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Can a Sexless Marriage Be a Happy One?

Will and Rose met online 10 years ago. His screen name was professorparsley, and he looked the part — tall and thin, with glasses, features that Rose found attractive. On their first date, Rose learned that Will was a college student living with his mother, and his handle came from a nickname given to him by a child at an art camp where he worked. They laugh about it now, as they do with most things. Will thought Rose was exciting and direct. He grew up in suburban Ontario, and she was from Southern California, which was like another world to him. Right away, what they loved about each other were their differences.

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Rose was drawn to how stable Will seemed — so unlike the other men she had dated, who dreaded commitment. Their relationship survived multiple moves, about a year of long-distance dating and the challenges of finding time to be together while living with parents and roommates. Now, seven years into their marriage, they have their own place: a one-bedroom apartment in Los Angeles, where Rose sees Pilates clients. Will is gone during the day, teaching, and at night they cuddle in bed and watch television. “It’s my favorite part of the day,” Rose says. (Rose and Will are middle names. All subjects asked to be referred to by their first names, middle names or a nickname, out of concerns for their privacy.)

As much as Will grounds her, Rose feels that the familiar calm of their relationship also shuts her down sexually. They go months without sex, but they don’t lack intimacy. They have a policy of never refusing a hug, something they instituted to resolve the minor disagreements that inevitably crop up in any relationship. They have also talked candidly about how, for her, the safe predictability of their marriage — the quality she loves about their lives together — dulls her sex drive. She knows that can be confusing, even frustrating, for Will, but she doesn’t like the idea of forcing herself to have sex. Rose’s mother, now divorced, felt obligated to have sex with Rose’s father once a week. That’s not the kind of relationship Rose wants.

To get into a sexual mood, Rose relies on a set of rituals to help build anticipation — doing her hair and makeup, shaving her legs, having a glass of wine over dinner or, when their schedules allow, going on vacation to break out of their routines. Will doesn’t need to do anything to feel ready for sex, and Rose sees this as another way in which they’re different. Over the years, they have accepted that this is what their sex life looks like, and will look like, if they want to be together, which they do.

During the pandemic, the couple went more than a year without having sex, but they savored their extra time together. Rose used to spend hours driving in traffic to different workout studios, coming home late, not seeing her husband much. Stuck at home, they took walks around their neighborhood. They talked constantly. They started taking online yoga classes together, a hobby that stuck. Will appreciates these smaller opportunities to connect. Rose thinks she’s not the nurturing type, but Will disagrees. “She’s not stingy in spirit or time,” he says.

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