist trips, unavoidable appointments, etc; but once I had established beyond any doubt that my wife actively ‘enjoyed’ sex, and I belatedly realised we scheduled lots of pleasurable activities - sleep, meals, etc - already, it was no problem.

That she did enjoy sex was curiously difficult for her to admit; but I think doing so - out aloud - made it much easier for her to go along with scheduling. It’s almost as if beforehand she felt she had a lifetime duty to appear less than willing, only succumbing at my insistence, which required my approaches to be made ‘out of the blue’, whereas once these preliminaries were already taken care of (each upcoming tryst being on the calendar) she was as enthusiastic as me.

After a while, the schedule became much looser. We now have an implicit understanding that we will make love every other day, if circumstances permit. As we have evolved pretty strict criteria around lovemaking - daytime only, in warm, comfortable conditions - circumstances often don’t allow this; but I find it no hardship to go without, as knowing my wife is ever ready, willing and responsive (in fact, delighted) at the drop of a hat, is tonic enough.

I read your post on the site you mention and there was a reply from someone who seemed to pour scorn on your claim of a turnaround, pointing out that only a very small percentage of forum members succeeded in bringing about any change in their sexlessness. I read a few other posts and I thought the overall tone was very gloomy. Most posters seemed to be searching for confirmation that the only viable solution was divorce.

I can only go with what worked for me. If my wife limited the amount of time she ate with me, or sat with me, or socialised with me, I would ask her to clarify whether or not she enjoyed my company. If it turned out that she didn’t, maybe it would be time to reconsider if we were well suited. The same goes for sex. I don’t think we would be together if we didn’t like each other’s company; and I don’t think we would be together if we didn’t both enjoy sex.

There’s also the matter of the type of sex we do enjoy, which is mostly Karezza based, and generally slow paced. This wasn’t always the case. I may be being idealistic but I find it hard to believe that any couple who have ever enjoyed sex together couldn’t - with mutual willingness - evolve an equally enjoyable approach after a period of prolonged drought through a mixture of patience and experimentation.

So in answer to your questions I would suggest:

Establish that sex (or, at the very least, naked contact) is enjoyable - in principle.
Carve out time for it. Stick to the schedule like glue.
Experiment with alternative approaches - including Karezza. Slow down.

Thank you, sood, for your

Thank you, sood, for your interesting and thoughtful reply.

"I read your post on the site you mention and there was a reply from someone who seemed to pour scorn on your claim of a turnaround, pointing out that only a very small percentage of forum members succeeded in bringing about any change in their sexlessness. I read a few other posts and I thought the overall tone was very gloomy. Most posters seemed to be searching for confirmation that the only viable solution was divorce."

I didn't see it as mocking at all. What poster "baza" said was:

"Well, there ya go.
First post, and a claimed turnaround.

That'll make you #6 or thereabouts Brother jamesbonding .

6 out of 1,212 - or about 00.50% - or about 1 in 202."

Was it the "Brother jamesbonding" part that made you think it was mocking? That's how he addresses everyone - Brother jamesbonding, Sister so-and-so, etc.

(If you want to see mocking, check out Smile )

Anyway, I agree that the tone is gloomy over there and the only "solutions" commonly discussed are divorce, outsourcing, or staying (at least until the kids are grown).

And for most of the people on ILIASM, those may well be the only solutions. Most of the people there have spouses who have no interest in sex at all, and furthermore are not even willing to "put out" to please their spouses. I've read more than one story of couples not having sex on their wedding night or in their entire honeymoon. Many of the people have endured 10, 20, 30 years of sexless marriages. Understandably, those people feel cheated, feel bitter about the marriage, and after all that are not interested in getting back together with their spouses.

So how did I manage to turn around my marriage, when so few on the ILIASM forum have done so?

* I think my wife's mindset has a lot to do with it. I don't think she really likes sex most of the time, but at worst she just thinks it's a nuisance and it may be uncomfortable in certain positions or if it goes on for too long. So she is (perhaps grudgingly) willing to have sex with me. It's preferable to me leaving, from her point of view. On the other hand, for the refusing spouses of the ILIASM people, avoiding sex may be more important than keeping the marriage together.

* During the sexless years, our kids were teenagers. My wife was rather controlling (excessively so, in my opinion) and the kids fought back against the controls, leading to a lot of stress for my wife. It was a horrible home environment. I stayed away from home and away from my wife as much as possible, and so did the kids. As the kids got older, and one of them moved out to go to college, things gradually got better. Perhaps as my wife began to experience less stress, sex became a possibility.

* I've never been in a rush to leave. I've only considered divorce as a last resort. If we do get divorced, I hope we can keep it amicable. I've never burned any bridges. So, even though I was moving toward divorce near the end of the sexless period of my marriage, I was moving slowly enough that my wife had time to change her mind and decide to sleep with me and have sex with me again.

My suggestion for ILIASM people: I won't say that you should stay married until your kids have grown and moved out, but IF you do stick around until then, consider sticking around a few months longer and have some discussions with your spouse about whether you might start having a normal sex life. Perhaps your spouse will change after the kids have gone. Perhaps. No guarantees!

I think this could have happened to me

Before I discovered this website I could have ended up in a sexless marriage and probably would have left my wife. She stopped really enjoying sex and frequency was falling off as it often does.

I wish she enjoyed sex more, but she doesn’t enjoy it that much. We schedule it, as Sood reports, but probably more sticklers for the schedule, rarely missing the schedule unless I’m out of town or we are staying with friends and they could possibly hear us.

Otherwise we have a very good marriage and are a great team. With Karezza we have a lot of sex, but if we didn’t have this sort of pact, it wouldn’t happen that often.

I like the Sood idea, that marriage is a sexual contract along with other things. In all other aspects my wife is wonderful, and in sex she is wonderful too but it isn’t something that she really enjoys. And that doesn’t seem to bother her. So it isn’t really my business, which has been occasionally though for me to fully be on board with. But it is true.


Thanks, Emerson

You've mentioned several times that "sex... isn’t something that she really enjoys. And that doesn’t seem to bother her. So it isn’t really my business..." That thought has been a comfort to me.

That thought can be generalized in a couple ways: Relationships and shared activities don't have to be symmetrical, with an equal give and take. And people don't all think and feel the same way about things. (The latter statement is obviously true, but is easy to forget, because we tend to associate with like-minded people, and because we tend to assume that others think the same as we do, without checking our assumptions. We forget to ask "Do you agree that ___?", "Do you like ___?")

Some examples: Emerson likes sex, his wife not so much. But apparently she enjoys making Emerson happy. So it's all good.

I love to spoon my wife when we're in bed together, and I love it when she spoons me. I can go to sleep with a smile on my face when she has her arm around me. My wife, on the other hand, grew up in a family where there wasn't much touch. It's a complete mystery to her why I like to hold her or be held by her. Furthermore, she feels uncomfortable when I put my arm around her. She says it feels too heavy (even though I'm not a big guy). A car accident and other injuries may be contributing to the discomfort. So, I can't put my arm around her in bed, and I had a hard time convincing her that YES, I REALLY LIKE IT WHEN YOU PUT YOUR ARM AROUND ME. Now, she will usually snuggle up and put an arm around me if I ask, or sometimes she will do it on her own initiative - which makes me very happy!

Another similar example: she has a hard time going to sleep, and doesn't like to be woken because it's hard to go to sleep again. If she sees I'm asleep when she comes to bed, she will be extra quiet and try not to wake me. Me? I don't mind being woken. I can go back to sleep in a few minutes. She is welcome to wake me up if she wants to snuggle for a few minutes. So, I usually try to wake up and make it clear that I'm awake when she comes to bed, so I can get some snuggling!

Coersion your wife trading sex for financial security?
I have not turned our sexless marriage around. I have been very unhappy waiting for my Isadora to change to meet my needs which I felt I was entitled too. I am much happier recognizing that she is not interested in sex and that our marriage has value. No one knows me like she does. Marnia has recommended to us in Recovery, to find many ways to get our dopamine fix. Variety is the spice of life. For a month now I have been putting my self first without constantly trying to figure out how to act to get Izzy to change. I will not coerce her into having sex with me by threatening an affair or divorce. At some point she may wish to have sex with a happier man...hope it's me!