I have been in a sex-less marriage for 20 years. We had sex a little bit during the first year of marriage, but after the birth of our daughter, she became uninterested. I love my wife, but the kids are beginning to leave home and it's painful for me to think about the lack of intimacy that exists between us. We get along well, it is friendly and compatible, but there is no passion between us. She finds sex uncomfortable and awkward, probably even aversive. I have been reluctant to put pressure on her over the years, but I'm not sure what to do. I'm not willing to break my marriage vows or leave the marriage, but it is terribly depressing to think of our marriage continuing this way. I think she sees me as overly concerned with sex. I wish I could make the desire go away, but I just can't. What can I do?

Your challenge while not the norm is certainly not uncommon. My brief response to your situation is the following: If you want for the status quo to change, you will have to ask unequivocally and respectfully that the two of you address your sexual relationship with the guidance of a professional. Your silence over the years has allowed your wife (likely with some guilt) to put your sexual relationship aside, perhaps in the hope that you would grow to be as comfortable with a sexless marriage as she is. Of course, you've been in a lot of pain and felt the effects of the sexual disconnection. She needs to know how painful and difficult this has been for you. She also needs to know that you love her and want very much for her to address this problem with you---for your sake and for the sake of the relationship..

While the specific barriers to sexual desire will be deciphered with the help of a professional, there are many reasons why women become sexually unavailable. Here are some of the reasons I see most frequently and that may fit the situation you describe: In general, women in our culture are taught nothing about sexual desire and everything about sexual desirability. Men most appropriately embody desire, and women most aptly are the objects of male desire. Women are also taught that chastity is what makes them the most desirable of all. Yet, when we teach women that sexual desire and behavior are unfeminine, we plant the seeds of sexless marriages down the road. In my dissertation research, I found, among other things, that many LDS women experienced the transition into marriage challenging. Women talked about the pressure to suddenly be sexual after years of denying and repressing this part of themselves. Some women felt that being sexual was their wifely duty---something to give to their husbands—as opposed to something to have for themselves also. These are unfortunate realities because in my experience as a therapist, I observe that in order to keep passion alive in long-term relationships, one must be comfortable cultivating and nurturing sexual desire within themselves. Because for some this behavior feels fundamentally unfeminine, if not unrighteous, allowing themselves to cultivate it feels burdensome or wrong. Therefore some women judge their spouses as “too sexual” or too concerned with the subject, and withdraw their efforts from this part of the relationship.

Additionally, some women find being sexual incompatible with being a parent. Once a child is born, new mothers can sometimes orient to sexuality as something inconsistent with the safety and purity that a home should provide. Additionally, some women experience depression post-partum, not to mention sleep-deprivation and exhaustion, that can make sex undesirable, burdensome and even uncomfortable. While these are just guesses to any of the many factors that may be playing a role in your wife's lack of desire, a trained professional can help her identify the blocks to sexual desire and help the two of you rebuild a sexual relationship that works for both of you. While women sometimes enter therapy believing that they are addressing their lack of desire in order to make their husbands happy, I firmly believe that women reconnecting with this God-given capacity is a blessing to their own happiness and emotional well-being as much as it is a blessing to the mearriage.