Sexless marriages and relationships

LonelyThanks to the Internet and blogging, I became more aware of the plight of people stuck in the quicksand of sexless marriages and relationships. I followed one blogger’s trail of breadcrumbs to several blogs on the topic and read some riveting accounts of this particular kind of loneliness.

It’s tempting to take first impressions and believe that this is just about, well, sex — or lack of it. For many it’s about much more. Sex can be complex, much more than erotic activity. It reaches deeply into our mental, emotional, and spiritual worlds as well. The end of sex often brings about the withdrawal of affection, cuddling, flirting, playing, even communicating. The Ice Age cometh.

Right now I am neither in a marriage nor in a relationship. I am just sexless period. I am also 64, an age where many have already put their sex drive out to pasture.

LOOKING IN THE MIRROR

Whether it is psychologically healthy or not, most of us are conditioned to look to others for a mirror image reflection on how we are doing in life. We are taught early on to seek approval. How people treat us becomes a navigational device we depend on. When people are excited to be with us, especially in the context of love, those bright eyes and promises send out signals to us that we’re doing just fine, thank you. New love relationships can be so intoxicating because we get fresh reflections on our desirability. Someone thinks we’re fabulous!

When a partner withdraws sexually, however, it sends a signal for many of us that we are not wonderful human beings anymore. We’re damaged goods, last month’s news. When we are systematically avoided sexually, it’s hard not to feel rejection. Social conditioning frequently tells us that when things are going well in a relationship, happy sex follows.

I’ve been involved in several relationships where sex halted. Each time I was assured that it was not about me; it was about them. They cited a dramatic curtailing of sex drive and lack of interest in things erotic. While I could accept this information as their truth, I still felt that their withdrawal had something to do with me.

Rationalizations flew fast and furiously: 1) Maybe they were just too nice to say what really bothered them; 2) Maybe my enthusiasm for sex was just natively way beyond theirs; 3) Maybe they were hiding  deep-seated hostilities from their past (child abuse, spousal abuse, sex history abuse); 4) Maybe I had turned disgusting and all those “dirty old man” clichés were true after all; 5) Maybe I had blundered again in my relationship choices by choosing someone not into the joy of sex, emphasis on joy.

The blogs I saw were, ironically, all written by women. They appeared to be in their high thirties and forties. Most appeared to be mothers. I felt great compassion to note how lack of sexual interest from their husbands ate into their self-esteem. In their writing they shared various strategies they used to put the adventure back into their relationships — new lingerie, mood enhancement, porn, confrontation. Seduction strategies went nowhere and were often rebuffed with insults.

MAKING UP FOR THE LOSS

In many cases, sexless relationships exist because there are nonsexual reasons to stay coupled. One of the most common is “for the sake of the children.” A break-up would hurt the kids. Economics play another huge role in keeping couples together. One or both could not afford to go it alone, so they hang on. Sometimes health issues have intervened turning an otherwise healthy relationship into a sensual desert, especially for the one left behind. It’s only the lack of sex that is extremely hurtful. Sometimes a supportive friendship or business partnership are the glue, even though the romance has gone.

The problem comes in trying to fill the emptiness created by a sexually disinterested partner. People invent all sorts of polyamorous (honest) or stealth-filled (dishonest) solutions to try. Unfortunately, most solutions turn out to be Band-Aids. Finding a lover (or for some, a fuck buddy) often ends up creating a fractured, compartmentalized lifestyle.

A new love relationship may sizzle out of the gate. It may seem like the perfect solution for a month or two or three. Eventually, however, if sex is great with the new partner, the hunger for more is born. More togetherness, more intimacy, more consistency. This is largely because sex is more than just sexual activity. It’s a seed that grows a love bond. When a new love bond flourishes, the old one usually weakens.

But even that scenario presumes that someone is lucky enough to have found a suitable lover. People ensconced in sexless relationships have the unenviable task of trying to find someone who desires to experience the joy of sex without commitment. NSA (no strings attached) relationships may work for some, but others (like myself for instance) crave emotional content with their sexual expression. Emotional sharing is arguably what makes sexual passion fulfilling. The bottom line, especially later in life, is that far fewer people are satisfied with or are even willing to try alternatives to monogamy. They want all or nothing.

I have noticed in myself a whole ego string of beat-myself-up ideas that flow through me from involuntary celibacy. I walk with less of a spring in my step. I feel incomplete. I feel uninvited to the party others take for granted. I burn up creative energy overcoming these negative feelings using the consciousness-raising, love-yourself tools I know. It’s not that I have a bad time by myself; it’s that I have a better time when I am in love.

THROUGH THE EYES OF OTHERS

I’ve witnessed great sadness and frustration embedded in the lives of others of both genders as they attempt to deal with their deeply unsatisfying sex lives. I have friends stuck in sexless relationships they say they would like to leave if it only weren’t for whatever they’re holding up as their rationale. Sometimes I think that this is a problem not given much sympathy or importance in society because it sounds so trivial — that is until it happens up close and personal.

Please share your thoughts and experiences!

5 thoughts on “Sexless marriages and relationships

  1. mozziestarlet says:

    Hi there,

    I think we can all relate to where you are right now. It does make me sad though that you seem a bit resolved to the lack of intimacy – sex or otherwise- as if it’s the beginning of the end. I’m 40, so I can’t presume to know what my sex life will be like when I’m 64 (though I’ve often wondered).

    I’d venture to guess that the very fact that you exist, enduring these feelings of isolation and loneliness, that there are others experiencing the same thing. You can find love and intimacy at any age, in my opinion.

    Keep your chin up and never stop hoping.

    Mozzie Starlet

    • Joshua Bagby says:

      Hi Mozzie,

      Thanks for your comment! Yeah, I must say that when you reach 64, 40 will seem wonderfully young! At least that’s my experience.

      My concerns about intimacy and lack of intimacy are not just personal ones. I care about the state of intimacy on a global scale. I believe that the more that intimacy is valued, the more we will want to heal the planet. Ah, grandeur, but I do believe it.

      I think you are right that intimacy can be found at any age. I have not given up hope, especially when you remind me!

      Joshua

  2. nikkir1972 says:

    Great blog…I like your insight!
    I agree with the other commenter, I hope you’re not resigned to sex being over. I think…and this is any age….that the sex we had in our 20’s we believe MUST be the sex we always must have, and if we can’t experience it in the same way it’s simply better to give up.
    I’m 41, and still very interested in sex and expressing it. I also know that I’m not going to find myself on top of a water tower, or even going at it on the kitchen counter everyday for hrs at a time, lol. My mind thinks it BUT….I have experience on me now. That being said, I know that I can still enjoy it, but enjoy it as a 41 yr old, and not a 20 yr old.
    In some ways, the experience might make it better…grin.
    As far as seeking other relationships….I agree with you in that people going out to find someone to screw is going to have an emptiness….it won’t make the failings of their marriage any better in the long run. There has to be a mental connection in order for it to have meaning…and a “fuck” buddy fizzles out fast.
    I have never wanted to go that route. For work reasons mostly, I remain in my marriage, but I also know the day might come when I choose something else. Being in a LDR has not weakened my relationship with my husband….you can’t weaken something that was already destroyed.
    I wanted a LDR because I knew going out and just having sex wasn’t for me. Without a spiritual, mental, and intellectual connection I would be just as unhappy. It has saved my sanity and given me happiness. Sometimes the intimate, sexual connection isn’t what I would like it to be, but all other elements that bring happiness are covered:)
    Thanks for sharing!!!

    • Joshua Bagby says:

      I am hoping that my sex life is not over! I do agree with you that sex changes with age and not in a bad way. I think experience matters greatly. For me communication is an important ingredient in pleasure, and sex in later years seems to be much more about sharing not just in a physical way but in a mental, emotional, and spiritual way. Some people have enjoyed that all along no matter what their age.

      I discovered virtual or long-distance relationships even before email and still love them. They add a whole new dimension to intimate communication. Making love with thoughts can be quite exciting, and it is often a missing ingredient in face-to-face relationships, surprisingly enough. I don’t know what sexier than sharing what’s on your mind in the middle of sex … since so much of this consciousness in normal sexual episodes is not shared.

      Maybe I will have to do a blog post on this sometime soon!

      • nikkir1972 says:

        Communication….most definitely. I’ve read blogs where the women are unsure how to approach their husbands concerning certain sexual practices and I think…this is the person you plan to spend your life with…how can you BE unsure?
        Agreed….in face to face relationships look and expressions are a big way sex is communicated, and while a positive thing…knowing what is in the mind is so damned sexier!:)
        I hope you do a blog on this subject…look forward to it!

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