Why intimacy disappears in couples (and how to rekindle it)

You may have reached a point where you prefer other activities to sharing intimacy with your partner. If this is the case, there's a problem. Maybe you're not on the same wavelength. We'll explain why.

and marriage can go together like a horse and carriage, but what about that union with physical intimacy? That's another story. Scientist Seth Stephens-Davidowitz recently discovered that the phrase “being married without sex” is one of the most Googled when it comes to marital complaints in the US.

The alarming reality of couples without intimacy

A survey conducted by the Austin Institute for the Study of and Culture also revealed that 12% of married couples had not been intimate in the past three months. Another study found that, on average, 20% of spouses had not had sex in the previous year.

“Sexless are the number one problem in unions, especially among couples over 40,” says Ian Kerner, New York sex therapist and author of ‘She Comes First'. “This is because our sexuality naturally evolves in response to the , hormonal and lifestyle changes we all experience as we age,” he adds.

The challenge of transition: understanding sexless marriage

While this transition may be normal, it leaves many people wondering if their sex lives and marriages are in trouble. Here, sex therapists, gynecologists and researchers explain what a sexless marriage is, why desire diminishes and what couples can do to regain physical intimacy.

The answer isn't simple. Some experts say that couples who have sex nine times or less a year are asexual. Others argue that no one has the right to consider a marriage as such, because frequency preferences are personal.

Libido at half-mast: a problem of perception

“For me, it has less to do with numbers and more to do with the perception that spouses have,” says Kerner. “A couple may still find each other attractive and want to have sex, but life gets in the way, so they're in a dry spell. But in a sexless relationship, there's a real gap between you and your partner. You feel like you're a million miles away.”

The hidden reasons for lack of intimacy

, stress and weight gain are among the main reasons why couples stop being intimate. Another reason why the numbers don't always mean much is that for some couples, “nine times or less” may not be so bad. “There are people who only have sex once a year, on their birthday, and they're happy with that,” says sexuality researcher Justin Lehmiller.

The libido challenge: understanding the Sexual Desirability Gap (SDG)

If “asexual” means without desire, there's another term that may be more useful in assessing your physical connection: the Sexual Desirability Gap (SDG). In simple terms, this means that one member of the couple doesn't want to have sex as often as the other, and the bigger the difference, the more likely it is that one of the spouses isn't happy.

The end of stereotypes: men vs. women

Many people used to blame DDS on the inherent differences between male and female libidos: it was assumed that men needed more sex and women wanted less. But research hasn't confirmed this, comments Kristen Mark, director of the Sexual Health Promotion Lab at the University of Kentucky. “Our studies found that both sexes are equally likely to experience lower sexual desire,” she continues. “Same-sex couples may also experience this difference,” she adds.

Comparison: a trap for intimacy

Another challenge is the assumption that other people's sex lives are better than our own. We also compare our current situation with the sex we had before. “When people reflect on their sex lives, they usually remember times when experiences were spontaneous and different. But it's not fair to think that your current sex life is worse than the one you had when you were freshly in love.”

Quality vs. quantity: a new look at intimacy

If you're caught in the comparison trap, it can be helpful to look at your current sex life through the lens of quality vs. quantity. “There are a lot of married couples who discuss things and have open sex,” says Debby Herbenick, director of Indiana University's Center for Sexual Health Promotion. “They may have frequent sex, but in reality, they're not really enjoying it.” And that doesn't make their marriage any better than a

sexless union. If you and your partner only make love eight times a year, but it's still intimate and satisfying for both of you, that might be preferable to having emotionally distant sex every week.

Common culprits: understanding the reasons for lack of intimacy

It's not uncommon for even sexually synchronized couples to experience a Discrepancia de Deseo Sexual. Over time, libido can disappear for physical, mental or emotional reasons. “A lot of things happen as we age. It can end up being the perfect storm of factors that can undermine your or your partner's interest in sex,” Kerner continues. Here are some culprits to consider:

Illnesses: an obstacle to intimacy

Illnesses such as back pain, arthritis and depression become more common with age and can make sex difficult, says Mary Jane Minkin, clinical professor of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive sciences at Yale School of Medicine. “It may be the disease itself that limits sexual activity or the medication needed to treat it,” she adds. Men have a unique concern: erectile dysfunction.

Weight gain: a brake on intimacy

It gets harder to get in shape and stay in shape after 40, so it's not uncommon for spouses of both sexes to discover they've gained weight. If this has happened to you, you may not have as much energy for sex or feel self-conscious about your appearance. If it's your partner who's gained weight, you may not find him or her as physically attractive as before.

Fatigue and boredom: the enemies of intimacy

Fatigue is a symptom of many conditions, a common side effect of many medications and modern life in general. But spending more time in bed (sleeping) could help your libido. “ is important for your sexual health because it's linked to both function and desire,” says Lehmiller.

Stress: an intimacy killer

What's more, boredom is a big problem in sexless marriages, according to Minkin: “Couples who have been together for 10 or 15 years may not be doing new things. They're not experimenting.”

Anger and resentment: barriers to intimacy

Constant stress can make it hard to concentrate on sex, and even trigger hormonal changes that lower libido. There can be an evolutionary component to the problem, too. “When you're stressed, the fight-or-flight response encoded in our bodies is mediated by the same tissues that mediate the sexual response, dampening desire and telling your brain you should pay attention to something other than sex,” assures gynecologist Eden Fromberg, also a clinical assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at SUNY Downstate College of Medicine.

Anger and resentment: barriers to intimacy

Emotional baggage, whether in the form of old grudges, persistent hostility and resentment, jealousy or guilt, can wreak havoc on your libido. “Some people get angry at their partner for really big things, like or lies,” Herbenick concludes.

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