We’re constantly hearing about the latest and greatest ways improve things between the sheets, not just because sex is fun and healthy, but because it’s important for the strength and closeness of long-term romantic relationships. Right?
Sure, that’s the common refrain, but the reality may tell a different story. Research finds that one in five married people in America (20 percent) have not had sex in the last month, 12 percent haven’t done the deed in the last three months and 6 percent haven’t had sex in more than a year. (“Sexless” is defined as having intercourse 10 times or less per year.)
Are all those couples for whom sex isn’t high on their priority list — or maybe on it at all — really unhappy and unhealthy? Should they not be together at all? What’s really going on here?
“A sex-free marriage can work perfectly well if both partners are comfortable with the arrangement,” says Laurel Steinberg, Ph.D., sexologist, relationship therapist and professor of psychology at Columbia University.
“If one partner wants to be having sex or much more sex than his/her partner is comfortable with, then a possible solution could be practicing an alternative relationship style, such as polyamory, or having an open relationship that includes sex or sex play with outside partners. It’s important to note that penetrative intercourse isn’t required for a couple to have a great sex life, because fantastic sex happens with hands, mouths and sex toys, as well.”
We talked to real women who are in relationships in which sex plays little to no role, and yet are happy, close and even in love.
Below, three women open up about what it’s like to be in a satisfying, sex-free relationship.
1. (Happy) ships in the night.
“I didn’t realize I was in a sex-free marriage until it was five months after we last did it and my husband of 11 years brought it up. You’re probably asking how one could just forget to have sex… Well, our work schedules have gotten so different — him working during the day and I, a nurse, working evenings — that when it comes to bedroom activities, all we want to do is sleep.
But our marriage still feels strong despite the lack of intercourse. We support each other in our jobs, we’re genuinely best friends, and we touch, kiss and cuddle as often as we can. It’s been eight months since we’ve had sex and I still feel the same way about him as I did on our honeymoon.” — Candice, 52, Naples, Florida
2. Sex on the side.
“My sex-free marriage may be a little different than others. My marriage may be sexless, but I am not. My husband and I have an agreement where we can see others outside of our marriage — an open marriage, if you will.
Because of certain circumstances, it was the best option for us. We got married young. After 20 years together, we’re realizing that we may have been better off as friends, at least for now. We didn’t entertain the idea of divorce because we were both unsure if that’s what we really wanted. I’d say that the only good way for couples to be sexless in marriage is to make sure you’re both on the same page.” — Rose H., 44, Kansas City, Missouri
3. Evolving with age.
“I haven’t had sex with my husband in over two years. I blame age. He was having some issues and difficulties with performing and we found that we got along better when we weren’t trying to have sex and getting frustrated with each other when it didn’t work. Now, we do just about everything else, and we still love each other just the same.” — Anna, 61, Annapolis, Maryland