Can my relationship survive without sex?
If you and your partner are happy with how much sex you’re having... that’s great! Sex in a relationship becomes a problem when you and your partner’s desire for physical intimacy is out of balance.
To find this out, you need to have an open and honest conversation with each other.
If you and your partner have similar levels of desire and you feel emotionally and sexually fulfilled that’s brilliant. There can be quite a lot of outside pressure to make you feel like you’re not having enough sex (from comparing yourself to friends, media or porn). If you’re both satisfied – you have nothing to worry about.
It’s important to recognise sex is just one way to be physically intimate with your partner. This is about more than just sex – physical intimacy is about touch, comfort, support and connection.
A healthy relationship has a balance between all types of intimacy. Relationships with sex but no emotional intimacy can be self-destructive and potentially harmful.
The biology of attraction
Did you know that levels of the stress hormone, cortisol, are higher in the few months of a new relationship? This increases the feeling of needing to bond and be together.
It’s particularly important at the beginning of a relationship. Just think back to when you first got together. But, as time goes on, the need for physical intimacy might go down a bit and the need for emotional and other types of intimacy tend to increase.
Here, psychosexual therapist Lohani Noor joins Happiful's podcast to talk sexual intimacy:
Do you and your partner have differences in sex drive?
This could be due to stress, a physical or mental health condition which may affect desire or ability to have sex. Perhaps there are outside factors getting in the way – becoming parents can be a big one!
Ask each other if this is likely to be temporary or longer-lasting. Are you both willing to stick this out? How long for?
If it feels like it’s going to go on for a long time with unknown recovery there’s more likely to be feelings of distress around changes in sexual activity.
How it can make you feel
The partner with higher desire may feel rejected. The partner with lower desire might feel they have to be super alert to make sure they don’t give the impression they’re interested in sexual activity when they don’t feel ready. They may feel overwhelmed or inadequate at not meeting their partner’s needs.
Is something bigger going on?
Could it be a symptom of a bigger issue in the relationship? Do you feel that you’ve grown apart? You might not even like each other anymore and there’s constant criticism or arguing.
A lack of sex can lead to a decrease in other forms of intimacy and connection, leading to feelings of resentment and maybe even infidelity and irreparable rupture of the relationship.
An option could be to negotiate an open relationship, so both partners can get their needs met within mutually agreed boundaries.
Perhaps an affair’s been discovered, or there’s an affair taking place behind the other partner's back, leading to more disconnection and mistrust which can be difficult to recover from.
What can you do?
Address the elephant in the room – talk about it and have an honest conversation. Ask how each of you feels about how much sex or physical intimacy you have in your relationship?
You might think about scheduling sex. It’s actually a great way to stop sex falling by the wayside and make sure you’re making time for each other.
Physical intimacy is what makes a romantic relationship different from a friendship – feeling attraction, passion and connection with your partner is so important.
It’s not the lack of sex that’s key, it’s the inability to address the challenges in your relationship and to be willing to look a little deeper. It can make you feel vulnerable and uncomfortable to address these issues, so you might want to do this with the help of a relationship counsellor.
Are there issues in your relationship that are caused by or are impacting on your sex life? It doesn't have to be like this! You deserve to be happy in your romantic relationship and so does your partner. Get in touch with a counsellor and talk about this together.