I’m trapped in a sexless marriage and don’t know how to fix it

Trapped in a sexless marriage - Silver Magazine www.silvermagazine.co.uk

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.

What do to about sexless marriage Silver Magazine www.silvermagazine.co.uk

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.

Sexless marriage Silver Magzine www.silvermagazine.co.uk

Common Reasons for a Sexless Marriage

  • Mismatched or low sex drives
  • Boredom
  • Infidelity
  • Stress
  • Tiredness
  • 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.

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  1. A really poignant article and sad in so many ways. He can’t/won’t talk about it but expects her to remain loyal to him. Unless he tries he will lose this lovely caring lady.She loves him but does he still love her or is he just happy to pootle along and give the impression they are a solid family unit due to his profession!

  2. It is a strange relief to read this … it was like someone had written down the bones of my life.
    I feel so sorry that you too are so sad. For me it feels as though someone else has decided that my life as a woman is over. I am trapped and lonely. I tried talking many times and after years of loss of intimacy he has admitted that he knows how much it means to me but he is actually witholding sex because of something I said three years ago. He knows I want an intimate relationship, ours used to be good, he knows I don’t want anyone else either but this is what he has chosen to do and there is nothing I can do about it unless I just smile and giggle and try never to rock the boat, then maybe he will relent. I feel my life slipping away and age creeping in. I am over 60, slim and not hideous and I don’t want us to drift further apart but talking hasn’t fixed it and neither has dressing up, lingerie or anything else. I don’t feel loved anymore, but I don’t want to fail in this relationship and that is what is happening. Thank you so much for sharing your story and for listening to mine. Good luck.

    • Think of all those times you said no…..the IRONY well now it’s his turn how’s it feel.its about connection not sex and you rejected him wanting to connect not just sex.hope your happy your at a place that you’ve been telling him for years not tonight.

  3. We haven’t had intrement sex from 2011 we have talk about not haveing sex. he had open heart surgery August 2011 that the, last time we had proper sex. We been to sex shops and bought sex toys but for me it not proper sex i feel like a slapper i tried talking to him but he happy with what he doing but having hand be put in side, me is not my idea of sex dilos put in side you i feel as he doesn’t see me a person any more he could go to a street girl and do that now a male friend from the past started to, email me, saying he wants a relationship with me l really dont know what to do i love my husband, and, want to be with him but 8 years is a long time and he ok what he doing to me when i try to master bate him it does not every stand he can’t have viager but he on warfin really don’t know what to do for the best

  4. I feel SAD…after almost 30 years of a good marriage, things died. In the last 20 years we had sex only 3 times. I tried lingerie, romantic evening, begged, pleaded, screamed, did everything I could think of trying to figure out WHY we didn’t share any more intimacy. I noticed his indifference to my pleas. Hi sole drive is for us to work more. We need more $ for our old age he would scream. I would cry, but “what about US, we need to be a couple? I told him he spoke to me like he hated me. It made me feel like a piece of shit when he degraded me verbally. The drinking was almost daily, But still I wanted our marriage to work. After 49 1/2 years of being together I realized I should not / could not / would not stay with him anymore. I left in May 2020 with Covid all around us. I am lonely, sad, But Free. I just do NOT understand WHY he didn’t want to Try to work things out? Why he didn’t want me anymore? But at least I don’t feel like a worthless piece of shit anymore.

  5. We have only been married for 5 years and we are fairly young. Him being 30 in 2021 and me being 23, we have only had sex maybe a hand full of times and I have tried so many times to see why it’s like this… I have begged for a divorce before but he talked me out of it… I feel trapped and lonely.. as if I never even had a chance to experiencing intimacy.. I love him but most of the time it feels like I’m neglected and emotionally exhausted from this marriage.

    • Hi Lacy,
      This is serious. Be glad you are young. Have you seen a therapist? Either together or on your own? If not, find a good sex and couples therapist but make sure it is time limited. No need for years of this. You deserve to have an intimate relationship–with a man who desires you and you, him. Your husband isn’t owning up. Any meds in the way by chance? SSRIs? Beta-blockers? Anything else?
      Get this resolved!
      Oh yes, this is during Covid. Not the best time. Perhaps do your own thing for now and wait until Covid is under control.
      Best to you.

  6. My wife and I have been married 23 years…both second timers married in our mid 40s, my wife is a couple of years older than me but very attractive, courtship was great, and first couple of years..then we hit a wall…my wife had always had gynaecological issues, and I became used to being gently ‘put off’, but hey we were still good buddies.. but our relationship became awkward..and I was gently but firmly ‘ ‘discouraged’…she got H.R.T…and went as far as the doctor would prescribe, our sexual relationship was just a memory, but..we loved each other… By 60 she was suffering from severe vaginal dryness she saw the doctor, many times , I saw the doctor who basically would not talk about Her patients ( my wife) medical condition…but was sympathetic in a patronising way…I have been lucky I’ve aged more slowly than my wife and despite work, and our personal issues I’ve kept reasonably fit and I’m told..I look much younger than my years, Two years ago when we were out in another town, a young lady asked us a question..we talked to her for about an hour..she was new to our country..well educated very very nice and we exchanged phone numbers…a week later she rang and we talked..nearly two years later we (she and I)are on the verge of a physical relationship…why hasn’t it happened yet? Well it’s another story….My wife says our marriage is finished except for the paperwork…and her finding somewhere to live, my friend wants me to go collect her and ride off into the sunset….Great idea if your loaded…I never in my life expected this situation to arise…and yes..I love the lady…and I know that she loves me, But I cannot just dump my wife, there is nothing between us…we are two people who live under the same roof..we are civil..and reasonably relaxed…and we’ve shared a lot of years..I have a guilt complex…but someone is calling..who represents a new life, a new adventure..I don’t know how long we will have but inside I don’t want her to be stuck with an old guy…Oh bye the way…Yes we are intimate…just haven’t and that’s because I would not want to go home..it’s hard enough..as it is..I want to say to her..Honey…I’m here.

  7. I’ve been with my husband for over 20 yrs, we would had sex quite often in the early days but it wasn’t mind blowing, a few minutes & it was over, zero foreplay although he wanted me to give him oral sex he never returned the favour, over the last 4.5 yrs we’ve had sex 3 times, I literally cry everyday, I get into bed every night hoping he will turn over & cuddle me, kiss me & it lead to more but he won’t touch me, I try to cuddle him but he just turns away & says he is tired, stressed the list goes on, I get no attention from him whatsoever, I’m so lonely, I lie awake at night wondering how I’m going to spend the rest of my life in a sexless marriage.

  8. been with my partner 5 years for six months now she has gone off sex she used to have up to 10 orgasms but has just one little one if shes lucky now shes just gone through the menopause at 53 we had a great sexlife but now its all gone l feel rejected and distance myself and she feels this and gets upset l say its the only way l can deal with it then l let my walls down and am affectionate towards her then after a few days l start to drift again all l can say is thank God for covid otherwise we would have gotten married and l would have felt trapped l don’t know why this has happened but she is making no effort to seek any help l love her and we get on very well she is all l ever wanted in a woman but l know myself l will put up with it for a long as l can until l can’t take anymore then l will end it

  9. We have been together 37 years, but have not had sex or some kind of intimacy for 20years. Not sure how it all happened, children, work etc. My wife has tried a few times to reconnect in the past, not recently , but I just retreated into my shell ever time. Her tears and sadness not acknowledged. We lived together but emotionally we are apart, we get along, no big arguments, no big stress, we are doing things together and at the same we are doing things separately also. From the outside we look like a normal couple whatever a normal couple is. A 18 month ago we both decided to stop work since we both did not get any enjoyment out of it anymore, we are quite luck that we could financially afford to just end our working careers. With this change and also with COVID lockdown I suddenly have a lot of time on my hands to think about the future and came to the conclusion that we need to change something in our relationship. Separating after all this time was not on my mind after all this time together, we share the same values and have a common believe system, can we reconnect.? We are just at the beginning to make some changes to our lives, it is emotionally extremely hard for both of us, old memories that are buried are coming to the for. After all the times of me trying and being refused you are coming along suddenly and want to change how we live. I have no answer to my wife’s question. It will take some time to build a new way of living together. At the moment it feel more stressful than before and could it be easier to just leave it be and go back to the past life. For the moment we will persist, with an uncertain outcome. I believe the only way to reconnect is through intimacy both physically and emotionally, sex is not the ultimate goal, if it happens it happens. When there is something I wished we had done a long time ago is to look for outside help when we first realised we were growing apart

  10. After 15 years of marriage, my wife went through the menopause, and lost interest in sex. We remained good friends, but if I wanted sex, she was occasionally willing to “let me have my way” but I actually craved intimacy, not a shag. Now, 30 years of marriage, I’ve felt perpetually lonely, and I crave touch but that has gone, and we’ve slept in separate rooms for the past decade. The only way out of this constant ache was to decide that I would become celibate. Having done so, a couple of years ago, I can see my wife’s concern and wonderment that I don’t want her anymore, I no longer ask. She has lost a lot, because , of course, I have no interest in paying her any compliments, and we have settled into a companionship and friendship and are simply cohabiters, but there is an anger in me (kept under wraps) that resents what was withheld from me. I now feel more like I’m on an even keel …. more balanced, having made the decision for celibacy, but my wife is realising that she has lost a lot too, as I no longer have any words for her .

  11. My wife and I have been married for 35 years, but we have never had penetrative vaginal sex.
    Through a combination of shyness, lack of confidence and going to an all-boys school, I had very little social interaction with girls/women until I went to university. I met my first girlfriend (a student nurse) at a friend’s 21st birthday party when I came down from university. Within a few weeks, we had started a sexual relationship which quickly progressed to having sex. She was much more experienced than me but I felt pretty good about myself. Tragically, four months into our relationship, and quite unexpectedly, she killed herself after failing an important exam. Although devastated, I gradually realised that the relationship would probably not have lasted much longer as we had so little in common.
    I met my wife after placing a lonely hearts ad in the local newspaper. Unbeknown to me, the ads section of the newspaper was circulated London-wide. So when her reply came from North London (I lived in South London) I was hesitant to get in touch. When we first met, I thought she was incredibly attractive and could not believe my luck. From the start, I enjoyed her company, not least because we had so many shared interests. So I looked forward to our frequent meetings. Within a few weeks, we had started a sexual relationship, but it was always limited to mutual masturbation Any attempts at manual penetration of her vagina were always met with resistance. I assumed this was a product of her Catholic upbringing. About 3 years into our relationship, I developed glandular fever. During the enforced separation, I realised I could not imagine my life without her so afterwards we got engaged. There then followed a protracted period during which we saved and looked for somewhere to live together. Finally, nearly 8 years since we had first met, we got married.
    On our wedding night, I was far too eager, naïvely thinking that sex with my virgin wife would be as easy as with my previous girlfriend. I could feel that the end of my penis had gone into my wife’s vagina but she said that she wanted me to stop. Any further attempts at penetration were met with resistance. I felt such a failure and blamed myself. I found the continued rejection confusing and felt so worthless for not being able to be a “proper” husband. What was I doing wrong? I suggested that we should seek counselling, but she insisted that “things” would sort themselves out, but they never did. To this day, my wife is slim and attractive which I tell her often. Whenever I have suggested that we could be naked in bed together she always says it is too cold (I have no problem being naked in bed with her). So, our sex life continued to be limited to kissing, cuddling and mutual masturbation, but I never gave up, even trying oral sex (which she said she did not like), but any attempt at penetration was always met with resistance. How I wish that I had sought help for our problem but I honestly believed that she wanted to sort out things by herself and that pressuring her would be counterproductive. Also, my male pride probably made me too embarrassed to admit my failure. I did not want to divorce my wife because just being with her made me happy. I loved her and could not imagine my life without her. I did not seek sex outside the marriage because I did not want to betray her.
    About three years into our marriage, my wife experienced two manic episodes separated by approximately six months. Each time she was hospitalised. During the second episode, she confided to one of the doctors that we had never had sex. She also told my mother during a visit. Although embarrassing, it was a relief that the problem had been revealed. On her discharge, we were referred for sexual counselling. We were never seen together and my wife ended her sessions without any resolution to the problem.
    My mother was supportive and tactfully enquired every so often whether we had “resolved” our problem. After a while, to avoid embarrassment, I said that we had. How I wish that I had been honest with her rather than hiding from the truth.
    After my wife’s second hospitalisation, she had a diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder. She knew it was genetic so not wishing to pass it on to any children we might have I reluctantly agreed to stop trying to have sex (not that we were) in case she got pregnant. I do not think my wife ever considered how this decision impacted me (maybe I should have considered a vasectomy). So, our sex life continued as before. Thankfully, she remained stable on her medication for the next 20 or so years. During much of this time, she was self-medicating with excessive amounts of alcohol. Again, I do not think she ever considered how this behaviour impacted me.
    More than 10 years ago, my wife passed through the menopause. With the possibility of pregnancy having been removed, I had hoped that we might resume trying to have sex. She even bought a new vibrator and lubrication, which I suggested she might use to explore her vagina. Whenever I suggested that we try to have sex, it was never the right time or place. So, our sex life continued as before, but I never gave up on my attempts. Again I wish we had sought professional help.
    About 5 years ago, my wife had a series of psychotic episodes separated by approximately a year. Each time she was hospitalised and prescribed a new antipsychotic medication, but each time these failed to keep her stable. Finally, she was prescribed Risperidone and has been stable ever since.
    About 3 years ago, she started to experience issues due to the side effects of the high dose of Risperidone she was taking. These have had a dramatic effect; dulling her so much that, apart from spending a lot of time preparing shopping lists for me (usually listing many items that we do not need), she does very little else (not that she was ever very strong on the domestic front, preferring to leave virtually all of that to me). Before the side effects of Risperidone appeared, she enjoyed yoga (twice a week), Pilates and attended a reading group. Recently, her Mental Health consultant reduced her Risperidone dose (citing a duty of care) with the hope that its side effects will also reduce. So far, there have been some improvements.
    Two years ago during our summer holiday, I yet again raised the issue of our limited sex life. She said that when we got married (and before) she was scared that the penetration might hurt (but never thought to test this). Her solution was to never have sex with me. I do not think that she ever considered how her decision not to confide her fear would impact me. It was as though she just did not care. These revelations have hit me hard and I continue to have great difficulty coming to terms with them.
    Last year, I started to experience erectile problems. My GP prescribed medication which thankfully relieved the problem. During a follow-up consultation, I disclosed that my wife and I had never had penetrative vaginal sex. Subsequently, he arranged sexual counselling for my wife.
    The (online) sexual counselling sessions started at the end of May. They must have been effective as she started to allow me to touch her intimately again and I think this has made masturbation for her much more pleasurable – she climaxes more often than not. Afterwards, she sometimes allows me to manually probe her vagina. She also told me that more than a year ago she had probed her vagina with her vibrator adding that, despite not using any lubrication, it had not hurt.
    My wife and I have known each other for over 43 years. When we first met, I quickly realised that just being with her made me happy. In return, I have always tried to make her happy. She is my best friend and, despite everything, I love her dearly. There are still so many positives to our relationship. I appreciate that for most of our marriage her fear of the pain of vaginal penetration felt real for her. She says she was “too embarrassed” to seek any help to address her fear. For the same reason, she decided not to confide her fear to me. For a long time, I felt it was my fault. She never said anything to ease these feelings. When, over 2 years ago, she revealed to me the reason for her resistance to vaginal penetration she still did not seek any help. Again, leaving that to me.
    The media constantly portrays the importance of sex in relationships. I think I have been a loving, caring, and more than patient husband but I cannot help feeling betrayed that, by not sharing her fears with me, my wife has denied us this fundamental experience. When I try to discuss the issue with her it is hard to discern that she has much regret for what she has done. All I have ever wanted for us is a normal sex life – is that too much to ask for? Even though she says she wants to have sex with me one day (just not yet) I cannot help feeling that she is still not being honest with me. She has proved to herself that painless vaginal penetration is possible but I still feel that, apart from the fear of the penetration itself, there are more issues that she seems unwilling to confront; not least her reluctance to be naked with me in bed.

    Harlan Solecise

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