Bed Death: Sexless Relationship
By Merle Yost, LMFT
Usually the initial attraction between any couple is sexual. The heat of discovery and newness can keep a couple’s sex life very active for some time. As time passes the sexual relationship changes and hopefully matures. That initial rush fades and the need to deepen or move on becomes stronger. Whether you deepen into intimacy or move to the next rush has a lot to do with your comfort with intimacy, sexual history, and your beliefs about relationships.
Certainly, in the vast majority of relationships the frequency of sexual play decreases as the length of the relationship increases. It is a natural progression of aging, changing of priorities and having less time. But what happens in a relationship that the sex stops all together? Why does this happen? Are there others in sexless marriages? What can be done about it?
In my experience, I have found sexless marriages to be all too common. The marital bed becomes a cold, passionless hiding place, signifying what is missing in the relationship rather than being the deepest expression of love and intimacy. Regardless of the sexual orientation of the couple, bed death can and does happen.
Intimacy is the big bad word here. Once the rush is gone, you have to discover who you are in bed with. Your partner is not a fantasy, but a person, with needs, wants, desires and their own opinions, and sex drive. Once the projection passes (projection is seeing someone as you want or need to see them rather than experiencing them as who they really are) you are in bed with a person, not just a body. Once a partner has ceased being a distraction they become a mirror for seeing ones self. Do you like your partner? Have you taken the time to find out who they really are? Many women and gay men complain that they feel like a “hole that his/her partner cums in”. Their needs and wants are irrelevant. In short they are objectified. Consequently, the partner begins to withhold sex. It is used both as a weapon and a punishment. There are usually reasons on both sides for a sexless marriage to evolve.
What follows is a brief discussion of some of the issues that can lead to BED DEATH.
Withholding sex, consciously or unconsciously is often a sign of a power imbalance in the relationship. The partner with less money, or with less control in whatever form who feels that their value is tied to sexual output, will use sex to assert themselves. It may be the only way that they can say no or get attention. If it is unconscious, then they may simply lose their desire for sex, or get sick. Men may not be able to get or sustain an erection.
Babies are frequently a sex life killer. Too tired! Not enough time! You are starting to feel too much like your parents (and they certainly never had sex). These are all great reasons, however, remember each other. Babies need an incredible amount attention, certainly everything that you can give them, but you must make the effort to create time for just the two of you, even if it is just to hold each other or exchange massages. Staying connected through touch and remembering that you are a couple who still need sex and each other is important.
Anger is another great way to kill sex in a relationship. If the hurts and misunderstandings are not being addressed in some manner, they will show up in your sex life. Sex, at its most basic, is a form of communication. However, it can not be the only one or the relationship and your sex life will not work and neither partner will be satisfied.
If your partner has been sexually abused, this can create major problems in the relationship. After the initial rush of the relationship, suddenly, things may be too hot, to much intimacy. This may spell danger. Sex may bring up anxiety, terror, depression or dissociation. If your partner had mentioned a sex abuse history and you are noticing problems around sex, support them in seeing a therapist. Therapy is not a quick fix.
However, it can help heal the wounds. Depending upon what abuse happened and when, the partner may never completely recover. I will cover sexual abuse in future articles in greater depth. This is a major problem and one that you can not fix for them no matter how much you love them or how safe you are.
One of the most common reasons that I have seen lead to less or no sex is fear of rejection. The longer that you are with someone and the deeper you depend upon them the greater the ability to hurt and be hurt. For most people opening themselves in a very intimate way, while exciting can also bring up anxiety, fear and be unable to deal with the venerability that emerges. It is common to want your partner to know what you need when you need it without you having to say what that is. Nice fantasy, that is not the way that it works. So expressing sexual interest in the other opens us to possible rejection of the most subtle and unconscious kind. Two people, both fearful of rejection, may never get to sex because the possible rejection is too painful to risk.
Many people, both men and women, have never bothered to learn about sex. Good lasting sex with a long term partner requires patience, exploration and risk taking. If one or both partners are too shy, embarrassed or immature to talk about sex, this can lead to Bed Death. Like most things in life, communication is the key to a happy, long lasting sex life and relationship. Buy a book, perhaps the Joy of Sex, it is a good start. Read it together. It is a great conversation starter. Who knows where it will lead?
The bottom line is that a sexless marriage may be a symptom of many things. The longer the relationship the more effort that a couple has to take to make sure they are staying sexually alive. It may be a cliche, but its true: If you don’t use it you lose it. If you keep the fire alive there can be great rewards of intimacy available to you and your relationship. Let your sexual intimacy die and while the love may remain the passion will move on.
Did you consider have a conversation with your partner/spouse, saying that it is okay if they is no longer interested in being sexual but how are you going to go about getting your needs met?
It is common for women to loose interest in sex post menopause but it does not negate their responsibility to meet the needs of their partner. Men also loose interest in sex and because of illness, medication, etc. The point is to do confront what is going on in a honest way, rather than hiding. Dishonesty ends relationships, not infidelity. Outside sex does not have to be in the others face. The point is so that there cannot be any later nonsense about being cheated on. It is not cheating, it is how the two of you are managing and choosing to be in relationship with each other.
It would also be a wake up call to your partner that you are not dead and that there is more to being in a relationship than living in the same house.