I want to start with a huge disclaimer that sexual desire doesn’t always fade in a marriage.
I do hear from people into their 70s and 80s who continue to enjoy sexual intercourse and/or sexual touch and connection. I also, though, hear from people who have seen sex fade from their marriage. For purposes here, I’m talking about marriages that once had a fairly healthy and frequent sexual connection and then gradually the sex became less frequent and, in some cases, dwindled to no sex at all. Sadly, some trains of thought perpetuated are that this is “just what happens” in a marriage. The presumption is that as time goes by, it’s just “normal” for sex to become less important in a relationship. Sometimes this loss of sexual desire happens fairly early in a marriage and sometimes it happens later. I wish we weren’t so quick to accept that sex will eventually lose its value in a marriage. I wish we were more apt to dig deeper and to better understand sexual connection throughout marriage. It’s not always about intercourse or intense orgasms. A lot of couples could be more sexually affectionate than they are being, but they fall back on the assumption that that kind of connection just loses its significance. Do too many couples settle? I believe so. They settle for a disappearance of sexual touch and affection. I think some couples could be reaping the emotional and physical benefits of sexual intimacy and sexual touch for a lot longer than they do.
Why does sexual desire fade in a marriage?
While it would be difficult to pinpoint all the specific reasons this happens in a marriage, I do think there are some causes that show up regularly across the board. Mind you, some of these are what I would call temporary stalls in sexual connection. But temporary stalls can gradually turn into permanent ones, so there’s a lot to be said for paying attention when you see things heading in that direction. I’ve long said that whatever direction you walk long enough will become your normal. So if you walk in the direction of healthy sexual connection long enough, that becomes your normal. If you walk in the direction of not nurturing sex and/or not addressing sexual struggles, then that becomes your normal. What normal have you built in your marriage? It’s such an important question to ask always, but especially around this issue of fading sexual desire.
If sex has faded in your marriage, would you say it is because of any of the below reasons?
Arrival of Children
This is a super common complaint I hear. Once some wives become mothers, their interest in sex dissipates. Don’t get me wrong. I’ve had two newborns, so I know how exhausting those early days of parenthood can be and how demanding a baby can be, particularly on a nursing mother. But I also know that every stage of parenting has its fair share of exhaustion and distraction and busyness. In too many homes, the marriage takes a back seat (or is kicked out completely), and the children become front and center. It’s not a good arrangement. A healthier and more godly approach is that a husband and wife maturely and wisely do all they can to keep their marriage strong, including sexually, so that they are best able to parent as a team and keep the household stable. If mama and daddy aren’t doing well, then generally speaking, the household is not doing well.
There are so many reasons this happens, but let’s just put it this way. So goes the relationship goes the sexual desire. The less intentional a couple becomes about nurturing their friendship and overall connection, the less motivation one or both spouses have to make love. And what is so hard is that relationship drift can be quite subtle, barely registering on the radar. But if you don’t address it as husband and wife, the chasm can become quite monumental. Before long, you reach roommate status. And I’m not talking “friends with benefits” roommates. I’m talking roommates who simply share bills and a roof, but not their vulnerability and intimacy. If your relationship is drifting, do all you can to shore up the damage and rebuild foundational friendship and connection. So goes the relationship goes the sexual desire.
No huge surprise here. When there is unresolved tension in the marriage, sexual interest tends to tank as well. We generally have a difficult time wanting to be emotionally and physically close to someone we are mad at or disappointed in. If you know your lack of sexual desire is because of unresolved tension in your relationship, don’t assume the tension will just go away. And even if it does fade, the ongoing long term effect is that with each subsequent difficultly that you don’t address and resolve, the distance between the two of you will just grow bigger.
Chronic Life Stress
I am intimately familiar with this issue as of late because of some ongoing stressors in my marriage. My husband and I are in the throes of two chronic stressors that though are not specifically tied to our marrlage, they definitely are impacting our marriage—including our sexual connection. Chronic life stressors can take on a variety of forms. They can be financial. They can be a teen or adult child’s ongoing struggle with an addiction. They can be horrendous work stress. They can be dysfunction within the extended family. So many different chronic life stressors. Chronic life stress sabotages sexual desire. I believe wholeheartedly that a couple has to work extra hard to counter this effect or they will see their desire for sex disappear. If you are dealing with chronic stress, don’t compound it by neglecting your relationship, including your sexual intimacy.
When one or both spouses are dealing with injury or illness, obviously and understandably sexual interest falls of the charts. Each situation is unique and some medical issues can be quite serious and/or chronic. Maybe sexual connection of any sort is not possible. But in many situations, a married couple can still enjoy at least some privacy, skin-to-skin contact, and maybe even sexual touch. Even on a small scale, this kind of affection can be incredibly reassuring in a marriage dealing with physical injury or illness.
Depression and Mental Health Issues
As a society, we are getting better about acknowledging the huge toll that depression and mental health issues have on a person’s ability to function. We still have a ways to go, though. Mental health struggles can range from mild to severe; can be sporadic or chronic. They definitely can impact sexual desire. If you or your spouse are experiencing depression or mental health issues, I encourage you to seek help from professionals and/or community resources. Some anti-depressants can have the side effect of decreasing sexual desire, but as someone pointed out to me once, depression also has the effect of decreasing sexual desire. In other words, don’t stop or alter your anti-depressants without talking extensively with your health care provider. And don’t rule out using anti-depressants simply because you are concerned about the side effects on your sexual intimacy. For the health of yourself as an individual as well as the health of your marriage, please seek help for your depression and mental health issues.
Once a woman is no longer having a monthly menstrual cycle, quite a few hormonal issues happen in her body. These can result in lower sexual desire, vaginal dryness, and fatigue. With her cycle no longer happening, she loses the heightened desire that occurs with ovulation. If you are going through menopause or have gone through it and you find that your sexual desire has decreased significantly, I encourage you to talk to your health care provider about possible options. I also encourage you to resist the tendency to just let sex go by the wayside in your marriage. I have heard from women who have said they have seen an increase in their desire and in their comfort with sex as they continue to have more sex. It’s kind of a “use or or lose it” approach. If vaginal dryness is a big inhibitor, also talk to your health care provider about this and/or try an artificial lubricant. And consider various forms of stimulation and arousal.
Some men start to have trouble getting or maintaining an erection due to aging or health conditions or as a side effect of medication. Sadly, many men out of embarrassment or discouragement choose to stop pursuing their wife sexually, which can cause more confusion and misunderstanding in the marriage. If you are struggling with ED, talk to your health care provider. And remember too that there is more to sexual intimacy than vaginal intercourse. Sexual affection and touch still have value.
As I mentioned earlier, it would be impossible for me to be comprehensive in a list of reasons sexual desire fades in a marriage. I am confident, though, I’ve hit upon some of the main reasons.
And hopefully I have at the minimum spurred conversation in marriages where there needs to be more conversation about fading sexual desire. If sex has faded in your marriage, do you believe you can address this? My hope is that you can and that you will.
I hear from couples who regret the years lost where sex was neglected in their marriage—but they are grateful for the years ahead now that they are once again making sexual intimacy a priority.
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