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I'm in a Sexless Marriage, and I've Never Been Happier

Sex isn’t the same as intimacy, and I learned that only in my 40s

Couple sleeping separately in bed with smiley face background
Paul Spella/Shutterstock

Not long ago I went out for drinks with guy friends, and somebody brought up recent reports that people are having less sex than ever — not just disgruntled millennials but people our own age, in their 40s and 50s.

“Who are these people?” one of my oldest friends asked, laughing. “No sex at all?”

“Their lives must be miserable,” another guy sneered.

I didn’t dare tell any of them the truth: I not only understood guys who gave up sex in their 40s, but I was one of them.

I’ve been married to my wife for 20 years. And for the past five, we haven’t had sex. 

Writing those words, I know it sounds so tragic. Like somehow our intimacy has evaporated because I stopped putting my penis inside her.

That’s not how it is at all.

It’s not like we suddenly decided to stop having sex. It wasn’t a conscious decision. It just fell away, like so many other things from our youth fell away. I never made the proclamation, “I’m going to stop going out on the weekends and drinking till 3 a.m.” — it just happened. 

That’s how it happens with sex. One weekend you and your wife don’t have sex just because you feel obligated to do so. And you realize it’s OK and it doesn’t mean your marriage is in trouble, and intimacy can be just about holding each other as you watch Netflix or falling asleep in each other’s arms. It also doesn’t make you a loser or a candidate for divorce.

The hardest part of being in a sexless marriage is the charade. It’s like when you quit drinking and you realize how everyone around you is so aggressively flaunting their alcohol consumption. Telling your friends “No thanks, I’ll just have a club soda” is disconcerting enough. Imagine announcing, “No, I didn’t tap that ass last night. We watched Ted Lasso and kept our pants on.”

I can’t explain my lack of interest in sex in a way that’ll make sense to most people. It’s not that I love my wife any less. It’s not that I don’t have the energy to do it anymore. My wife and I walk more than we drive, and our weekends are spent biking together out in the hills near our house. Our libidos haven’t been killed by too much junk food and lazy living. We’ve just … lost interest in sex.

It baffles me that people can’t wrap their heads around that. If one partner objects, that’s an issue. But if both of you agree, “We don’t need to keep doing this thing we’ve both lost interest in” — that’s a good thing! That’s a relationship that’s growing and evolving, not pretending to be something that it’s not.

As a culture, we’ve convinced ourselves that sex is the apex of health and happiness. It isn’t. You can be healthy and active without sex. You can be deeply in love with your wife without ever penetrating her. 

I listened to my guy friends talk about how they pity the people not having sex and how they can’t imagine being in a relationship without it. I nod along and pretend I agree with them. But if sex were that important, it wouldn’t be something we bragged about. It should be enough that, as adult men, we still want to hold our wives’ hands. Maybe I haven’t had sex with my wife since the Obama administration, but I can’t wait to hold her hand tonight and gaze into her eyes. 

I’m not sure many of my guy friends could say the same.