In the initial stages of your relationship, you may have ripped your partner’s clothes off every time you were together. As that new relationship lust wears off and you start to settle into the comfort of an LTR, it's normal for the frequency of sex to decrease. If you're experiencing a lack of sex, how do you know if you’ve reached dead bedroom status or are simply in a dry spell? Experts weigh in below.
What's considered a sexless marriage or relationship?
The frequency of sex in a relationship varies from couple to couple and can be influenced by a tapestry of factors: life events, relationship problems, and physical or mental health issues. Each couple’s definition of a "normal" sex life is as unique to them as other aspects of their partnership, like how frequent date night is, or whether goodnight texts are absolutely mandatory.
Data from the 2018 U.S. General Social Survey shows that of 660 surveyed married couples, 10% did not have sex in the past year, while 46% had sex at least weekly (a breakdown of 25% weekly and 5% daily). For some couples, a weekly rendezvous is perfect, while for others, a daily romp is required. It all comes down to how much sexual activity you and your partner(s) feel you need.
"Lack of sex in a relationship is considered a problem when one or all parties involved say it’s a problem," says sex therapist Donna Oriowo, PhD, owner and lead therapist at AnnodRight. "So basically, if or when you are feeling dissatisfied with the frequency or the actual practice of sex."
What are some causes of a sexless relationship?
Physical factors are some of the most common culprits that affect sexual desire. For cisgender women, a whole slew of hormonal factors could be to blame, including birth control (15% of users report a decrease in libido), menopause, or having recently given birth (20% have little to no desire for sex in the months after). Low levels of estrogen and progesterone are likely to reduce both the psychological and physiological desire for sex.
Erectile dysfunction (ED) can have profound impacts on sexuality and is similarly caused by a combination of these components. High blood pressure, for example, is a physical cause of ED, while stress or anxiety can similarly play a role.
Mental health issues—as well as the treatments for them—can also cause low libido. Depression and anxiety, in particular, are responsible for a huge percentage of ED and low libido. Up to 70% of people who take SSRIs experience sexual side effects. So people who are dealing with mental health issues can be caught in a sexual catch-22.
Relationship issues are another obvious cause for a lack of desire. Too much fighting or other negative behaviors can affect your emotional bond with your partner, which leads to a lack of physical intimacy. Over time, resentment can build up, making it harder and harder to initiate sex.
And don’t forget the impact of lifestyle—the most insidious factor. "The short answer is stress," says Dr. Oriowo. Moving, having a baby, or getting a promotion are all big life events that come with a whole host of stressful changes. But even day-to-day work stress and chores can dim your sex life’s shine.
"Sometimes we’re very busy people who aren’t necessarily thinking about sex," says Oriowo. "Our daily life stressors and various events that require our attention mean we are often not giving the same level of attention to our sex lives."
How can you improve frequency of sex?
Looking to reignite the spark in your bedroom? When it comes to revamping your sex life, there are no hard and fast rules (excuse the innuendo). Oriowo says that, "Ultimately, the goal is to remove obstacles that make you not want sex and increase the things that do make you want it."
Here are some quick and dirty tips for improving the frequency of sex in your relationship:
Prioritize and organize.
We’re all in agreement: adulting is hard. Daily responsibilities can get in the way of sexual intimacy, but the key is optimizing your day and prioritizing connecting with your partner above other things.
"It sounds hella boring, but prioritizing your daily routine can be very helpful," says Oriowo. "Organize your day for sex the way you’d organize for work: getting dressed, packing your lunch, creating a list of things to do etc. For sex, there can be similar prep work."
It’s the most common relationship advice, and for good reason—communication is essential to a healthy relationship. Increased communication, in general, can improve all aspects of your relationship by helping to build emotional intimacy. This typically leads to better sex. Talking specifically about sex helps as well. Oriowo says it’s "important to talk about the things you want to do or try with your partner." Opening up about fantasies and kinks can go a long way in improving your sex life.
Sharing moments, big and small, is another way to build intimacy with your partner that leads to more fulfilling sex. Participating in new or exciting activities release dopamine that actually mimics the feeling people have while falling in love, which can lead to increased desire. Oriowo also recommends flirting with your partner. "Build anticipation by sending flirty texts throughout the day or putting on sexier clothes at home." Being mindful and in the moment when you’re with your partner can help put you both in the mindset for sex.
Uncover your own sexual side.
Get in touch (possibly literally) with your own sexual side. "Many of us deprioritize ourselves or our desires, which can make it easy for sex to take the back burner, or never be on the stove to begin with," says Oriowo. Becoming comfortable with, and learning to recognize and honor your own sexual needs can go a long way in improving partnered sex.
Ongoing issues, like mismatched sex drives, may require an expert perspective. Sex therapy can help couples work through the emotional aspects of sex, including low libido, communication issues, and even past abuse, that may be showing up in the bedroom.
If you’ve already tried these tips to no avail, it could be time to reevaluate your relationship. You wouldn’t be alone—one in three respondents in a OnePoll survey said they had ended a relationship due to unfulfilling sex. Life is too short for bad sex to be the norm. But dry spells do happen, and in real life it’s unrealistic to think our relationships can maintain Megan Fox-and-MGK levels of attraction long-term. If you’re dealing with a lack of sex in your relationship, there is hope for reigniting the spark, as long as you’re willing to keep it alive.