Can Your Marriage Survive Without Sex?

Occasionally I get comments or emails from people proclaiming that their marriage is just fine without sex.

These staunch stands usually include a well-articulated list abundant with such proclamations as “we have a great friendship” and “sex isn’t everything” and “our life is fabulous.”

(Mind you, the number of these emails/comments is but a minuscule fraction of the ones I get from discouraged, desperate and despondent people who want more nurtured sexual intimacy in their marriage. So we could do some math on the sexual landscape out there.  But I digress.)

Can your marriage survive without sex?

Well sure.

BUT I will to my dying day believe that a marriage is not all that God intended if sexual intimacy is not in the mix. And by sex, I don’t mean only intercourse (although intercourse is nice). The wide repertoire of sexual intimacy and sexual affection counts as well.

Yes, I know in some marriages, physically making love or enjoying other common sexual acts is not possible.  Injury, illness or other (sometimes tragic) unforeseen circumstances have put a halt to sex or made it extremely difficult. Sometimes those marriages have a greater understanding of authentic intimacy and touch even though actual intercourse is no longer an option.

But those aren’t the marriages I’m talking about in this post.

I’m talking about marriages (maybe your marriage?) where one or both spouses have nixed sex from the equation.

Maybe it was a slow fade.

Maybe it was an abrupt stop.

Maybe arriving at that “normal” of no sex came after years of baggage no one cared to unpack.

Can these marriages survive without sex? Sure. But maybe a more worthwhile question is, “Can they thrive without sex?”

Here’s the thing.

Sexual intimacy is one of the primary ways God set marriage apart from all other relationships. Sex is where we find unique potential for profound oneness in its right context AND simultaneously deep potential for profound betrayal through adulterous behavior.

We are figuratively playing with fire that can either warm us and connect us when handled correctly OR burn us and destroy us when handled carelessly.

I bring in the adultery angle not because every marriage faces this betrayal, but to simply emphasize the monumental significance of sex as God designed it.

When we have willing hearts to see sex as God sees it — to appreciate and embrace its power to strengthen and define our marriage — only then are we in a place to understand the devastating consequences of tossing it aside when we have no reason to toss it aside.

Can your marriage survive without sex?

Countless marriages do.  They survive without it.

I can’t think of one marriage that thrives without it.

And if someone wants to hold up their own marriage as one that is thriving without sexual intimacy of any kind, I would humbly respond with only a question…

“If you think you are thriving now as a couple, then can you imagine what your marriage would be if you made love regularly?”

I speak from experience on this one.  Some of you know that in my first marriage, sex was a big struggle for us — a struggle that I see now as something I downplayed at the time. “We’ll figure this out someday,” I remember thinking.  Well, “someday” came a calling as divorce papers from my first husband.

I have a few more years and a boatload of wisdom on my life resume now, not to mention a current second marriage where I have experienced the most amazing sex.

Do we ever struggle sexually?  Well sure.  It is marriage after all.

BUT I will say this — with everything in me, at my very core, I can gauge our sense of oneness by the degree to which we are physically intimate.

We do better as a couple — as partners, as friends, as parents, as wranglers of the details — when we are intentional about sexual touch and pleasure.

We don’t just survive.

We thrive.

For more reading on this topic, check out Why The Excuse “Sex Isn’t a Need” Doesn’t Hold Water. I really like that post.

Copyright 2017, Julie Sibert. Intimacy in Marriage Blog. Links may be monetized.

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33 thoughts on “Can Your Marriage Survive Without Sex?

  1. OlderMarried says:

    Sadly, I fear sex is in the past for my marriage. Many reasons: Physical pain, vaginal atrophy, and the unwillingness to get it checked, dryness, and for me, e.d., anorgasmia, low hormonal levels. It’s too hard a hill to climb, and it is one of my greatest sadnesses. There is no way to talk about any of it. Wife refuses. Dr. says, that’s what happens when you get older. But I agree with the post: There is an edge now to our relationship. It’s almost like there is a lack of grace given to each other. She’s my partner, legally, residentially, financially, and familially. But wow are things different without sex. And I don’t mean different in a good way.

    But we get to “not talk about it.” That’s how I avoid screaming and cursing.

  2. Mike says:

    My wife and I are older I think (70s). For years we were friends, roommates, business partners, but not lovers. There was a profound emptiness in our relationship. A little over a year ago I decided to do something about it. We talked, and decided we had to add sex back into our lives together. Today we can talk to each other and have such great comfort, love, joy, excitement, anticipation, fun, in our married life together that I cannot hardly express it. Yes, you can survive together, but you cannot thrive together without sex.

  3. A.C says:

    I really liked this post but it made me a little worried. My wife and I had a great sex life for almost 4 months then she got pregnant and everything has gone downhill since that. We have recently talked about it and tried to communicate about how we feel. I have understood that she is tired from
    Work and taking care of our daughter and recently my sex drive has been low too. I have a lot of stress at work and almost been burned out so I haven’t been in the mood either. And things get harder with a child especially when you live in a small place. I have started to think that “well , things will be better in the future” but reading this made me worry a little. If my wife and I don’t make an effort maybe it won’t be better in the future and when we want to try again maybe it’s too late. I really hope I can communicate this to my wife, that we have to fight for our sex life because I think she also thinks that everything will get better in the future but who knows? And she wants one kid more. Thank you for this post! Really needed to read this!

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  5. Anonymous says:

    How many times a week/month/year should a couple schedule sex in order for their marriage to be considered thriving?

  6. Roger Martin says:

    Two months ago, my wife told me she wanted a divorce and she no longer has feelings for me. I never saw it coming. Since then, I found out that one of love languages is acts of service. I also pulled out my Bible to find faith. I’m sleeping on the couch as I’m respecting my wife’s boundaries, but do crawl in to our marriage bed as she is waking up to rub her back, neck,and scalp. I don’t say for long, but I make a point to tell her how much I love her.

  7. OlderMarried says:

    Dear Anonymous,
    On how many times should a couple “schedule” sex in order for their marriage to be thriving.

    I think it depends on the age of the couple, how long you’ve been married, and what your desire level is, compared to your spouse’s. I know when I first got married, I planned to enjoy it every day. Didn’t ever happen. But now, if we are able to make love twice a week, that’s pretty dang good.

  8. Living and loving with injury says:

    Julie, thanks so much for sharing your thoughts. You have a unique insight that must be a gift from God.

    My marriage is one of those you are not talking about in this article. We have dealt with an orthopedic injury since our fifth year of marriage. We look forward to celebrating our 30th this year. Sexual intimacy is not getting easier as we grow older.

    You piked my interest when you mentioned authentic intimacy. Could you refer me to more information on this?

    Our grown married children are also coping with orthopedic injury ( weak knee joints might be in the DNA). As a side note, all three injuries happened in the military. So I am asking your all of us, any articles on your website, even a suggestion of words to use in searching would be helpful.

    Love your humor!

  9. Julie Sibert says:

    @Living and loving with injury — Thank you for your comment and kind words. I am sorry to hear about the challenges you have faced because of injury… I can imagine that does take a toll on a marriage in more ways than one. Thank you so much also for your military service (I can’t tell from your comment if it is your military service or your spouse’s, but no doubt the entire family of a service member is owed our respect!!)

    Certainly when we get married, we don’t know what the future holds as far as what will impact sexual intimacy.

    When I mention authentic intimacy, I am speaking more about the heart attitude two spouses have toward each other in building intimacy however possible. Physical intimacy certainly is a part of that, even if it can’t include any sexual acts because of injury or illness. Sexual touch and affection, though, are still a way to express love. Our bodies hunger for touch and in the context of a loving relationship, touch is so important. Intimacy also means emotional and spiritual as well. Certainly the more we can do to build respect and friendship and fun with our spouse, the stronger and more endearing the relationship becomes.

    Nearly all Christian marriage books speak of the importance of intimacy on all levels. My husband and I just started reading Gary Thomas’ new book “Cherish.” There are other books out there as well if you search Christian marriage books. One of the more popular ones in recent times has been “The Five Love Languages” by Gary Chapman. Great book.

    I would encourage you too to talk with your spouse about what intimacy means to them. This can open the door (hopefully) for more conversations where you both can share how you most feel loved.

    Ultimately, I think a key characteristic of authentic intimacy is that it is intentional — you both are being intentional about strengthening the relationship, understanding the other person’s desires, listening closely for ways you can build each other up.

    I hope some of this is helpful! Thank you again for commenting!

  10. The man says:

    Taking a step back currently for a sex detox. Our LM has degenerated to a couple of quickies a week that she is barely there for. My integrity won’t allow me the degradation of havi sex with someone who doesn’t want to have sex with me any longer. This has been the slow fade, lawdy how hot we were up until 5 years ago. I have asked every way I know to ask but the menu has been culled to one thing only and I get no say. Pass. I have been shown through serious introspection how unloving I have been and I am focusing on growing in that dimension. Erich Fromm appeals to my inner philosopher. Still, I am a bit heartbroken.

  11. Living and loving with injury says:

    Thank you, Julie.
    You have given us something to think on, work on.

    I was not so clear in my earlier remarks. My husband is a Marine, two children Navy, they all sustained injuries.

    While these injuries limit physical abilities, we also live this crazy roller coaster of life with ADHD. I am the non-ADHD spouse. All our children have ADHD.

    We have read The Five Love Languages, but it isn’t easy to pick our languages out. With his ADHD there’s not one theme that runs thru each day, there’s a half dozen or so. Today I need your touch, tomorrow your help, yesterday I needed your listening attention. It seems to be influenced by the overall mood of the many threads of thought running thru the mind and precieved interactions from those around him

    It benefits all relationships to have a spirit of grace and a heart of forgiveness. That is especially true in relationships dealing with ADHD, like ours. It comes a little more easily for me than him. And it comes more easily for me when I draw my strength from my Savior, Jesus Christ, rather than myself. You have helped me to refocus on the bigger picture.

  12. Dave says:

    I am marrid for 10 years now but I cannot having good sexual moment. my wife is so indifferent about it. as a christian marriage has become like an endless journey full of regrets and pains a most carry heavy load.

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  14. Please Help says:

    What happens when sex was never a part of your marriage and try as you might, you (as the female partner) cannot cause your non-porn watching pastor husband to be interested or buy-in? Attempts to address or solicit it don’t work either – they become a scathing indictment of my failures as a wife (if I didn’t have such a negative heart and nasty spirit, maybe I’d be more desirable for sex…)

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  16. Phil says:

    I have always had a healthy appetite for sex more importantly intimacy. My wife of 15 years on the other hand, does not. She started out the journey every bit my equal in bed, then for the past 10 years the flame has gone out.

    I would occasionally schedule a weekend getaway that would jump start the romance, but it would soon fade back to once or twice a month at most. She almost never initiates sex and if she does it’s more of just a suggestion that we should have sex; almost like she saying, “I will allow sex if you feel that you need it.” I mean, who can refuse and offer like that? I usually take her up on it; I suppose it beats masturbating alone. I think her offer of sex is her way of feeling like she did her wifely duty and she doesn’t want me to stray.

    When we do have sex, there’s no intimacy and no touching on her part. I love touching her and especially caressing her breasts, but she doesn’t reciprocate by touching me at all. It’s pretty much just our genitals that are touching.

    About six months I finally broke down and accused her of having an affair. I was basically giving her the chance to come clean. She thought this was ludicrous and swears she’s not cheating on me. I believe her, but it just seems like that sexual energy has to be going someplace else.

    So now I’m down to refusing her offers of sex. Having sex with someone that really doesn’t want it just feels wrong. There’s my self esteem and pride as well. I have no desire to cheat on her or seek a divorce. But like the author’s title says, how long can we survive without sex?

    I really wish my wife would come to this site and read some of the articles. Every time I try to bring up the subject, it ends with her getting mad and leaving the room, then days/weeks of silence around our house.

  17. Anonymous says:

    Phil,

    You said: “I believe her, but it just seems like that sexual energy has to be going someplace else.” That statement makes it sound like you are comparing her sexuality to that of a mans.
    I encourage you to read Louann Brizendine MD’s book “The Female Brain”

    My prayers to you both.

  18. H says:

    Phil: I have the same experience whenever I try to bring it up. I occasionally leave articles from this and other sites open on her computer so I don’t have to confront her anymore. Less drama but same result. Days or weeks of silence following a fit of crying and accusations of trying to get out of our marriage. Every effort to bring us closer together is met with her stonewalling and pulling further apart. I bought marriage books but she won’t read them with me. I’ve written letters to try and explain my feelings but she either doesn’t bother to pay attention to the words or doesn’t believe or understand them. I have been lonely and depressed for nearly all of our 8+ years of marriage. The thing that hurts the most is that she lies to everyone else constantly. She is always telling her friends and family about how we have been trying to get pregnant but it feels like a knife in my chest. We can’t get pregnant if we rarely have sex. Every time I hear it from her mouth, I want to call her out on it but I am supposed to be supportive of my spouse and never speak ill of her in public. We will probably never have children. She will be past her fertile years long before she wakes up from her delusion (if she ever does). When that point comes, I refuse to adopt. She wants children but won’t put in the effort to work on our marriage. I refuse to let her win this battle. She will likely divorce me if she doesn’t change and still presses for adoption. I won’t seek divorce or cheat on her. I won’t give her the chance to play the victim. She does that with her family already, blaming me for everything in her life that isn’t perfect. I have reached my limit for this mental and emotional abuse.

  19. Phil says:

    @Anonymous

    You’re absolutely right – I’m assuming that she still has sexual energy. I’ll have to check out the book you mentioned. My wife is 49 and pre-menopausal, which may explain some things, but not the lack of affection towards me for the past 10 years.

    @H

    I totally understand what you are going through with your wife. When we are around her family or friends, she gets very bubbly and flirtatious, like we are still on our honeymoon. It’s like she is trying to convince the outside world that we have this wonderful romance going on. Then when we are alone again, it’s right back to her old self.

    Valentine’s Day is right around the corner, which is just another sad reminder that I live in a affection-less, zero-romance, nothing happening between the sheets marriage. I’ll probably skip the card and flowers to see if she even notices.

    Phil

  20. Bob says:

    I think I would be the best husband for most women. I do of course like sex, but I love romance.I like to explore the body and be amazed at the beauty. in 99 my wife decided she had no desire for sex. I tried to be understanding. She said she wanted us to have sex, but had no desire. She would promise me it would get better and she would make it up to me.
    After 18 years, although I still love her, I feel my only choice is to leave her. I would rather cut off one of my legs, than to go another day in a cold relationship. I am left now with only anger.

  21. Debbie says:

    Struggling with this issues, hubby ” no longer interested” both of us in counseling due to son’s schizoaffective disorder things are not better for me but he is “content” all I can do is cry

  22. Trying says:

    After reading through the comments, I was really sad to hear many male responses to their wife’s lack of sexual desire. Of course, I do not know each situation and person so I cannot tell you what is going on, but I’d like to present the side that these men might be missing. I am one of those women who has little to no sexual desire. It’s been partly a slow fade and partly a more sudden stop after my second child was born. Now we have sex only once or twice a month. Important contributing factors to this are a low libidos, difficulty reaching orgasm, and dryness that leads to soreness and swelling making it necessary to stop before reaching climax. I should mention- I am only 26. Thankfully, my husband is very understanding and good to me, but even then I cried and cried over my nearly extinct libido for about a year. I felt bad that I wasn’t filling my husband’s needs and that he might be tempted to look for sex with someone else. I would offer sex even though I didn’t really want it because I love my husband and I wanted him to be happy and have his sexual needs met. I tried to actively participate and enjoy it, but it can be so hard to really have your heart in it when the desire isn’t there. We’ve improved to the point that I don’t cry about it any more and are still trying to improve of course. Some things that have helped us: lots of talking about feelings and preferences, not stressing about having a regular sex “schedule,” morning sex (although that can be hard with two preschool aged kids), and sex toys that we use together. Taking depression medicine also helped increase my libido some. My next step is trying nonhormonal birth control (Yes, often times hormone based methods actually increase sexual desires and cut down on dryness; however, a small percent of women experience the opposite effects. I suspect I may be in that percentage.).

  23. H says:

    Trying: The fact that you feel bad about it and are making an effort is what separates you from others. Your husband is lucky to have a wife who cares about him.

  24. G says:

    I’m trying too it’s been over 7 years, of no intamacy and now I’m 56 years of age is that too old to start again? I’m the man in a intamateless marriage

  25. A says:

    Is sex really that important? It is and we are living prove to an extreme. Now I know not all couples are the same and to whom you are married makes a huge difference so don’t even think of a solution apart from your spouse. But sex in our lives caused us to discover God is entertained when we are having sex. I’ve become the expert at giving her oergasms and she loves it.

  26. Sarah says:

    So…. he been married for 15 years and my husband is the only man I’ve ever had sex with, so I had no idea that I needed to be sexual lyrics attracted to him which I am not. No matter what we’ve tried nothing he’s done has been arousing for me. We haven’t had sex since 2015 and we’ve both given up on that aspect of our marriage. Is there anything that I could do to salvage our sexual relationship? I feel so bad for him

  27. Tami says:

    We used to have a very healthy, active sexlife. After having children it was less fun for me but still good for several years. Eventually it became so painful I couldn’t tolerate it. I miss that intimacy but fear the pain. I’m almost 60. I love my husband and out life together but the thought of sex leaves me dead. I have grown to hate it. I tried for years to fake it for him. Then for years to tolerate it so he could have what men need. Now, I’m over all of it. I hate that I am not sexual anymore… for him, not me. I’m sorry I can’t and don’t want to be sexually involved. I wish I was like I once was but I’m not. It’s gone. And I don’t even want it back. I eventually grew to resent my husband every time I gave him sex because I hated it so bad. I’ve never told him how bad I hate it because I don’t want to hurt his feelings. I never told him how bad I resented him every time I gave in. I’ve been scared to be very cuddly with him for fear of arousing him and then not following through. I hate to tell him no but then I almost hate him if I let him. We have so much to live for. A wonderful family, grandkids, busy jobs. I love him, we have fun together. Sex is missing…for him, for me I couldn’t be more relieved that it’s gone. I wish he had no sexual desire like me. I wish I could just give him what he wants without the pain and resentment. I feel like that part of our lives is past. Why does there need to be sex? Some single people go their entire lives without it. Is it really a requirement? I hate it when people say there is no way your marriage can be at its best without sex. I beg to differ. It’s what you make of your relationship. You’re friendship, your love and respect for each other. Sex is a beautiful thing inside a loving marriage. It was for us. But it is no longer physically enjoyable, and I don’t want to take medications to try to become something I no longer am. Who knows the side effects of that anyway??? Stop making people feel worse about no sex in marriage after years of a happy sex life. It like peer pressure. What’s right or wrong for one couple isn’t always the same for another. We are individuals living happily. Stop putting everyone on the same measuring table. It’s false and unrealistic. We can love deeply, genuinely and affectionately without sex in the mix. It’s a matter of necessity and choice.

  28. Joe says:

    Tami,

    Totally get where you are coming from and even as a guy I agree. Not 60 yet, but it’s right around the corner and I also don’t feel I need to continue taking dangerous meds to make myself somebody I no longer am. All these hormone replacement therapies and meds have not been tested long enough to truly know the dangers they may have. Sex is not worth risking personal health for. If a person can’t stay in a long-term marriage due to a physical change that means little to no sex, then that person is the one with the problem. Man or woman.

  29. Davis says:

    I am struggling with the likelihood of no more sex in my marriage. I am early 50’s. Healthy, fit, and have been happily married fot 20+ years. Lately with my wife’s menopause, sex has taken a back seat. Our sex has become less frequent and often less enjoyable for her. I now feel guilty wanting it. We’ve tried lube, but in the end I realize she is just doing it for me so that I can have sex. It is not intimate, it leaves me empty. I’m worried I will become resentful without the intimacy. So I wonder, can a marriage last for 30 more years without sex? That sounds so depressing as I type this, but that might be my reality…

    Wow that’s sad…

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  31. Lilli Werstler says:

    I have been widowed since 2001. We had a 30 year fantastic Marriage and sex life. I have tried to find a new partner for 15 years and every time i had the opportunity to meet someone interesting, he turned out to be a man in a sexless marriage. I am well into my seventies and still turned on to the idea of being in an other relationship.the men that i met so far where only staying in their marriage because they did not want to break up the Family. But i know that they where ever so unhappy about the missing sex in their marriage

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