Sex & Sexuality

When It’s the Man With the Low Libido

There’s an old maxim that says if you put one penny in a jar for each time you have sex before marriage, and then take one out each time you have sex after marriage, you will never empty the jar! While it is expected that ardor will cool a little, very few people enter marriage because they would like to have less action in their sex lives. Besides diminishing the fire of first love, what else changes when a couple marries?

One significant difference is that your relationship changes in legal, social, and psychological ways. Your partner is now legally your closest relative—they are family. For some men this can activate an unconscious incest taboo. While they are able to be attracted to a girlfriend or fiancée, when that same woman becomes his wife, she begins to feel too much like a relative. This is especially true for men who see their wives (whether accurately or not) as resembling their mothers.

Another common psychological barrier is the “Madonna/whore” complex. This occurs in some men who harbor unresolved feelings that sex is dirty. Again, while it is OK for a girlfriend to be sexy, it is not appropriate for “the mother of his children.” She must be pure, and therefore she is hard to approach sexually.

If a sexless marriage is causing you distress, it is important that this problem be addressed. “People in sexless marriages report that they are more likely to have considered divorce, and that they are less happy in their marriages,” according to Denise A. Donnelly, an associate professor of sociology at Georgia State University, speaking to the The New York Times in 2008.

Of course, there is the ever-present chicken and egg question. Does lack of sex cause bad marriages or do bad marriages cause passion to recede? Not always. There are some couple whose routines of fighting and making up spark passion by creating emotional distance and longing. But chronic anger is probably the single most important factor in determining a couple’s closeness in the bedroom. The Berkowitz team found that forty percent of the men they surveyed were angry at their wives. Forty-six percent of wives reported frequent anger, and fifty-four percent of those with babies in the house were chronically angry at their husbands. 1 in 10 say their anger is “deep and long lasting.”

Dr. Gunter says that the earlier you address the problem, the better: “Waiting until months or even years have passed can weaponize the bedroom. It will add so much more complexity because resentment compounds like a high-interest credit card.” If your bed has become a “de-sexualized zone,” try to discuss the issue in a noncritical way, emphasizing your wish to be closer to your husband. If necessary, try marriage therapy. Another approach is to work on the behavior at the same time, or even before you address the underlying issue. Some modern sex therapists, like Suzanne Iasenza and Emily Nagoski are proponents of the “just do it” approach. Iasenza says to keep in mind that intimacy does not have to be full intercourse with mutual orgasms to be beneficial or satisfying. Any improvement in physical contact can help break the ice.

And keep trying, experts recommend. It may not be easy at first, but anything is an improvement over nothing. As Dr. Gunter says, “Nothing in a relationship ever gets better on its own.”



Fisher, Helen (2016). The Anatomy of Love. (Revised edition).

Berkowitz, Bob, and Yager-Berkowitz, Susan. He’s Just Not up for it Anymore: Why Men Stop Having Sex and What You Can Do About It. (2007).

Nagoski, Emily. Come as You Are: the Surprising New Science that will Transform Your Sex Life. (2015)

Weiner Davis, Michele. The Sex-Starved Marriage. (2004)


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