Sex­less mar­riages — can they work?

Why some cou­ples opt for a non-sex­ual mar­riage and how oth­ers can over­come it

Thornhill Post - - Currents -

Sex­less mar­riages are more com­mon than you think, and while some ex­ist by choice, oth­ers are a mat­ter of cir­cum­stance.

For­est Hill cou­ple Janie* and Ken* gave up sex six years ago and de­scribe their re­la­tion­ship as non­sex­ual — not sex­less, which sug­gests a deficit. Nei­ther seeks ex­tra­mar­i­tal part­ners, as she lost in­ter­est in sex af­ter their third child, and his de­cline in de­sire fol­lowed shortly there­after. They have a happy re­la­tion­ship full of af­fec­tion, and their pas­sion for one an­other is pal­pa­ble — sex sim­ply isn’t a part of the equa­tion.

Ken ac­knowl­edges that he mas­tur­bates, when the mood strikes him, but de­scribes it as rare and util­i­tar­ian be­cause he gets so much love, af­fec­tion and in­ti­macy from Janie. She sug­gests that the re­la­tion­ship has im­proved since go­ing sex-free.

“There was al­ways so much pres­sure — on both sides. And once we started be­ing hon­est about sex, we slowly started be­ing hon­est about ev­ery­thing else, which opened up a whole new world. ”

They’re pri­vate about their de­ci­sion, how­ever, as they’ve seen how judg­men­tal their friends and neigh­bours can be when dis­cussing other peo­ple’s re­la­tion­ships.

“Can you be­lieve he had an af­fair and she stayed?” “I can’t be­lieve he’d al­low an open re­la­tion­ship.” “They prob­a­bly haven’t had sex in years!” are just some of the state­ments Ken says he’s heard in his so­cial cir­cle.

“I don’t need that non­sense,” he says. “You want a ton of sex, go for it. But don’t as­sume that I want the same life you have.”

Ken is right. You can have a happy, ful­fill­ing re­la­tion­ship with­out sex if you’re both on board. Some of the ben­e­fits might in­clude the dis­cov­ery of new ways to deepen in­ti­macy and con­nec­tion and re­duced pres­sure to ful­fill ev­ery one of your part­ner’s needs.

Al­though Ken and Janie tran­si­tioned from a sex­ual re­la­tion­ship to a non-sex­ual one, oth­ers seek out non-sex­ual re­la­tion­ships from the on­set. Some asex­ual folks may pre­fer part­ners who are open to a non-sex­ual re­la­tion­ship and each per­son is unique in the de­sire for ro­mance, af­fec­tion and other forms of in­ti­macy. This is why it’s es­sen­tial to com­mu­ni­cate your needs and bound­aries in ev­ery re­la­tion­ship so that you can cus­tom de­sign one.

Not all sex­less mar­riages are a mat­ter of mu­tual choice, and just as there is no univer­sal stan­dard for what con­sti­tutes a healthy re­la­tion­ship in terms of fre­quency, ex­perts don’t uni­ver­sally agree on what qual­i­fies as sex­less. Some sug­gest that six months with­out sex qual­i­fies as sex­less, whereas oth­ers sug­gest that one year is a more re­al­is­tic bench­mark. Health, stress, fam­ily, travel, be­reave­ment, kids and fi­nances all play roles in in­flu­enc­ing sex­ual fre­quency and ab­sti­nence.

If you find your­self un­will­ingly in a sex­less mar­riage and it’s in­ter­fer­ing with your life and re­la­tion­ship sat­is­fac­tion, you have to ad­dress the ele­phant in the room in a pro­duc­tive way. If you hurl ac­cu­sa­tions, make de­mands or frame your­self as a vic­tim, you won’t get the re­sult you seek.

In­stead, talk about why you’ve stopped hav­ing sex and how you feel about it. Be hon­est about the role of life changes (e.g., kids, hor­mones, health, stress, grief) and look for so­lu­tions to the un­der­ly­ing is­sues. You may want to seek the sup­port of a ther­a­pist or coun­sel­lor to guide you through these heavy con­ver­sa­tions.

Be mind­ful of the fact that a range of in­ter­est in sex is healthy and nor­mal. If you ac­cuse your part­ner of hav­ing or be­ing a “prob­lem,” you’re look­ing to place blame — not to iden­tify po­ten­tial so­lu­tions.

It is pos­si­ble to find mid­dle ground if you’re both will­ing to lis­ten. If your part­ner has lost in­ter­est in sex, you need to en­sure they feel safe ex­press­ing why. Some­times we lose in­ter­est in sex be­cause it’s not ex­cit­ing or sat­is­fy­ing. This can be a dif­fi­cult sub­ject to ad­dress, but it’s an es­sen­tial con­ver­sa­tion. You both need to know what the other likes and how ad­just­ments to at­ti­tude, ap­proach and reper­toire might af­fect in­ter­est in sex.

In other cases, we lose in­ter­est in sex be­cause of un­der­ly­ing re­sent­ment or ex­haus­tion. You’ll need to work to­gether to ad­dress these is­sues and make spe­cific changes with­out the ex­pec­ta­tion of sex as a “re­ward.”

You’ll also want to con­sider whether you both want to re­build your sex life. If it’s one-sided, you may be at an im­passe. If you’re both open to re­build­ing the sex­ual con­nec­tion, it’s im­por­tant to iden­tify the de­sired out­comes.

While you’re work­ing on un­der­ly­ing is­sues and en­gag­ing in mean­ing­ful con­ver­sa­tion, sched­ule time for al­ter­na­tive forms of af­fec­tion and con­nec­tion. Sex­less is not syn­ony­mous with love­less, so look for ways to con­nect emo­tion­ally and in­ti­mately so that when it’s time to con­nect sex­u­ally, you’re not start­ing from scratch.

*Names have been changed and re­la­tion­ship de­tails have been shared with per­mis­sion from all par­ties.

A ful­fill­ing re­la­tion­ship with­out sex is pos­si­ble if both part­ners are on board

DR. JESS

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