Dealing With a Sexless Marriage

Sex may be on television, in the theaters and advertising, but it's not in the homes of 20 million American couples who are in sexless marriages.

Once a taboo topic, sexless marriages are getting more attention, in part because so many couples are complaining about the lack of sexual activity in their unions, according to one gynecologist.

It's an epidemic, Dr. Hilda Hutcherson said.

VIDEO: The stress of kids and jobs seriously diminished one couples sex life.Play

In a sexless marriage, couples only are sexually intimate 10 or fewer times a year.

"Sex is essential for a great marriage, and the reason is there are a number of chemicals and hormones that are released when you have sex with your partner that actually bonds couples," Hutcherson said.

One Couple's Story

Ginny married her husband, Jon, 17 years ago and has watched as their sex life has decreased. The couple asked ABC News to withold their last name to protect their children.

"We're not cherishing each other and loving each other, I mean, even without the sex, you have to love the person," Ginny said.

She longs for the intimacy and love the pair had when they first said, "I do."

"Things started to change, I think when our kids became teenagers. And I noticed more stress in our life," she said. "We actually had a lot of arguments, and were actually in separate bedrooms."

"That's when things really slowed down," Ginny said.

But even after the children left the nest the Nestlerodes' sex life didn't improve.

"Now it's kind of like 'every once in a while we might have sex,'" said Jon.

That once in a while translates to somewhere between once every three or four months, according to the couple.

Demanding careers and hobbies also impeded the couple's attempts to get closer.

Ginny's late working hours and Jon's train pastime didn't leave much time left over for the two of them.

Couples Getting Help

The couple met with Dr. Hutcherson, who gave them homework. They were to write erotic stories for one another and devote a special night indulging each other.

The pair also sat down with a family therapist, Terry Real, author of "The New Rules of Marriage," for a reality check.

"I think the level of importance and appreciation falls off," Jon said in the session. "I think work with Ginny — she can be on the phone till the evening … I know she's not coming to bed for a while."

Ginny too complained of her husband's late hours, and said she didn't like the fact that he is often asked to work weekends. She also dislikes the amount of time he spends on his train hobby.

"When I go to bed at 10, he could come to bed and not play with his trains," she said.

Real determined neither nor Jon felt "cherished."

"I feel like everything else is a priority and our relationship is down there," Jon said.

Real suggested the couple tries cutting household expenses to cut back on Jon Nestlerode working on Saturdays.

Making It Work

With their tasks in hand and some therapy under their belts, the Nestlerodes committed to a romantic evening, where Jon gave his wife a candle-lighted bubble bath and a massage.

"That worked quite well," he said. "I need to be more romantic, most definitely. I know that."

"You don't feel romantic if you're not appreciated. And I think Ginny perhaps feels the same way," Jon Nestlerode said.

The pair now goes to bed at the same time, which allows for more private time together, and each tries to give affirmations more openly.

Jon Nestlerode also has made a real effort to help around the house.

Expert Tips

Experts said couples should be realistic. You might not get back to those hot and heavy, seeing-fireworks days at the beginning of your relationship, but together you can create something that satisfies you both.

You're both different people than you were back then, emotionally, physically. Try to get real about what you both really want and be sure to talk about it together.

Also, start dating again. Making special time to reignite your emotional intimacy can get the sparks flying. Take a cooking class together, find a new interest that you can share that requires couple time so you can reconnect.

Plus, put sex on the schedule. When you've had the talk and have come to an agreement about what you both hope for from your sex life, make time for it.

It doesn't always have to be sex, but it should be time to be intimate together. It can be just private, alone time together.


Need some advice for the Valentine's weekend? We'll hook you up at the OnCall+ Wellness Center.