Sexless Relationship? Take the First Step Toward Reconnection.

Esther Perel and Mary Alice Miller

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From physical challenges to breaches of trust to parenting exhaustion and beyond, there are so many reasons for a lack of sex in a relationships. Some couples are perfectly happy without sex and that’s fine, as long as everyone’s on the same page. More often, however, sexlessness is shrouded in hurt feelings and confusion, particularly when the love is there but the lust is not. 

If you ever want to know if your sex life is normal, a quick Internet search will deliver you more results than your mind (or ego or heart) can possibly comprehend. Type “sexless marriage” into a search engine and over two million results will appear in under a second. The phrase even has its own Wikipedia entry. So, you can find some relief in knowing: you are clearly not the first person to wonder if the amount of sex you are—or are not—having is “normal.” 

So, What is Normal?

Many of us have found ourselves reading studies that cite “once a week” as the norm or seek to provide qualitative data around involuntary celibacy. Most couples go through sexless phases. Reading in TIME magazine that “from 2010 to 2014, the average American adult had sex nine fewer times per year than Americans did from 2000 to 2004,” may lead to what we’ll call a “Sexistential Crisis”—particularly the bit about how nine jumps to sixteen fewer times per year for married couples who live together. Whether these stats make you feel better or worse about your own situation, please know: when it comes to sex, numbers miss the bigger picture. 

The more diffuse and uncrunchable aspects of sexual expression—love, intimacy, power, surrender, sensuality, and excitement—rarely become a headline. These facets of Eroticism don’t lend themselves easily to statistics. Eroticism as an immeasurable quality of aliveness and imagination is too often reduced to what the French author Jean-Claude Guillebaud calls une arithmétique physiologique—a physiological arithmetic. But it’s precisely those unquantifiable aspects of sex and sensuality that help revive a dead bed.

Bringing Desire Back to a Sexless Relationship

It may feel counterintuitive, but the first step out of a sexless cycle is to commit—together—to giving up the numbers game. Our obsession with frequency of sex and orgasm neglects the vast realm of Eroticism as well the issue of Desire. We can force ourselves to have sex but we cannot force ourselves to want it. And we certainly can’t force our partners to want it. Nothing kills Desire like overemphasizing how much sex you’re not having in your relationship. Let go of the calculus and try shifting your focus to Desire. 

Talking with your partner about Desire may be intimidating at first. It can feel so mysterious, particularly when it feels out of reach. How do we define it? Why is it so difficult to sustain it? Why do we lose it? How do we reclaim it? Once it’s gone, can it be rekindled? 

You don’t need to answer these questions with your partner. Remind each other that we all grapple with the subject of Desire—even if we’re satisfied in every other area of the relationship. Straight, gay, young, old, married, coupled or polyamorous, we want to want. And we want to be wanted. This is a great place to start an Erotic conversation with your partner. 

Put it Into Practice

Invite your partner to join you for a glass of wine or a cup of tea. Resist the urge to over rationalize or “solve” a problem. Let go of the goal to have sex and instead try to fully embrace just having a deep conversation together. Engage in your sense of curiosity when you ask them 3 of the following Erotic questions: 

  • What's your favorite temperature of water? 
  • What's your favorite temperature generally outside? 
  • How do you respond to sun, wind, air?
  • Are you aware of what touches your skin, of what hovers around you? 
  • When you wash yourself, what’s your relationship to the body that you’re washing?
  • Do you enjoy touching yourself? And I’m not talking about genitals only, but pleasing and soothing yourself. 
  • When you drink coffee or tea, do you find yourself gobbling or savoring? 
  • What non-sexual thing feels sexual to you? 
  • Which is the sense with which you make love the most? 
  • Which sense do you barely notice or use?
  • What does it feel like to want something really intensely? 
  • What does it feel like to be wanted by another person? 
  • What is one of your favorite sensual memories of us together?
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