Welcome to Relationship Rehab, the weekly column solving all your romantic problems, no holds barred. This week, news.com.au's resident sexologist Isiah McKimmie tackles a couple who have never had sex in 15 years of marriage — like, ever.
QUESTION: What can I do about my sexless marriage? We've been together for 15 years and never had sex – not once. We were both shy when we met and sex never came up in conversation. I thought she might be waiting until marriage which I was totally fine with. When we wed I tried to instigate sex a few times but she shut me off and didn't seem interested. I tried to raise the subject with her but she wouldn't talk about it. Now, somehow, 15 years on we've never had sex. We snuggle on the couch and kiss hello and goodbye but beyond that have no intimacy. I would really like to have sex with her but don't want to force her into something she doesn't want. How do I broach this really sensitive subject?
ANSWER: This is actually more common that you might think.
We tend to have an idea that sexless marriages are those where sex has suddenly or gradually declined. But it's common for me to meet couples who've been married for anywhere for up to 20 years who have never had sex.
There are a number of reasons married couples may never have had sex:
• Cultural or religious beliefs
• Lack of sexual knowledge
• Pain when attempting to have sex
• Erectile challenges
Bringing this up is going to be difficult – that's why you've barely spoken about it together for the past 15 years.
Consider writing a letter to your wife about this rather than talking face-to-face to begin with. A letter gives her time to process and work out how she'd like to respond without putting pressure on her. It's important that she doesn't feel criticised or judged by what you have to say.
When raising difficult topics with a partner I suggest using the following:
1. Start with something positive about your partner or the relationship
2. Share how you feel
3. State what you'd like
Follow up a few days later with a gentle verbal question if you haven't received a response.
Your relationship has obviously been able to survive for a significant period of time without sex, but sex is a valid desire to have in a relationship.
I can understand why you would want to explore this with your wife. It is possible that after so long, this isn't something that she feels comfortable addressing. You may need to make a decision about whether you want to continue pursuing it.
If you are able to have a conversation, I suggest that it would be valuable to understand what sex means to her and her perspective on why it's been missing from your relationship. There may be some issues to address there before you can proceed with physically trying to have sex.
It may feel too uncomfortable for her, but it may be helpful to reach out to a sex therapist or sexologist to help you navigate what is going on.
If she is receptive to trying, keep in mind that the first few times you're both likely to feel uncomfortable and awkward. Most first times are. This might be especially so as you're getting to know each other in a very different way than you have in the last 15 years.
Take your time and be gentle with each other as you navigate this.
Isiah McKimmie is a Couples Therapist, Sex Therapist and Sexologist.