Sexless Marriages: Where Does Disinclination Really Begin?
Whether it’s a matter of a sexless marriage, sex in the marriage, or simply sex in general, there is so much to say that books could be written for another millennia before women finally embrace a full healing and a reclaiming of this intrinsic part of our humanity.
And as much as it would be easiest to write this entire piece of that essential story from the first person, that isn’t what is most helpful to the tribe. Whether we’ve had mostly positive or mostly negative experiences with it, sex is primal, primary and universal; it’s why we’re all here (although I’m going to state now that I have never believed that reproduction is its primary benefit).
Paradoxically, though, as universal as sex is, it is also the most individual experience we may talk or write about. And it may be the most important thing to address without overgeneralizing.
Each of us is 100 percent sexually unique, so to put an article together that speaks generally about this issue is just going to chip at the tip of the glacier. (But if enough of us take a whack at it… just imagine). In this piece, I chose to steer away from discussing most of the general tips for “fixing” a sexless marriage. Instead, I want to focus on the positive aspects of a marriage without sex, as there are several wonderful reasons to stay committed to a marriage even if physical intimacy may be lacking. These reasons hold intrinsic value and contribute significantly to overall happiness, just as great sex does. Mostly, I decided to take a whack at some of the skewed beliefs and psycho-social imbalances that have formed on women’s sexual body politic like mold on fruit.
What are Your Thoughts about a “Sexless Marriage”?
I never imagined I’d be advocating that there are reasons equally fundamental to experiencing marital joy and feeling truly understood and fulfilled in a marriage or partnership as having fantastic sex. Rediscovering the joy of engaging in hours of meaningful conversation with a man who shares our intellect, possesses wit, a touch of romance, and flirts in Italian, all while being our unwavering supporter, is an incredible gift. Being with someone who truly “gets” us, embraces our dorky quirks and idiosyncrasies, and believes in us, offers profound happiness and fulfillment. These gifts are worth cherishing and recognizing as essential elements of a fulfilling relationship.
I never thought I’d be able to relate to a sexless marriage, either (though I am Nowhere Near married), but… maybe some of you will have some words of perspective for me next time. Writing for this website has brought about some very interesting opportunities for empathy and shared experience with my girl tribe. I’m pretty sure I did not want this particular shared experience but apparently, I needed it or I wouldn’t have called it in. Time will tell.
So, here we all are. Grab the ice cream and/or the bourbon and get comfy.
Punished for High Libidos: Women’s Struggle.
There are a lot of false assumptions, exploitive stereotypes, and outdated role assignments still wrapped up in women’s sexuality. Women still face a lot of shaming, vilification, corseting, commodification, and confinement to cramped, hypocritical boxes – particularly the expectation that they must be sexually attractive and available for sexual service, but only in ways deemed appropriate by “the man” and patriarchal norms. It has lost some of its bite, but we still live with the dregs of that classic double standard: men who like sexual variety get the pat on the back and women who like it get a slap in the face.
Read “The Cheating Wife Phenomenon.” It IS a thing.
It isn’t that women have lower libidos, although some may, just as some men may. Over the centuries and across the globe, women have endured punishment for their libidos repeatedly, facing numerous atrocious methods. Society, through overt teachings or subtle social norming (observed in advertisements and Facebook feeds), has instilled in women the idea of suppressing their own sexual desires to conform to the “good girl” standard. This conformity aims to protect them from slut-shaming, stoning, rape, or the brutal removal of their clitoris. Women have also been taught to prioritize others’ needs and be constantly mindful of their feelings.
But what happens if we simply refuse to play quite that way? Would our marriages remain sexless if we claimed our right to what I call the Pleasure Prerogative? If we spoke up and had the same expectation that men have of being sexually pleased, if we got comfortable with cunnilingus or other forms of foreplay designed to arouse us? If we got comfortable with asking for it?
Consider reading “36 Things to Do If You are Thinking About Divorce.”
I’ve had many lovers and almost all of them have been great. A healthy handful or two have been phenomenal and one was next-level. What do I mean by great or even phenomenal? Even if they didn’t love me, they certainly loved what they were doing and loved doing it with me, and weren’t prissy about physicality, mine or theirs. Specifically, these individuals cherished the act of pleasuring their partners, appreciating and valuing women not only for their physical attributes but also for their intellect. They wholeheartedly engaged in the intimate act, fully present and not distracted by selfish motives or thoughts about their personal ambitions. Above all, their primary focus was on eliciting pleasure and bringing their partners to climax, finding great satisfaction and arousal in doing so.
And even if they don’t all start out as good or great lovers, men are willing to learn and follow a good example. Not all of them, but assuming that they are not willing is one of those misinformed cop-out mistakes that women make.
I was in my 20s, with a new boyfriend (a native Southerner, which I feel is relevant, as this culture tends to have more accepted macho behavior and entitled “mama’s boy” expectations of service engrained in its men than typical West Coast men). This was the only time in my life that I experienced a man who reached his own climax before I did and seemed either unaware or unconcerned about that – not bothering to come back and finish what we’d started.
The first time it happened (which was our first sexual encounter), I decided to spare his feelings once and see if it happened again before bringing it to his attention. And it did. Once again, the next time we had sex, he “played through,” as they say in golf. So afterward, clothed again and in the living room so we were in a better zone for discussion, I asked him if he knew that I hadn’t orgasmed during either love-making event. He said he did know, and expressed much more surprise that I was bringing it up than he did any sheepishness over being a selfish lover.
I simply said, “That isn’t going to work for me. I am not a woman who is ok with simply pleasing her man. This needs to be mutual.” And I meant it.
He was momentarily speechless (an unusual moment for this particular smart, successful, attractive and opinionated guy), but to his credit he took it in complete stride.
He said, “Ok.” And we had great sex from then on.
If we have no qualms about claiming the Pleasure Prerogative, then we give men the opportunity to step up to the plate. If sex isn’t a pleasure, then it isn’t a matter of low libido but high disappointment that is partly responsible for keeping a marriage sexless.
Her-Story Is and Isn’t Ancient History
It isn’t just sexual dissatisfaction that leads to sexless marriages, though. Moreover, the unequal and double-standardized punishment that women endure for expressing their sexuality contributes to their reluctance in embracing it fully. While both genders once shared a more “traditional” outlook on sexual expression throughout history, the rise of patriarchy and its hierarchical system of violence shifted the dynamics towards a less egalitarian and holistic sexual culture. This change in societal norms has influenced women to be more reserved and cautious about freely embracing their sexual desires.
Riane Eisler’s The Chalice and the Blade and one of my brilliant college professors introduced my classmates and me to a truth that was at once both new and old: the much more balanced, sex-positive, Goddess-centered cultures that once spread across the globe lasted a helluva lot longer than the political systems imported by the patriarchal upstarts — whose obsession with locking down a woman’s sexuality by whatever mean necessary was driven by their need to guarantee their heirs are theirs before they hand over the keys to the castle or pass on the batons of power, property, and money.
The Intersection of Money, Power, and Female Sexuality
In short, the purity push, the slut-shaming thing, the patriarchal lock-down on female sexuality was and is All. About. Money and Power. It’s pure (well, filthy, economics) and it is the original blending of church and state. The two have never been separate. It is a giant, steaming crock of patriarchal horse manure. The church merely recreated the characters and told the origin story in a whole new way, to suit the new winning team – what Eisler calls “remything” – to make it all more palatable and of course, enforceable. (Christ was born in August, people).
Here’s an example of that enforcement in current times, and of the hypocrisy and double standards around male and female sexuality that still persist. I have a friend, a 57-year-old man (six years my senior) who was raised Catholic. Yep.
This man was the youngest of four boys and the apple of his Italian mama’s eye. Well, he broke his parents’ cardinal Catholic rule of the house and brought a girl up to his room to have sex. His mother caught them. She said nothing to him – no recriminations, no shouting, no consequences – and served him dinner as usual, while his father merely suggested to him to be careful. But as the girl was leaving their house unescorted by my friend, who stayed in the living room watching the ballgame with his dad, his mother looked the girl up and down and said scathingly, “This isn’t a whorehouse.”
Hurt Goes Both Ways
It’s not to say that women are the only half of humanity who have been hurt, who have a claim on saying, “Me, too.” There are ways that men are also victimized – by not being allowed their softer feelings of uncertainty or self-doubt and for not being constantly hard (physically or mentally) and in the mood. According to 35-year veteran sex therapist and award-winning author, Marty Klein, Ph.D., half of the people less hungry for sex than their mates are men, not women (Psychology Today, June 5, 2023). The assumption that it is women who are less libidinous than men is simply not the case, and my own experience and what I’ve heard from family and most of my friends corroborates this.
When men are sexually assaulted, they are even less likely than women to speak up about it; not only are they less verbal than women, especially about their pain, the taboo is greater because in addition to the secondary victimization of blame for “bringing it on themselves” that women endure, they also undergo judgement for being “too weak” to fight it off. They are commodified as breadwinners and preyed upon by reproductive predators looking to leverage offspring in order to get “taken care of.” (Should men share responsibility for raising their children? Absolutely. Should they be trapped in a provider role by women who are using them for meal tickets? No).
Consider reading “Sexual Awareness Month: It’s Tricky”.
And Speaking of Reproduction
Can you think of a greater consequence of giving into your sex drive than pregnancy and child-rearing? Feeding her desire for sex is a choice that can end a woman’s freedom for much of her life. We ignore that consequence all the time, but if it’s there to be born, men may stay in the picture to help raise, fund, and cherish the resulting children, but it is women who bear the worst brunt of sexual joining, in terms of physical, financial, and social consequences. South Carolina had a proposal before its legislature to require the death penalty for women who have abortions, no matter if the reason is rape, molestation or that she will die if she carries to term, and the Palmetto State is not alone in this extremity.
Aging Out is Levelling Up
And incidentally, sex without the specific worry of pregnancy is where age triumphs hands-down over youth in this particular, peculiar and grossly devolving political climate. In this political arena, we may be youth obsessed, but women are once again going to have to reclaim the right to direct the course of our own lives and the right to say, “No, I’m not ready to be a mother and spend the better part of my life facilitating someone else’s existence,” in order not to be impoverished and ham-stringed by a new wave of what is essentially compulsory breeding, as if we were puppy mills.
Women post-menopause are at least clear of that nonsense.
Are you post-marriage too? Check out “Finding Your Sexy Again After Divorce.”
To some extent, though, we are all complicit in each other’s pain and in creating chasms of mistrust. And the only way we stop that and – if it’s a priority for both people in a marriage – to bring sexual fulfillment to both parties is to listen to each other and start speaking up for our individual needs, to reach for that self-expression that is only ours and not assigned by stereotypes, misinformation, and propaganda.
Jennifer Bent is a freelance writer, former print journalist, and feature writer living on the West Coast. Nicknamed Verbose at a young age, she loves wordcraft but has to keep a short leash on her fondness for the profane. Jennifer enjoys compelling content and the liberty to write about interesting contributors and innovative ideas. Connect with Jennifer at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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*We support same-sex marriages. For the sake of simplicity in this article, however, we refer to your spouse as your “husband” or a “he.”