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What does a sexless marriage do to a woman?

A sexless marriage is typically defined as one in which a couple has sex less than 10 times in a year. While either partner can be dissatisfied with a sexless marriage, research has shown that women are more negatively impacted than men when sex is lacking in a relationship.

How common are sexless marriages?

Sexless marriages are surprisingly common. Studies estimate that around 15-20% of married couples are in sexless marriages. The rates may be even higher for older couples – up to 80% of couples over age 70 report not having sex in the past 12 months.

There are many reasons why couples may end up in a sexless marriage, including:

  • Stress
  • Exhaustion from work and family responsibilities
  • Relationship problems
  • Resentment
  • Medical issues
  • Aging and hormone changes
  • Differing sex drives
  • Erectile dysfunction
  • Painful sex

While a temporary lull in sexual activity is normal from time to time, an ongoing sexless marriage where intimacy is lost often leaves one or both partners unsatisfied.

Why are women more impacted than men by sexless marriages?

Research indicates that women in sexless marriages tend to be more distressed and unhappy than their male counterparts. There are a few key reasons why:

  • Women’s sexuality is more fluid. Women’s sex drives are more influenced by the quality of the relationship. When emotional intimacy is lacking, women easily lose sexual desire.
  • Women associate sex with love. For many women, sex represents love and affection. When sex stops, they may feel unloved and unwanted.
  • Women have more bodily shame. Cultural taboos around female sexuality leave many women feeling self-conscious and ashamed of their bodies. When sex stops, insecurities are enhanced.
  • Women fear abandonment. Some research suggests women worry their partners may leave if sex stops, leading to anxiety.
  • Women need arousal. Women generally require more time and emotional connection to become physically aroused. Quickies are less satisfying.
  • Women focus on their partner’s happiness. Women tend to be more focused on their partner’s sexual pleasure and may feel like a failure if sex stops.

In contrast, men are more likely to separate sex from emotion and still feel satisfied with the relationship even if sex declines. Men are socialized to always want sex, so may feel less impacted if the partner loses interest.

Emotional impact

When sex starts to disappear from a marriage, women often internalize it as a sign that something is wrong with them or the relationship. This can deeply impact their self-esteem and emotional wellbeing. Common feelings include:

  • Rejection and loneliness
  • Unhappiness and frustration
  • Anger and bitterness
  • Loss of confidence and self-esteem
  • Insecurity, guilt, and shame
  • Fear and anxiety
  • Embarrassment or inadequacy
  • Depression and hopelessness

These negative emotions can lead to withdrawal, resentment, and a sense of despair about the relationship. Women stuck in a sexless marriage often mourn the loss of intimacy, feeling hopeless and unlovable. In some, it damages their very identity and sense of worth.

Physical impact

Along with emotional consequences, the physical act of sex provides health benefits for women that are lost in a sexless marriage. These include:

  • Pleasure and satisfaction – Sex triggers the release of endorphins and feel-good hormones that reduce stress and anxiety.
  • Cardiovascular health – Sex promotes heart health through better circulation and elevated estrogen levels.
  • Pain relief – Orgasm releases natural pain-relieving hormones.
  • Better sleep – After an orgasm, prolactin and serotonin are released, promoting relaxation and sleep.
  • Muscle tone – Sex and orgasm lead to the release of oxytocin and DHEA, keeping muscles supple and toned.
  • Mental health – Sex boosts serotonin, helping fight depression, memory loss, and Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Incontinence – Regular sex strengthens pelvic floor muscles, reducing risk of incontinence.
  • Immune function – Increased estrogen and oxytocin strengthen the immune system.

By losing out on these benefits over a long period of time, women’s physical health and quality of life may decline.

Common coping mechanisms

Women respond in various ways to cope with the frustration, sadness, anger, and loneliness of a sexless marriage. Some common coping mechanisms include:

  • Withdrawing emotionally from their partner
  • Channeling efforts into work, hobbies, or kids
  • Confiding in friends to get emotional support
  • Attending therapy or counseling
  • Initiating conversations about lack of intimacy
  • Suggesting medical or hormone evaluations
  • Feeling tempted by infidelity or fantasizing about others
  • Masturbating to meet sexual needs
  • Throwing themselves into self-improvement
  • Resigning themselves to the situation
  • Threatening divorce as a wake-up call

Some of these mechanisms, like communication or counseling, can be healthy outlets. But destructive behaviors like resignation or cheating usually damage the relationship further. Every couple needs to find positive ways to reconnect if sex has stalled.

Can the marriage survive?

Many sexless marriages do ultimately end in separation or divorce if the problem cannot be solved. However, couples can survive and even thrive after a dry spell if they are willing to put in the work.

Keys to recovering intimacy include:

  • Getting to the root of the problem through open and honest conversations.
  • Seeking therapy or counseling, individually or together.
  • Addressing sources of stress, conflict, grief, trauma.
  • Reconnecting emotionally through dates, activities, intimacy exercises.
  • Scheduling time for physical intimacy.
  • Being patient, flexible, and maintaining affection.
  • Letting go of blame, anger, and unrealistic expectations.
  • Improving overall wellbeing through self-care and mutual support.
  • Exploring sexual creativity and experimentation.
  • Seeking medical help if needed for erectile dysfunction, pain, or hormones.

While challenging, many couples are able to get their marriages back on track by identifying the issues and actively working to improve communication, closeness, and chemistry. They learn to define intimacy more broadly and focus on quality over quantity.

How to cope if things don’t improve

What if you have tried everything, communicated openly, gone to counseling, but your partner will not address the lack of physical intimacy? Unfortunately, you cannot force your spouse to change. Some tips for coping include:

  • Accepting what you cannot control and focusing on improving what you can.
  • Working on your sense of self-worth apart from sex.
  • Cultivating close friendships and interests to create fulfillment.
  • Redefining intimacy in your marriage as emotional intimacy.
  • Exploring ethical non-monogamy if your partner consents.
  • Deciding if you can live happily in a sexless marriage.
  • Understanding that your needs matter and you deserve fulfillment.
  • Leaving the marriage if there is no path to meeting core needs.

You have a right to feel whole, loved, and satisfied in marriage. While compromise is normal, chronic unhappiness and deprivation is not. At some point you may need to make hard decisions about separating if your spouse refuses to address problems.


A sexless marriage can deeply damage a woman’s self-worth, health, and emotional wellbeing over time. While some couples are able to recover intimacy, others may reach an impasse where needs remain unmet. Therapeutic support, lifestyle changes, and open communication can help, but ultimately both partners must be willing to work together to prioritize intimacy. If the marriage cannot meet core needs, separation may be the healthiest option.