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A Sexless Marriage Doesn’t Mean A Loveless Marriage—Hear About the Research

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A Sexless Marriage Doesn’t Mean A Loveless Marriage—Hear About the Research

Apr 16, 2015

Many Americans describe their marriages as lacking in sex for a number of reasons: kids, busy lives, etc. Dr. Kirtly Jones talks about the recent dialogue regarding sex and marriage—and how it differs from the first anniversary to the 50th anniversary. She talks about how a sexless marriage doesn’t always mean a failed marriage.

Episode Transcript

Dr. Jones: Sex and Marriage. Is it an oxymoron? Two words in the same phrase that mean the opposite? Today on The Scope, we're going to talk about some surprising findings about romance in the long-term marriage. This is doctor Kirtly Jones, from the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at University of Utah Health Care and this is The Scope.

Announcer: Covering all aspects of women's health, this is The Seven Domains of Women's Health with Dr. Kirtly Jones, on The Scope.

Dr. Jones: There's been a lot of recent dialogue about the end of sex after marriage. It's boring. We're too busy. The kids took it out of us. It just doesn't happen. This isn't just an overworked U.S. problem. On a survey of Japanese couples, it suggested that as many as 50% of married couples in Japan considered themselves in a sexless marriage. Sexless in the sex world, isn't really sexless. It means that the couple is having sex less than once a month. In real numbers, 34% of Japanese couples have sex less than once a month. Maybe the difference between the 34% in one survey and the 50% in the other is that some just forgot that they had sex because it was so unmemorable.

Anyway, in the U.S., if you define a non-sexual marriage as having some sexual intimacy less than ten times a year, that would mean that 20% of American marriages are sexless. One in ten married couples under 50 haven't had sex in the past year. That doesn't mean that couples don't love each other. On a previous Scope session, we talked about the different kinds of love. For many couples, they have moved from erotic love to philia love. That combined with jobs, kids, and worries, means that there's less sex. To quote the New York Times this week, "Those in the first throws of passion years had sex more frequently than those whose wedded years piled up. Their sexy edginess sandpapered by life." That sounds a little uncomfortable in this context.


So that's the bad news. But just this month there's some good news. First marriages have more sex than second marriages. At least, I think that's good news. And after the mid-life dip in sexual activity, there's an uptick in sexual activities in couples. An analysis of 1,600 married adults between 57 and 85 years old, from the National Social Life Health and Aging Project, looked at the curve of sexual activity in marriage and if you hang together long enough, the curve goes back up.


Couples who can make it to 50 years, report a rise in sexual activity. On average, they don't make it back up to the two to three times a month, but it gets closer than couples married less than 50 years. Of course, if you make it that long, you've hopefully banked a lot of good feelings and great times. People who can make it to 50 years of marriage, may be a unique group of people. We don't know if having more sex makes marriages last longer or if longer marriages contribute to more intimate relations. But the data are there to think about.


In this study of older adults, some weren't having sex at all and some were having sex every day. Looking at trends, older adults married one year, in the flesh of new marriage, had a 65% probability of having sex two to three times a month. Those married 25 years in the same age group, the chance was 40%. Those married 50 years, it was 35%. But those at 65 years of being together were back up to 42%. Who knew?


Good, long-term married relationships build up relationship capital. They have good memories of their intimate life, of the care they have for each other, and the way they have supported each other over the years. They are less distracted by jobs and children and may focus more on each other than they had when they were younger. As we think about romantic love as it is portrayed on TV, in music and in books, it leaves out those couples who have stuck it out through thick and thin and still have time for each other. Good for them!


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