Caroline Cranshaw: What to do if you are in a sexless marriage or relationship

Publish Date
Thursday, 28 September 2017, 10:30AM
Photo / Getty

Photo / Getty

One of biggest factors for contentment in a long-term relationship is the level of sexual satisfaction.

The more sexually content we are, the happier we tend to be. The difference between a friendship and a relationship is whether or not you are having sex. I have yet to meet a couple who weren’t having sex and both happy about it. The partner that is wanting more sex is normally pretty pissed off about not having enough sex but is at a loss on how to fix it.

The average married/de facto couple has sex around five times a month. According to experts, for a relationship to be considered sexless – you need to be having sex less than once a month. Around 15% to 20% of couples are in this category. If both partners are happy with the amount of intimacy in their relationship, it doesn’t matter what the professionals say. However, if your libido is mismatched with your partner and one of you is not happy about it – it’s a problem. Lack of sex is one of the leading causes of unhappiness and infidelity in relationships.

According to Google, the term "sexless marriage" is searched three and a half more times than "unhappy marriage" and eight more times than "loveless marriage." 20% to 30% of men and 30% to 50% of women say they have little to no sex drive.

Photo / Getty

Our libido often drops with the arrival of children and age as well as with stressful events. Demanding jobs, raising kids, family problems, hormonal or mental issues and illness can all contribute to a lack of sex.

Nonetheless, if a few months have passed with no sex and it's bothering you, the issue needs to be addressed. For some couples, it’s a temporary phase and can be easily resolved. However, there may be physical, psychological or relationship issues that may need some work.

There is a universal truth when it comes to dynamics in romantic relationships. There is always a high desire partner, as well as a low desire partner in every relationship. Now, this is not about who has a high sex drive compared to who has a low sex drive. This is about the position you take in your relationship. For example, one of you wants to go on holiday, the other would rather save money. One of you want to renovate the kitchen with the best you can afford, the other would rather landscape the garden and buy a spa.

There’s a high desire partner and a low desire partner on almost every decision and issue in your relationship. Either one partner is wanting to do something that the other doesn’t, or wants to do it less than the other. When you and your spouse both want the same thing, one of you will almost always want it more. This is important to understand with the dynamics of relationships and realise that neither the high or low desire partner is at fault - in order to stop blaming each other and reconnect sexually.

The low desire partner almost always controls the amount of sex a couple has. The interesting thing is that the low desire partner is normally the high desire partner with something else in the relationship, like more affection, more help with housework or help with the kids. Without realising it, they are nagging their partner for something they need just as much as the partner who wants more sex. And we all know how well nagging works.

So, what can you do to improve your sex life?

1. Talk about it and be radically honest

I’m still shocked every time another client tells me they are not having sex with their partner and when I ask what their partner says is the problem – they answer they have yet to discuss it with their partner. You can’t change something if you are not willing to talk about it. When you don’t talk about your issues, they go unresolved and unresolved issues fester. They turn into resentment. Resentment turns into a lack of consideration and less connection and intimacy.

It’s amazing to me of how many people think that having an affair is a better option than addressing the issue with their partner. Trust me it’s not. I believe it is way less damaging, to be honest about the fact that sex is important to you and be upfront with what you need rather than sneaking around behind your partners back. If your partner absolutely refuses to work on improving your sex life when they know how important it is to you, I think you need to seriously consider leaving the relationship.

2. Figure out what the problem is, or if there is a problem at all 

Is it resentment, health issues, hormonal imbalances, sexual issues, unresolved trauma, stress with kids or have you just fallen out of love?

Sexual desire mismatches happen in almost every long-term relationship, but it’s how we deal with it, with whether or not it becomes an issue. One of the problems is that people begin to believe something is wrong with them if they’re not having sex as much as they believe they should. This can impact both partner’s self-esteem and happiness. Try to identify the issues without blame or criticism as this only makes things worse.

I find a common dynamic is one partner has anger issues and as a result, the other partner shuts down sexually. The irony is that men have sex to connect and women have sex when they feel connected. If a person doesn’t feel safe with their partner, their libido tends to shut down. What is getting in the way of you both connecting? Some people are just not into sex. They may have lots of sex the first few months due to the chemicals our brains pump out in the infatuation stage of a relationship, but their naturally low libido shows up fairly quickly. If this has been an issue since the beginning of your relationship, it probably always will be. And it’s not fair to expect someone to have a high sex drive when they don’t, just like it’s not fair to expect someone with a high sex drive to have a low one.

3. Get help

If there is a physical issue, go to the doctor. Trust me, your doctor has heard it all. Health issues and medications can cause low libido, erectile dysfunction, painful sex and hormonal issues that can be improved with the help of modern medicine. A relationship or sex therapist can also work wonders to overcome resentment, sexual issues, trauma and reconnecting after kids. People have no problem going to a personal trainer or nutritionist if they want help with getting fit but somehow feel shame if they need help with their relationship.

Good communication is key to having a fulfilling relationship and sex life and surprisingly is one of the areas people seemed to be the most resistant to getting help with. Unfortunately, schools have yet to add quality relationship communication to their curriculum. So, unless we are taught it at home (which very few of us are) – we are seriously uneducated when it comes to healthy communication and conflict resolution in relationships. A good therapist can help you have the hard conversations and give you tools to sort things out moving forward.

4. Show appreciation for your partner

The biggest complaint I hear from both sexes is my partner doesn’t appreciate me. At the beginning of a relationship, we tell each other how amazing and sexy we are. This triggers the brain into releasing the feel-good chemicals that make us want to be intimate. To desire is to want. I find the single biggest reason people cheat is that they are shown appreciation and approval by someone else.

If you want more sex, are you showing your partner that you find them sexy and desirable? Or are you being critical and resentful? Nothing turns a person off faster than feeling criticised. Commit to stop all criticism and tell your partner a minimum of three things you appreciate or are grateful for about them every day and I guarantee your relationship will improve.

5. Make the time and effort to connect

If you wait until after 11 pm when you are both exhausted, it’s a lot less likely to happen. Scheduling sex dates is highly recommended and gives you something to look forward to. Watching a sexy movie together or reading each other erotica can also get the ball rolling. Dress like you did in the beginning, take a shower and look after your appearance like you would with a new partner.

Sometimes we get a bit too comfortable and this kills attraction. We sit around in clothes we wouldn’t be seen in public wearing, burping and farting and wonder why our partner isn’t dying to have sex with us. If you were dating someone new and they behaved like that, you would run the other way!

6. Pheromones to get the heat back in the sheets

In my quest for learning about what triggers attraction, the science of pheromones is an area I have found fascinating and effective. Pheromones act as potent triggers of sexual attraction. We release these chemicals through our pores and they are subconsciously picked up by the nose, brain and nervous system. Around 10% of men give off larger amounts of androsterone, a pheromone that seems to give them greater sex appeal. These men may not even be good looking yet through their pheromones, women are much more attracted.

Women when ovulating release a much higher amount of copulins – a chemical secreted in vaginal fluid. Studies have shown that copulins rapidly increase testosterone levels in men by up to 150%. When exposed to copulins, men will often find women more attractive, are more compliant, more likely to listen, and have a stronger desire to please women. Do your research, but I can attest personally that pheromones definitely work! Pheromones can be helpful to revive your drive but make sure all other possible libido killers have been addressed for a long-term fix.

My favourite place to buy pheromones is and copulins and pheromones from

Sex has so many benefits – emotionally, physically and mentally. Couples that have regular sex are happier, healthier and more likely to stay together. Making your sex life a priority is one of the best things you can do to ensure all aspects of your relationship stays resilient and connected.

Books I recommend:

Mating in Captivity: Unlocking Erotic Intelligence by Esther Perel

Passionate Marriage: Keeping Love and Intimacy Alive in Committed Relationships by David Schnarch PhD

Intimacy and Desire: awaken the passion in your relationship by Dr David Schnarch

 - The Sex-Starved Marriage: Boosting Your Marriage Libido: A Couple's Guide by Michele Weiner Davis

Caroline Cranshaw is a hypnotherapist & life coach based in Auckland and the author of The Smoking Cure. Find out more about her at