In a 2010 National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles, an average Brit between the ages 16 and 74 make love for about three times in a month. This figure is lower compared to the data in the 1990s when heterosexually active couples make love five times a month. It is also lower than in 2000 when they have it an average of five times in a month. The study could be surprising for many couples, but for some, celibacy is a way of life.
Sex is often seen as an important aspect of a relationship. There have been evidences showing how sex can benefit an individual and a couple in general. It contributes to cardiovascular health, lowers blood pressure and eases stress. Furthermore, it helps fight off illnesses, and helps one get better sleep. Sex is proven to contribute to different areas of physical and emotional health. However, there are couples who still find fulfilment and happiness in a sexless relationship.
About Involuntary Celibacy
A sexless relationship is a type of relationship that has all the other elements relationships have except for one thing – a physically pleasuring sexual activity.
Involuntary celibacy is rarely talked about but exist in some long-term relationships. Hence, to further understand the issue, family sociologists Denise Donnelly and Elisabeth Burgess did a qualitative analysis of involuntary celibacy in long-term partnered relationships. Their research focuses on the processes that lead to involuntary celibacy, the consequences of involuntary celibacy for partners who desire sexual interaction, reasons why individuals in such relationship stay, and, therefore, the different strategies they use for managing unwanted celibacy.
Factors Leading to Involuntary Celibacy and a Sexless Relationship
The participants in the study, who are between the ages 18 and 65 (most of them are in their late 30s to early 40s) are “involuntary celibate” (i.e. they want to have sex but are not having it). They cited the following factors as the most common reasons for the sexual decline in their relationship:
- Sexual dysfunction
Sexual dysfunction such as erectile problems and low libido (lack of desire for sexual activity) are some of the problems cited by those who became involuntary celibate. Often, these problems can have a physical or emotional cause. Some people lack that sexual desire since the beginning of the relationship while others noticed a decline of their libido over time.
- Relationship problems
Stressors in the relationship such as a demanding home and work schedule can consequently take a toll on a partner’s sexual desire.
- Addictions and illnesses
The presence of chronic physical or psychological condition can have a significant impact on one or both of the partner’s libido. Some people lose their sexual desire as a result of medications or self-doubt that stems from their health condition.
- Physical appearance concerns
Self-awareness can have an impact on sexual activity. A study shows that women’s physical appearance concerns can have an impact on their sexual function, the same way as men’s self-awareness on their erectile function can have an impact on theirs.
In many situations, sexual intimacy with a partner after an affair can be awkward. Many couples find it difficult to get back to the same level of physical intimacy they had before the affair happened.
Impact of Involuntary Celibacy
The impact of involuntary celibacy in couples depend on their reference group. Donnelly and Burgess’ study showed that there is less negative impact in having a sexless relationship when couples see that their relationship isn’t different from the group that they consider as the ‘norm.’ Their ‘normative’ group can be based on age, gender, illness, or religion.
There is a difference when couples find themselves in celibacy as a result of dissatisfaction or lack of fulfilment in a relationship. Involuntary celibacy that results from this often leads to high levels of sexual dissatisfaction, causing some partners to stray from the marriage and seek sexual gratification outside their existing relationship.
Despite the negative consequences of involuntary celibacy, many of the participants in the study decided to remain in the relationship. Participants who made such choice felt that they’ve invested so much time and energy in their relationship, enough to make them stay. Donnelly and Burgess suggest that they may also remain in their relationship because they value the shared affection shown in non-sexual ways.
How Couples Cope With A Sexless Relationship
Donnelly and Burgess’ study have shown different ways people cope in a sexless relationship. A small percentage of the participants give up while others seek sexual gratification outside their marriage. However, the majority found a more positive way of coping with it. Many end up spending their energy on activities that provide emotional relief. This can be their work, hobbies, or school-related activities. Some participating couples seek help through marriage or sexual counseling, but this has been shown to be ineffective for them.
This analysis on sexless relationship has shown that sex isn’t just the basis of a long-lasting relationship. People in involuntary celibacy have found that their love, shared values, goals, and experiences shared together are enough to stay and keep the sexless relationship going.
If you find yourself being involuntary celibate for factors you don’t have control of, know that sexless relationship exists, and you and your partner can find positive ways to cope with it.
Published by Hypnosis in London on on 18 June 2017, written by Malminder Gill.