Before having kids, I was a woman who had always been in touch with her sexuality and had a relatively high sex drive. I had three serious monogamous relationships before meeting my husband, and all were filled with passionate and frequent sex. And let’s be honest, there were also some sexual partners that were thrown in there just for “funsies.” Upon meeting my now-husband, the chemistry was off the chain, and we had sex every time we saw each other, and this went on for years. We dated for six years before getting married and slowly the frequency of sex reduced but it was still happening regularly. And then came the pregnancies, the babies, the toddlers, the pumping, the school activities, and the sheer exhaustion. I had no desire to have sex with my husband, and I found myself in a sexless marriage.
A sexless marriage is defined as one in which couples have sex less than ten times a year. Now I don’t know for sure we were having sex less than ten times a year, but it was pretty darn close. Some months went by with no sex at all. He stopped asking for sex, and I ignored the situation while being bogged down with work, childcare, and household tasks. Every once in a while, we’d have an argument, and he’d tell me how he felt unloved and undesired. He told me normal healthy marriages aren’t like this, and he couldn’t understand why so much had changed. And honestly, I wish I knew why it had changed- I just couldn’t figure it out. I still loved this man more than ever, we had a deep friendship, and I very much still desired to be married to him. Every once in a while, I’d psych myself up to “take one for the team” and just have sex even if I wasn’t interested. Most of the time, the sex was good, but I still never desired it again. I told him I needed more help, and maybe that would help so he’d unload the dishwasher once and then become upset when he didn’t get sex in return. This became a vicious cycle we couldn’t escape.
The only exception to our sexless marriage was vacation. Twice during this time period we went on vacation together and had carefree and passionate sex-the type of sex we had when we first met. But we never sustained it when we got home and slipped back into our old ways. I had hormones tested, did pelvic floor PT, took supplements, read blogs, and listened to podcasts to help me understand what was going on because surely I was the problem. And then I read a book that changed everything for me. I read “Come as you are” by Emily Nagoski, and she rocked my world. I cried as she told me I was not broken, and many other women shared in my experience. Slowly the shame and sadness lifted as she explained that libido is bullshit, and there was an actual scientific reason why I felt this way. I can’t possibly touch on every gem of wisdom in this book, but I’ll share what was the most meaningful for me and what created the most significant shift in our sex life.
In her book, Emily uses an accelerator and a brake as metaphors for sexual desire. She explains everyone is wired entirely different and we all have varying sensitivity levels on our sexual accelerators (what makes us desire sex) and our sexual brakes (what makes us opposed to sex). For example, stress may drive the accelerator for some people because they view it as a way to release tension. For others, stress may activate the brakes because they feel completely overwhelmed. In our particular case, my husband maintained a sensitive sexual accelerator and very few things activated his sexual brakes. I, on the other hand, historically had a sensitive accelerator. Still, the stress of life and motherhood had essentially put the parking brake on, making it impossible to get the accelerator going! Now it made total sense why we had great vacation sex…no responsibilities meant that I could let off the brakes.
So how did this knowledge actually change things? We both made efforts to reduce the stress and take things off my plate. I asked him to make dinner 2-3 times a week, and he did it. He made himself available and flexible during his workday to take the kids to appointments or run an errand. Recently he started taking over the morning routine, and he gets out of bed before I do to make everyone breakfast. These are all small things that slowly shifted over time, but as they shifted, I started to feel the brakes come off a little bit. Let me tell you; there is nothing sexier than a man getting the kids ready for school and making sure you have a hot cup of coffee when you wake up! The desire is back, and we’ve found a fulfilling frequency for both of us. My stress levels are lower than they’ve been in years. I feel grateful for the strong foundation of friendship and connection that got us through this healing process. You CAN recover from a sexless marriage, but it requires work from both parties. If reading a book isn’t your thing or you feel that your problems go beyond the issues covered in the book, find a certified sex therapist to help you on your journey.