(Many millennials are having children, which can be a prime disruption in sexual desire)
The anatomy of a sexless marriage
There are multiple definitions of a sexless marriage. One is literal: the couple has not had any sex at all for a long period of time. Another widely used measure for a sexless marriage is having sex fewer than 10 times a year.
Experts who spoke with BBC Worklife also had varying ideas. New York City-based sex therapist Stephen Snyder says, “I usually think of ‘sexless’ as four times a year or less,” unless that couple is “having sex quarterly and they both say it's awesome”. Kimberly Anderson, sex therapist and assistant professor of psychiatry at UCLA's School of Medicine, puts the rate of a ‘low-sex’ marriage at fewer than 25 times per year. Others say the definition is purely subjective; if a couple is unhappy with the frequency at which they’re having sex, there’s a problem worth addressing.
Many factors can lead to a sexless or low-sex marriage. If there’s a “desire discrepancy”, as California-based sex therapist Christene Lozano puts it, that imbalance can grow over time if the couple doesn’t do a good job of addressing it. The person who wants more sex and keeps initiating it might give up and lose self-esteem if they continue to get rejected, for instance. Meanwhile, the partner doing the rejecting might feel increasingly guilty, altogether creating even worse conditions for fostering arousal.
Other factors including medical or mental-health issues can also contribute, as these can make sex impossible, painful, difficult or undesirable. Busy lives, with work and/or children, can remove sex from the equation, too, as can poor communication about each partner’s desires.
Although these aspects contributing to sexless marriages aren’t particular to any generation, some experts have noticed a shift in who’s experiencing sexless relationships, and at what periods in their lives.
“It’s become a shorter amount of time in which [couples] become sexless,” believes San Francisco-based sex therapist Celeste Hirschman, who’s been seeing clients for about 20 years. Anecdotally, she used to see it take around 10 to 15 years for couples to stop having sex with each other. “Now, it’s maybe taking three to five,” she says.
Today, most of the couples in sexless marriages that sex therapist Kimberly Anderson sees are 45 and younger
Anderson, who’s been working as a sex therapist for 30 years, says the demographics of sexless marriages have indeed changed since she started practicing. “Thirty years ago, a majority of the couples I treated for sexless marriage were 50-plus,” she says, struggling with decreased libido from the hormonal changes and illnesses that come with aging.
Today, however, most of the couples in sexless marriages that Anderson sees are 45 and younger. “The underlying dynamics are quite different than they were/are with older couples,” she says.