This is the story of a couple that have been married for 25 years and have not had sex for the past 20 years.
No one talks about having a sexless marriage. The closest I get is hearing other men joking about their wives not being interested in sex any more, but we were never really interested in sex, even when we met 25 years ago.
I’d had other girlfriends and was always good at romantic gestures, though not so much at sweeping them off their feet in passion. I slept with two girls when the relationships reached that stage because it would have been odd not to, but sex left me cold and I wasn’t very good at it. I couldn’t see what the fuss was about, but when I was in my early 20s it was all my friends thought about.
I met Alison at a party and was smitten straight away. She’s pretty and petite and funny and keen on the same outdoor hobbies and old comedies as me. We went out for 18 months, but I didn’t feel the same pressure to have sex that I’d had before. She was just a delight to be with and I loved her company and very quickly loved her. We spent as much time together as we could and although we hugged and kissed and held hands neither of us mentioned going further.
When I proposed I did the whole thing of asking her dad, buying a ring and taking her out for a romantic dinner. I cried when she said yes because I couldn’t believe how lucky I was to have met my soulmate and then she burst into tears and we both ended up laughing hysterically at how daft we were. We started planning our wedding and when Alison told me that she’d never had sex and wanted to wait for our wedding night I was really relieved.
The wedding night was OK, partly I think because we’d had just enough to drink. We were quite relaxed and while we were away on honeymoon we had sex a few times I think because we felt we should and we were delighted when Alison got pregnant straightaway. She was quite sick and then feeding, so our daughter was actually nearly two when we had sex again. I said to her: “Shall we have another baby?” and she said: “Well, there’s something we’re not doing so that might take us a while,” and we both laughed and that started the whole chat about sex.
I could say I wasn’t that mad about it once she’d said she could take or leave it, and we had sex off and on then for about six weeks till she got pregnant with our son. That’s more than 20 years ago and we’ve not had sex since, though we’ve talked about it a couple of times. We had one tricky spell about five years ago when Alison started to worry we weren’t normal and thought we should go for counselling. I didn’t care about normal – my worry was that she really did want sex and might have an affair, but she promised me that wasn’t the case.
None of our friends or family would believe that we have a sexless marriage. We’ll have a spat occasionally, like everyone else, but we’re very cuddly and close to each other and still as interested in each other and do as much together as we ever did. Recently we’ve been taking dancing lessons for our daughter’s wedding next year and I feel so proud holding Alison in my arms – I’m sure lots of men envy me, and they should. She’s beautiful and I love her and I don’t think we’ll ever have sex again.
I really hated the way previous boyfriends implied that it was time we had sex or that I owed them something, so Brian was a lovely contrast. He’s deadly funny, clever, tall, dark and handsome and always sending cards and flowers. There was never any sweaty fumbling with him and it felt like we relaxed and got to know each other properly.
It did worry me that I didn’t want anything more than kisses and cuddles, and even when we had sex I knew “nice” wasn’t the word most people use to describe it. Apart from feeling we had to do it on honeymoon, after that it was just to have another baby. But I don’t want other people to know because sex seems to be such a big thing to everyone else.
We still look OK for a couple in their late 40s, so I’m guessing most people just assume we have sex. Brian’s very masculine and I’m very feminine in looks, so I doubt anyone thinks we don’t have sex – and, I must admit, that matters to me. A few years ago, it bothered me because we seemed so different from how everyone else is portrayed. I suggested counselling, but Brian thought that meant I wasn’t happy with him. I am, but I wonder sometimes what we’re missing out on – does everyone else have amazing sex and if we spoke to the right person could we be doing that, too?
It’s quite odd feeling you’re not interested in something that the rest of the human race is mad about, which is why I joined an internet support group for celibate couples. I don’t have to justify our marriage to other people, but it’s almost like I have to justify it to myself. Everyone’s happy in different ways and when I go on to the chats I know I’m not some sort of alien. Some of the people in the support group are clearly very unhappy at being in a sexless marriage and that must be very difficult. It’s a hard subject to talk about, but after that first proper conversation when we were talking about a second baby we cleared the air. That’s one thing I always advise in the chat – be honest. Men are often portrayed as sex mad, so I do worry sometimes that it’s me and that if Brian was with someone else he’d be totally different about sex.
There’s a woman at our dance class who flirts with him and when we had to swap partners for the tango she was all over him and I was raging, but he didn’t like her. Then I thought about dressing up sexily to see if that made us more interested, but that seemed a bit creepy. I hate friends talking about their husbands pestering them for sex when they’re not interested, though one of them has always been really crazy about sex and gets up to all sorts of things. She’s been unfaithful to her husband countless times, has tried threesomes and experimented with women and it all sounds so dramatic and messy. I never talk about our sex life to my friends.
Our family life is very happy and we have the same sense of humour, interests and ambitions – our home is a nice place for our kids to grow up. I want us to be together happily for 25 years and beyond and I can’t imagine being with someone else. I look forward to nights out or weekends away together as much as ever.
All sorts of sexual proclivities are accepted now, but being celibate in a relationship is still taboo. It’s only mentioned if illness or some other negative stops it, never as an ordinary way to live. Everyone puts all the details of their sex lives all over the internet now, and I’d love it if a famous couple would say they’re celibate. I still wouldn’t tell the world, but maybe I could stop feeling that our sexless marriage is a shameful secret.
Names have been changed
Celibate, ‘sexless’ or asexual?
Threesomes, sex with props and role play, open marriages, indeed, hating your partner, all are discussed more readily than what is perhaps the last taboo in a marriage: no sex at all.
There are no reliable statistics for how many people are happily married, or in a relationship, and who no longer have sex. Studies use relatively small samples and don’t always say whether lack of sex is a cause of unhappiness.
A survey in the US in 2007 said 70% of adults thought “consistent sex” was important in a marriage, although 12% of those surveyed said they hadn’t had sex in the past three months. However, in Japan, nearly half of married couples questioned in a recent survey – at least the ones surveyed – had not had sex in the previous month and did not expect that situation to change in the near future.
There is no proper name for it. Celibacy implies choice, and doesn’t reveal whether both partners are happy. Anecdotally, there may be many more married or cohabiting couples than statistics show who are happily, or resignedly, not having sex.
Another factor to consider, and something of a buzzword, is asexuality. Julie Sale, psychosexual psychotherapist and chair of ethics for the College of Sexual and Relationship Therapists, says: “Asexuality is often misunderstood as sexual desire disorder, when it is a sexual orientation. The term asexuality covers a wide range of responses to sex and love and can’t be pinned down to one simple definition.”
The Asexuality Network, asexuality.org, describes an asexual person as someone “who does not experience sexual attraction. Unlike celibacy, which people choose, asexuality is an intrinsic part of who we are.”
So there may be the couple whose sex lives have dwindled and who are both happy with the state of affairs, or there may be those who never had a sex drive – asexual – and who have found kindred spirits. The key words here are: “both are happy”. Psychosexual therapists say that enough sex, or no sex, is up to the couple and that all is fine as long as “both are happy”.
However, Sale doesn’t like the term “sexless marriage”. “In the [sexual therapy] profession it’s defined as a ‘marital union with little or no sexual contact’; it’s often defined as less than 10 times a year. For some people, 10 times a year would be a lot of sex! But also, not everyone is married and what does sexless mean to a couple? No sexual contact? Or just lack of intercourse? Then you get into the debate on sex and intimacy.”
Sex and intimacy are not the same thing. You can have intimacy but no sex, or vice versa. “I work with people who have a relationship which is in great shape but have no sex,” explains Sale. “And there are people who have a terrible relationship but great sex.
“Low desire and a mismatch in sex drives is very common. Lack of frequency is especially common, far more than people admit,” she says. “But people generally think they should be having sex and something is a bit off if they’re not. I don’t tend to see people who aren’t having sex and are fine about it, they come to a sex therapist because they want to do something about it. And it’s not true that all relationships eventually become sexless. They don’t.”
So if your relationship has become, for want of a better word, “sexless” and you both seem happy about it, is it better to talk about it? “Everything,” advises Sale, “is better spoken about. But if it’s not a problem, it’s not a problem. The danger is if there’s a discomfort in the mind, it’s better to have that conversation up front.”