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Some years ago, Ann Landers caused a bit of an uproar when she published the results of a survey of thousands of her female readers, revealing that more than 70% of them preferred cuddling to sex. Many of them admitted that they would actually be content to live in a marriage without sex. Other r esearch has revealed that 15-20% of couples make love fewer than 10 times a year, which experts define as a sexless marriage

In my counselling experience, I can attest to the fact that the absence of sexual intimacy – what I call sexual anorexia – is a serious issue in many marriages. In fact, I would say it’s on the rise. Not only that, but it’s not just women who aren’t interested in sex anymore. Despite the reputation that men have of always being ready and raring to go, I’ve got an increasing number of women coming to me saying, “My husband doesn’t want sex. Is there something wrong with me?”

It’s not a good place to be in. Nobody gets married because they want to be celibate. But it’s a sensitive issue to face. If you’re in this situation, how do you turn it around? Here’s a place to start.

Face Your Sexual Disinterest

If you are struggling with a lack of sexual desire in your marriage, the first step is to admit it. You’ve got to be honest with each other and break the silence in order to begin to deal with it.

I realize this can be an embarrassing thing to confess to, especially for men, since the stereotypical view of guys is that we always want sex. But you don’t want to live with a legacy of defeat in your sexuality year after year, and nothing’s going to change if you can’t admit that there’s a problem.

Perhaps it would help to know that you are not alone in this issue – far from it, actually. 20-30% of men and as many as 50% of women say they have little or no sex drive. And those are just the people for whom this is an ongoing struggle. Virtually everybody faces decreased desire at one time or another in their marriage. It doesn’t have to pull you apart; in fact as you work through it together, you can come through it closer than ever.

Address Your Personal and Sexual Baggage

I am convinced that the number one thing killing marriages today is the personal baggage that people are carrying with them into the relationship. And the number one type of baggage is in the area of sexuality.

It takes different forms for different people. For some, it’s a family of origin that gave them messed up sexual views and values. Sadly, for many people, it’s memories of childhood sexual abuse or date rape. It can be a pornography habit that was picked up as a young teen, or regrets from a promiscuous lifestyle or extramarital affair.

Whatever kind of baggage you are dragging into the bedroom, you’ve got to address it immediately. Until you do so, it’s a monster that’s strangling you and robbing both you and your spouse of sexual freedom. Be transparent with your spouse about what’s gone in your past; they have a right to know, because it’s affecting them too. Get whatever help you need, whether from a counsellor, a pastor or a priest, and begin working through your issues so you can move forward in a healthy state.

Stop Seeking Sexual Gratification Elsewhere

One of the causes of sexual anorexia may surprise you. It’s sexual addiction – specifically, the use of pornography. To some that will sound strange, because there is a growing acceptance of pornography in our culture. Many marriage counsellors will even suggest that couples use pornography together as a way to spice up a sex life that’s stuck in a rut.

I can’t express strongly enough how wrong this line of thinking really is. Seeking sexual gratification outside of your marriage, whether with another live person or through pornography, will not improve your sex life within your marriage. It actually does just the opposite: it stunts your sexual growth by inhibiting you from finding pleasure in normal marital sex.

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By way of example, Stephen Arterburn, author of Every Man’s Battle , tells the story of one man on his wedding night who actually pulled out a pornographic magazine and put it on the bed next to his new bride, because he had grown so addicted to this substitute that his wife alone was not enough to turn him on sexually. Imagine what kind of damage that caused in the heart of his wife.

If you have pornographic or sexual addiction issues, your marriage hangs on your ability to conquer them. You need to do whatever it takes to say ‘no’ to outside gratification. Starve that appetite and that fantasy life, and direct that energy to your spouse. As you do so, your appetite will begin to shift away from the images and back towards your husband or wife, where your attention belongs.

Work to Regain Your Sexual Health

We’ve already talked about the baggage, and again I want to stress the importance of getting professional help to face these emotional issues. There is no shame in getting help. Putting some of these things to rest often requires outside help, and you need to be willing to do whatever it takes to regain balance in your life and be a healthy sexual partner for your spouse.

The other side of it is that there may be some physical issues that are impacting your level of desire. There can be hormonal imbalances or other things going on in your body that are easily addressed with a trip to the doctor. If depression is a contributing factor, it may be an emotional issue that requires counselling, but there can also be a physical element involved as well. If you suspect any physical causes to your sexual struggles, see your doctor as soon as possible. Be fully honest with him or her as to the nature of your problem – they can’t help you if they don’t really know what’s going on.

Build Your Marital Friendship

To build your friendship as a couple is the greatest gift you can give your spouse – and your sex life. I always say to men, if you want things to be hot in the bedroom, become your wife’s best friend. In one survey by authors Shaunti and Jeff Feldhahn, women were asked what their husbands could do to increase their interest in physical intimacy. The top three answers were:

1. Maintain or increase his level of emotional attention to me.

2. Create a context where he often shows me little gestures of love throughout the day.

3. Engage in careful listening and conversation daily.

The bottom line is your sex life will thrive best when it’s taking place within a context of love, kindness and care for one another. It’s pretty hard to make love freely when you’ve been at each others’ throats all day. If the spark is gone, rekindle the relationship first and then watch out as it catches fire.

Copyright © 2006 by FamilyLife Canada, used with permission.

Dr. Dave Currie is the National Director of FamilyLife Canada. He and his wife Donalyn live in Abbotsford, BC, and are regular speakers at FamilyLife Marriage Conferences. Dave is also the host of Marriage Uncensored, a television program airing weekly across Canada. Check for local broadcast information