Dealing With a Sexless Marriage | S2, Ep 68


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T.H.: Hey everybody. It’s T.H. and Jessica and we are thrilled to have Kim Bowen with us today. We are talking about what nobody wants to talk about: sexless marriage. Let that kind of sink in.

Jessica: We know that’s happening way too often and nobody is really talking about it because it’s kind of embarrassing. But the truth is so many of us have been there, so it’s really a very relevant relatable topic.

T.H.: Yeah. Kim is the CEO and founder of The Marriage Place, and we are going to talk about this and what you can do about it. You really need sex in your life, that’s all. All right, take it from there.

Jessica: Thanks for taking the time to talk with us today Kim. We really appreciate it and are so happy to have you talk about this. Honestly, I want to start off and find out is there some kind of a stat of how many marriages out there, how many people are living in sexless marriages?

Kim: A lot. I don’t have the exact number and a lot of it depends on how you define sexless marriage, right?

Jessica: Are there different definitions?

Kim: Yeah, I mean, if you have sex once a month and you’re both happy with that. But we also have research that tells us that if you have sex more than one time a week, it doesn’t make you any happier than if you have sex two to three times a week. I know it’s kind of crazy, right?

Jessica: I beg to differ.

T.H.: I know. Did you just see the grin on her face? I’m not sure that’s quite right.

Kim: But that’s just research. Those are just research numbers. But yeah, the problem with sexless marriage is where we call them desire discrepancies.

Jessica: Oh that’s a good expression.

Kim: Somebody wants sex more often than their partner, which welcome to marriage. It is extremely rare to find a couple who both want the same amount of sex in the same way, all the time. It’s learning how to navigate those differences and how to talk through them. Most couples are terrible communicators about sex because it’s the one topic–I mean, I can talk to my husband really easily about parenting differences and chore distribution or whatever, money, but when you’re talking about sex, we’ve got all kinds of hang-ups already. Some of us are shy, and we don’t want to say the P-word. Some of us are too embarrassed. But we also take it very personally that kind of rejection when we don’t get sex as often as we want, so it’s a tough one.

Jessica: You in our prior discussion, you had briefly hit on a surprising fact about sexless marriages, which is that there’s a misnomer that generally it’s men who want more sex.

Kim: Not always true. In fact, it’s about half and half. What’s funny is I’ve almost decided to quit writing about it because it’s such a broad topic that it’s hard to cover both sexes or both genders, and it is very different. When a man doesn’t want sex it’s often a very different reason than when a woman doesn’t want sex.

Jessica: Tell us about that.

T.H.: Yeah.

Kim: I will. I will. But if I write from the man’s point of view, the women will attack. How can you think that? Women don’t–And then if I write it from the woman’s point of view, the men attack. I’m like, you just can’t make anybody happy. But yeah, it’s a touchy, touchy topic.

Jessica: I saw what you did there.

T.H.: Move on!

Kim: Yeah. Let’s talk about reasons why people don’t want sex.

Jessica: Yeah, and from there I want to get into how are you helping people that are in that situation. Because someone who doesn’t want sex, I just feel like off the top of my head, it would have to be the person who wants sex would probably more have to be the person that’s going to compromise more than doesn’t. But I’m curious to know–

Kim: Well, I don’t know about that, but it’s the person who is not getting it that wants it is often the one who pushes it into therapy. Because the person who doesn’t want it just hopes la-la-la this whole thing’s going to go away.

Jessica: Tell us why people don’t want it.

Kim: When a man doesn’t want sex, the wives come in and they’re like, “He must be gay because all my friends, none of this is happening.”

Jessica: Or just asexual.

Kim: Do what?

Jessica: Or just asexual.

Kim: Or asexual. [Low libido] Sometimes it’s testosterone. But for me, there are two main reasons that I see. Now, it can be a lot of things and this will take a really long time to go over all of them. But for men, it’s one of two things usually that come into my office, let me just preface that. One is if there’s a sex addiction or porn addiction, that is a huge sex drive killer with their spouse. I mean, that’s just the way addiction works. Once they go down that road, it takes more extreme, more intense experience to get the same level of dopamine hit rush that sex with their spouse used to be. I see these men come in, they can have sex with their wives, but usually, they go masturbate later. Do we need to put a warning on this to not listen at work?

Kim: Or they have to have sex in a very depersonalized way like from behind where they’re not seeing their face or not making any kind of eye contact or real intimacy. A porn addiction or sex addiction can ruin a man’s sex life, which is odd, because oftentimes, the way people increase sex desire is to watch porn together, right? I’m like, “Oh, don’t do that. Don’t do that. Don’t do that.” It’s not that I’m a prude–

Jessica: That’s a whole other podcast topic of what not to do when it comes to your sex life. But go ahead, I digress.

Kim: Yeah, and if you think that might be you or your spouse, go to I think it is, and you will see how porn affects the brain. It rewires the brain and it’s really dangerous. Like I said, I’m not a prude, and I don’t have sexual taboos or anything like that. It’s not that I don’t want anybody to have a good time or anything like that, but porn is a problem. In our society today with so much going on, it’s available everywhere. Our kids are getting addicted at younger and younger ages, and it’s messing up their adult relationships. There’s one. The other thing, when I have a guy that comes in and he doesn’t want sex, I usually need to get him in there alone. He is not going to talk to me in front of his wife. But I find out that oftentimes, it’s some kind of wounding that his spouse has done to him that she’s not even aware of. I’ll never forget I was working with this couple, she was this gynecologist, big, big doctor in the area, and very loud and outspoken and gregarious. If he didn’t perform how she wanted, when she wanted, the way she wanted, she would criticize him and cut him down and say things like, “Man up”, “What kind of guy doesn’t want sex? What’s the matter with you?”

T.H.: Shaming him. Yeah.

Kim: He just had no interest.

Jessica: I guess understandable. What do you find are the main reasons why women don’t want to have sex?

Kim: Women don’t want to have sex oftentimes because either they’ve got a background where they have been taught that sex is dirty, wrong. They have body shame issues, they don’t want to be seen, or they may not like their weight. They don’t understand that men don’t care about the baby roll and the muffin top. Men see what they are attracted to. They don’t even see all the other flaws. They just don’t.

Jessica: Got to get out of our heads!

Kim: My husband’s like if a woman takes her top off, he’s not noticing if she’s got ugly toes. I mean, he doesn’t care.

T.H.: That’s hilarious.

Kim: Yeah. Sometimes it’s hormonal, but most of the time it is exhaustion and a lack of connection. If a woman feels like she is parenting her husband, she is not going to want sex with him.

T.H.: No. That’s extremely interesting.

Kim: That will kill a sex drive. If you’ve got a woman who over-functions and a man who under-functions in the relationship, the sex is going to be off.

Jessica: Right, okay. Couples come into The Marriage Place and they may not even have admitted initially that was the reason that they’re coming in, but it comes out. What’s your experience in terms of how comfortable they are actually talking about it in front of each other?

Kim: Oh, they don’t. They don’t like it. They don’t like it, but we push it because I tell my people when I train them, if you’re not talking about sex, you’re not doing good marriage counseling. It needs to come up, even if it doesn’t look like it’s on the radar. You need to ask. Even ask them alone. The problem that we have with people though is they want a quick fix. They want to come in, they want to do counseling four to six weeks, and they want to have a good sex life. It is one of the slowest changes because it’s so internal. You have to be willing to really go deep and to look at how you’re showing up in the relationship and face the shame demons. And that’s tough. That’s really hard, but there’s no quick fix for this. That really discourages people, but I’m telling you, if you do the work, you can have a wonderful sex life.

T.H.: What about the whole idea of chemistry? People are like, if you don’t have chemistry, then you’re not going to have good sex. Or you have great chemistry and you have great sex.

Kim: That is such a great question because people tell me all the time, I’m just not attracted to her because she’s overweight, or I’m just not whatever. You are attracted to whatever you have made up in your mind is attractive, right?

T.H.: Say that again. Say that again.

Kim: You are attracted to whatever you have decided is attractive. Sometimes we have to go in there and really analyze why is this thing for you. Why is it an attraction for you and help them build different layers of attraction. But you absolutely can. You absolutely can.

Jessica: I would think that that would be an issue that would come up. I mean, listen, people got together, whatever age, they get married, they’re 30. Now they’re 50, and they’re in a sexless marriage. And yes, they’ve put on weight, they’ve got wrinkles, and they are aging. Gravity hasn’t been good to them. It’s not that there wasn’t any chemistry in the beginning. Well, even these ease down over time so how do you get–I would imagine that when you are living in a sexless marriage, let’s say you haven’t had sex in basically a year,–

Kim: Oh, I’ve seen them for years.

Jessica: But how do you even take the first step to get back? You’re so disconnected from that person.

Kim: Well, I’ll tell you what we don’t do. We don’t say take your clothes off, hop in bed and figure it out, because it’s too much. That’s too big a leap. We take it from a slow burn. The first thing we may do is, it depends on where they are and how comfortable are they with emotional connection, usually not very, so we may start there, but when it starts to turn physical, we start very slowly and build up.

Jessica: Is it like sex therapy?

Kim: Yeah.

Jessica: To be honest, I don’t know what that means. I feel like there are kinds of sex therapy where you’re like learning how to do things in those sessions. That’s not what I’m imagining that you’re talking about.

Kim: It’s very rarely technique. I mean, most people can figure that part out. Sometimes it is. I mean, I’ve had somewhere it was technique, but most of the time its thoughts and feelings around this whole thing. Some people think men will think that they have a bad sex life because their wife doesn’t initiate more. Men have masculinized a woman’s sex drive. Women are often responsive to desire, meaning we have to get turned on before we want sex. Men are turned on all the time, right? Well, oftentimes. They want to know why their wife’s not prowling, coming at them like a tigress. I’m like because that’s not how most women have sex. That’s what you see on TV. That’s what a prostitute will do. That’s what these erotica, porn things will do, but real women, I mean, we need to have–Okay, so instead of thinking about how to have more sex, start thinking about– We call those accelerators. How do I have more sex? How do I put the gas pedal down? We also teach you what’s holding the brakes. What is getting in the way of you having more sex? You have to deal with both the accelerator and the brake. There’s so much I want to say about this subject, but–

T.H.: Well, we’ll do it. We will definitely do another one because I feel like we really need to dig deep about how your brain is processing this. You have to be so okay with yourself to have great sex. If you’re not okay with yourself, or you have hang-ups, or whatever it is, you can’t blame your partner for that. If you want great sex, then work through your shit, and then you have great sex.

Jessica: It’s not even just that–

T.H.: It’s not that simple but if you have a ton of stuff on your head, on your mind, those can all be turn-offs for you with them.

Jessica: Yeah. It gets in the way, but I feel also that in order to have great sex you both have to be in the exact same place in terms of communication and being able to talk about it. What worked? What didn’t? What do you like? What don’t you like? What might you be willing to try? What is completely off the table? It has to be a regular active part of your conversation on pretty much a daily basis. That I think kind of helps keep that connection alive. You’re squinting a little bit, Kim. Am I–no, not so much?

Kim: Well, I’m thinking about those one-night stands where they have these big passionate interludes, but I think for ongoing monogamous sex, yes. Yes, it is about the relationship and not about the physical act. I think when sex goes wonky for people, it either becomes about the physical act more than the connection, and that’s a problem. But the person who doesn’t want sex, what I want to do with them is shake them up because they’ve minimized the effect of this. They’ve told themselves it’s not that big a deal if they deny their partner sex. It is a very big deal.

Jessica: Huge. Huge. All right. We’re going to pause and put a pin in it on that point because we really need to dig deep, and we need to have you back and do part two of this. I also want to say for anyone listening– no, seriously, anyone listening, please let us know what your questions are and where you want us to delve into this more with Kim because this is such an important topic. Really, where you ended just now Kim, it’s such a big deal in a marriage. I really truly believe that that can be a huge part of the disintegration of marriage even if you think that other aspects of your relationship are working. For people out there that want to find you, want to work with The Marriage Place, are dealing with this kind of thing themselves, don’t really know where to turn, who to talk to, what are the best way for them to find you guys?

Kim: They’d find us on the website: We work with people face-to-face if you’re local. If you’re not, we’ll work with you just like this over Zoom. Oftentimes, people feel better about doing that because it feels less invasive.

Jessica: For anyone listening also, share this with your friends and with people that you know, because you may not be aware that so many other people that you know are dealing with this. It’s an interesting topic either way. There’s an easy way to share it like, “Oh my god. Check this out.” You’re not insinuating anything, but the truth is you may really be helping people in your life by passing this on, paying it forward, and sharing it with them. You could be saving a marriage yourself with just one click of a button.

T.H.: It’s true.

Jessica: We will have more information about all of this on our site. Thank you again Kim so much for joining us today. This is fascinating. We can’t wait to have you back.

Kim: Thanks.

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