On your wedding day you assume you'll have a long future together filled with love, intimacy, maybe kids, and of course, sex. Cheryl Wolfe assumed sex would be part of her marriage.
She was mistaken. "Marriage was never consummated … The day we got married there was no sexual relationship at all, no honeymoon night and from that point forward — nothing," Wolfe said.
She isn't alone. Marriage therapists estimate as many as 20 percent of couples are mired in low-sex or no-sex marriages, and surprisingly often it's the men, heterosexual men, who don't want sex. Wolfe ultimately left her husband because he lost sexual interest in her.
Men's Low Sex Drive Rarely Discussed
Lori and Jim Barrett and Suzan and Chris Cummings — two couples who say their marriages are in trouble because they rarely have sex — bravely agreed to talk with 20/20 about it, and then to work with marriage therapist Michele Weiner-Davis to see if they could make things better.
In both cases it's the women who are frustrated that their sexual needs aren't being met by their husbands.
Barrett said, "I feel like we're living like brother and sister, because we don't have sex. I'm like what kind of relationship is this? This is awful."
Jim Barrett's someone people might call a manly guy. He's a motorcycle enthusiast, and a volunteer firefighter. He says sex has simply never been a high priority for him. He and Lori have two children, and they do have sex maybe 10 times a year, which is too seldom for Lori, but plenty for Jim. He says sex has just never been that important to him.
But it is important to Lori and to Suzan Cummings.
Susan says sex is the "foundation" of a marriage. "It's not sharing the bank account, and the car, and the toilet," she said.
Suzan and Chris Cummings have been married for six years. She has a daughter by a previous marriage and together, she and Chris have a son, Connor. Susan says sex was infrequent before Connor was born and afterward, Chris seemed less and less interested. Now it's been 15 months since they've had sex.
Chris says he doesn't see why sex has to be such a big deal. In fact, he's happy in their marriage without the sex. "From my perspective it's wonderful. I would say that if sex wasn't important for Susan, if she never wanted to have sex again, I think, I would probably be very happy," he said.
The Barretts' and Cummings' problems aren't surprising to Davis, who's been counseling couples for two decades and is author of Sex-Starved Marriage.
"I'm convinced that low desire in men is America's best kept secret," Davis said.
According to Davis, women in low-sex marriages tend to think their situation is unique. "They start to wonder whether they're the only women in the world who are married to guys who aren't following them around the house with a permanent erection," she said.
Lori Barrett said her husband's lack of desire has been tough on her self image. "First it was for me almost like, 'What's wrong with you,' … and then I was like, 'What's wrong with me — he doesn't want me!'"
Davis said it's common for the partner who's not getting their sexual needs met to feel unwanted or unloved. "When this major disconnect happens," Davis said, "intimacy on all levels tends to drop out, and it puts the marriage in a danger zone."
Bedroom Troubles Boil Over
When one partner is unhappy in the bedroom, it often creates tension that spills into other aspects of the marriage.