15% of married couples haven’t had sex in the last 6-12 months. Joanne Harris, 53, and Steve, 54, are one of them. Here Joanne* reveals how her husband’s lack of libido is destroying her self-esteem – and her marriage
Silhouetted against the glow of the bedside lamp, Steve undresses quickly, his body still taut from twice weekly gym workouts. His skin is cold as he jumps under the duvet beside me. I move closer and he turns, enveloping me in a familiar cloud of Acqua di Parma. His fingers brush against my new La Perla lingerie, bought in readiness for tonight, his 54th birthday.
I can smell his breath on me now, tinged with Armagnac and an indulgent Montecristo No 4 cigar saved from last year’s holiday to Cuba. I smile in the gloom as he inches towards me, desperate to celebrate his birthday in the best way we know how. His lips are just above mine, and I close my eyes as his body shifts ever nearer.
“Night love,” he says, his arm reaching out to switch off the light. And just like that my husband of 23 years turns away and promptly falls asleep.
I don’t know why I’m surprised. After all, we haven’t slept together in almost a year.
“It won’t last,” my friends and close colleagues would laugh when I’d turn up at work with my shiny new wedding ring and raw snog rash
We weren’t always like this. Before we had children – twin boys now about to graduate from university and a 19-year-old girl – we made love almost every night. All night.
“It won’t last,” my friends and close colleagues would laugh when I’d turn up at work with my shiny new wedding ring and raw snog rash. But two years after our home counties wedding we still had sex every evening, and most mornings.
Trying for a baby never felt like a chore. It gave us a legitimate reason to have sex as often as possible and stay in bed most of the day at weekends. Even when I was pregnant I still wanted Steve all the time.
Sleepless nights after our babies were born didn’t damper our ardour. We always made time for each other at bedtime, and when the children were asleep. Which is why it’s so painful now.
Slow descent into sexlessness
I can’t even remember how this gradual slide into a sexless marriage happened. “I’m tired,” he began to say. I didn’t want to pressure him. He was a solicitor with a huge workload. And so slowly our lovemaking tapered off from every night to twice a week, then once, and, without me really noticing, a fortnight had gone by without us making love.
It hurt being rejected. I’d flinch when he turned his back
“Not now,” Steve would say when I tried to cuddle up to him. “I’ve got a lot on at work.” A fortnight became three weeks, then a month, then two. It hurt being rejected. I’d flinch when he turned his back, or his body refused to become aroused under my touch.
My friends would laugh and roll their eyes over girly lunches about being pestered every night by their husbands and I’d feel a physical ache knowing I wasn’t one of them. I kept my rejection a secret, too ashamed to admit I was no longer desired.
Of course, I suffered. Had he met someone else? Was I too fat? Too wrinkled and saggy now? He refused to talk about it. “I’m just exhausted, that’s all,” Steve would insist. “It’s not you.”
But how could it not be when all this time had passed and my once very enthusiastic lover is now my platonic friend?
I’m not alone
Sexless marriages – which are defined as making love 10 times or less or year (ironically, I would be happy with that!) – are quite common. Research from the sociology department at Georgia State University in the US shows that 15 per cent of married couples there have not had sex with their spouse within the past six to 12 months.
Closer to home, Relate reports that 23 per cent of Brits are unhappy with our sex lives. One in five say low libido or differing sex drives puts a strain on their relationship.
Therapy is the solution, researchers say, but Steve won’t even entertain the idea. “There’s nothing wrong,” he insists. And I don’t see how talking endlessly with a stranger about our non-existent love life will make Steve want to have sex with me.
Running out of ideas
Of course, I’ve tried everything to seem more attractive, including dressing up, trying to turn him on, and asking him about his fantasies. But he doesn’t have any – or none that have me in them.
We hold hands, seem like a normal husband and wife. But we don’t make love and I have no idea why
I’ve thought fleetingly about going elsewhere, but he’s the man I love. I only want to have sex with him. So, I’ve taken to pleasuring myself in the shower and have become emotionally desperate – clingy, if you will.
It’s silly because looking at us you would never know we’re not intimate. We hold hands, seem like a normal husband and wife. But we don’t make love and I have no idea why. “It’ll come back,” Steve tells me. His reassurances keep me at arm’s length. I don’t want to lose him. After all, we’re a family, and I do love him.
But somehow it doesn’t feel enough. His lack of libido – which there’s no medical or emotional reason for – is a rejection that stings. The constant rejection rubs away at my self-esteem until it’s raw.
I feel trapped under the responsibility of this sexless marriage but I don’t know how to fix it. And I can’t walk away. I keep hoping that as suddenly as our sex life disappeared it will come back.
I hope it won’t be too much longer before Steve wants me, as this waiting game is slowly destroying me and our marriage.
Common Reasons for a Sexless Marriage
- Mismatched or low sex drives
- Depression or mental health issues
- Erectile dysfunction
- Medication side effects
How does your sex life measure up?
- 50 per cent of couples have sex once a month
- Just 37 per cent of women over the age of 65 had sex in the past year
- Only a third – 34 per cent – of couples are happy with their sex lives
- A staggering 90 per cent haven’t tried anything new in bed since their first anniversary
- 30 per cent of over-65s feel that watching porn without their partner is the same as cheating
*Joanne is a real person but we’ve hidden her identity as per her request.