Sexless Marriage Advice: What are “Dead Bedrooms”? (Plus 4 Tips for Avoiding Them)
If you and your S.O. haven’t done the deed in six months or longer, you are not alone. In fact, you are trending. If you believe recent headlines, tons of married or long-term couples all over the world are in the midst of a full-blown sex strike. Even Pink is talking about it: “…you’ll go through times when you haven’t had sex in a year,” the singer and mom of two recently said of her 13-year marriage to Carey Hart. “Is this bed death? Is this the end of it? Do I want him? Does he want me? Monogamy is work! But you do the work and it’s good again.”
According to the New York Post, “'Dead bedrooms,’ the buzzy new term for when couples in long-term relationships stop having sex, are on a zombie-apocalypse-like rise.” It cites a study that shows 69 percent of couples are intimate 8 times a year or less; 17 percent of those surveyed hadn’t had sex in a year or more. This is on the heels of research out of the University of Chicago demonstrating that between the late 1990s and 2014, sex for all adults dropped from 62 to 54 times a year on average. And, per Time, “The highest drop in sexual frequency has been among married people with higher levels of education.”
In her cover story on The Sex Recession, The Atlantic’s Kate Julian reports on the many possible causes behind this unsexy ebb: “hookup culture, crushing economic pressures, surging anxiety rates, psychological frailty, widespread antidepressant use, streaming television, environmental estrogens leaked by plastics, dropping testosterone levels, digital porn, the vibrator’s golden age…helicopter parents, careerism, smartphones, the news cycle, information overload generally, sleep deprivation, obesity. Name a modern blight, and someone, somewhere, is ready to blame it for messing with the modern libido.”
Chances are you and/or your spouse are impacted by one (if not several) of the above. So what can you do to break a dry spell? Read on for expert tips.
1. Focus on each other as well as the kids
We could tell you to start putting each other first. But chances are it’s not gonna happen. Parents with children between the ages of 6 and 17 are having less sex than even those with younger children, according to research. Blame co-sleeping, snowplow parenting or “generalized family anxiety” caused by everything from travel soccer to SAT prep. More than past generations, parents are putting kids front and center, and their sex lives are taking a hit. Here’s advice from psychologist and author Dr. Debra Campbell: “Dispense with a ‘one-size-fits-all’ attitude to sex because passion and excitement thrive most on creativity and a bit of novelty. That means, don’t limit yourselves by thinking about sex as purely intercourse, as only happening at a particular time of day or night, or requiring certain circumstances— especially now circumstances have changed.” A weekly date night might not be feasible, but making out in the car after a parent-teacher conference could be. Hug occasionally. Say thank you. Kiss hello and goodbye. As relationship guru Dr. John Gottman says, good marriages thrive on “small things often” as opposed to the single, annual, grand romantic gesture.
2. Check your meds
This one’s complicated. Depression and anxiety inhibit sexual desire. But often, so do the essential antidepressants and birth control pills we take to mitigate both. However, depending on multiple personal factors, from physiology to psychology, you may find that a lower dose or a certain type of birth control impacts your sexual desire differently. You may have a better response to an IUD than to an oral contraceptive, for example. Definitely talk to your doctor. And (here’s an idea) bring your spouse in on the conversation.
3. Banish tech from your bedroom
For many long-term couples, Netflix and Chill evolves into Netflix and Pass Out. We’ve done deep dives into how phubbing can be toxic for romantic relationships. And research shows that sleep deprivation (whether it’s caused by parenthood, work worry or tech use) reduces sexual desire. More sleep = more and better sex. And it turns out all that late-night Instagram scrolling may be eating away at your self-esteem and your sex life as well as your sleep. “A large and growing body of research reports that for both men and women, social-media use is correlated with body dissatisfaction,” writes Julian in her Atlantic story. Feeling hot is key to arousal. Is watching a 26-year-old travel Influencer jog down the beach in Phuket going to help? “A review of 57 studies examining the relationship between women’s body image and sexual behavior suggests that positive body image is linked to having better sex. Conversely, not feeling comfortable in your own skin complicates sex.” Anything healthy and positive you can do for your body—and the less time you spend comparing it to anyone online in a bikini—will probably improve your sex life.
4. Stop counting
When it comes to sex, it’s quality over quantity. How often you do it matters less than how happy you are with your sex life, according to relationship therapist, author and sex researcher Dr. Sarah Hunter Murray. The average married couple has sex once a week or less, and those who do are just as happy—and perhaps happier—than those having it two to three times a week, per research in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science. “The frequency with which we have sex receives a lot of attention because it's the easiest way to measure and compare our sex lives to our peers,” writes Hunter Murray. “But having lots of bad sex isn’t going to make anyone happy nor is it going to leave you feeling satisfied.” She advises looking at the reasons why you’re not having sex and doing what you can to work on those together. Is it because you approach money differently? He’s critical of your parenting style? Your careers are in different stages? You resent the division of household labor or carry more than your share of the mental load? What can you do to communicate about or change your circumstances? “If we are fighting or falling out of love with our partner, not having sex could be a symptom of a much larger problem,” writes Hunter Murray. “However, if we are simply busy, sick, navigating parenthood, or identify as asexual (and the list goes on) then it may be more circumstantial and nothing to panic over.” The bottom line? Less frequent good sex is better than bi-weekly sex that leaves you cold or not feeling any closer.