Sexless Marriage and Divorce: 3 Common Myths

Haven’t had sex with your partner in over six months? You aren’t alone. Sexless marriages are more common than many people think.

Although hard data is spotty, at least one study reports that up to 15 percent of married couples in the US haven’t had sex with each other in at least six months.

More people seem to be talking about sexless marriages in the media, but this does not mean that the number of sexless marriages is increasing. Before reliable birth control, a sexless marriage was a reasonable way to limit family size. In earlier decades, married women were expected to dislike sex and conditioned to disparage it. Social taboos around divorce were stronger in the past, resulting in many couples staying together in public even when all the private conventions associated with marriage had ended. Some modern couples choose to stay together out of convenience, mutual courtesy, or for the benefit of their children, even when their sexual relationship has ended.

What is a sexless marriage?

A sexless marriage is any marriage with no or little sexual activity between the two spouses. The following three definitions of “sexless marriage” are all in widespread use in the popular media:

  • Sex occurs less than once per month (or ten times or less per year)
  • No sex in the last six months
  • No sex in the last year (By this definition, when sex occurs up to ten times per year, this is termed a “low-sex marriage.”)

A “sexless marriage,” then, is a non-technical, non-clinical term. Professionals are quick to point out that:

  • Sexual partners often experience different levels of desire.
  • The sexual desire between marriage partners naturally ebbs and flows through life experiences.
  • Sexual intimacy and satisfaction are not necessarily related to the frequency of sexual encounters.
  • Any marriage in which one or both partners feel distressed because of lack of sexual intimacy, no matter the frequency, is a troubled marriage.

In the 21st century, many spouses feel entitled to a sexual relationship in marriage. If that sexual relationship sputters or ends, many people turn to professional literature and counseling. If one or both partners are unwilling to address the relationship problems, a couple may consider divorce.

What are the most common misconceptions about sexless marriages and divorce? We’ll cover the top 3 myths in more detail below.

3 Myths About Sexless Marriage and Divorce

  1. A sexless marriage is tough, but it’s not legal grounds for divorce.
  2. A sexless marriage justifies infidelity.
  3. A sexless marriage will become public as part of my divorce.

Myth #1: A sexless marriage is tough, but it’s not legal grounds for divorce.

A sexless marriage, in which one partner refuses to engage sexually with a willing partner for at least one year, is grounds for an at-fault divorce in Utah.

Each state has distinctive legal options as grounds for an at-fault divorce. When one partner files for divorce, they must choose one of these grounds. The grounds for divorce will then inform the divorce proceedings in the legal system.

In Utah, the most commonly cited grounds for an at-fault divorce are:

  • Substance Abuse (drugs or alcohol)
  • Domestic Abuse or Cruelty
  • Infidelity
  • Abandonment or Neglect
  • Criminal Conviction

If one partner is withholding sex without any reasonable plans to seek relationship help, this could be considered grounds for an at-fault divorce under the category of “Abandonment or neglect.”

Your lawyer may use a legal term for a sexless marriage, such as “alienation of affection” or “constructive abandonment.” In Utah, “constructive abandonment” occurs when the neglect has continued for at least one year.

Myth #2: A sexless marriage justifies infidelity.

A sexless marriage is not a doomed marriage. Some couples find a happy equilibrium in a marriage with infrequent or no sex. Other partners in sexless marriages are not thrilled about the lack of sex but find enough camaraderie (or other advantages) in the partnership to continue.

Couples who are recovering from relationship trauma may experience long periods without sex. Major health setbacks, long work separations, and betrayal can result in periods of sexlessness that are – temporarily – the healthiest option for the marriage. In other words, a sexless marriage may not be a permanent state of affairs.

Sexless marriages do not justify infidelity. A period of sexlessness in marriage can catalyze a couple to address serious relationship issues in meaningful ways.

Infidelity preceding a divorce may affect custody, alimony, or prompt an at-fault divorce. Claiming that your partner’s lack of sexual availability “forced” you into infidelity will not hold up in court proceedings and may negatively impact your divorce.

Myth #3: A sexless marriage will become public as part of my divorce.

Most court records are public, so it makes sense to wonder if the details of your sexual relationship will become public after a divorce. In 2012, Utah passed a law taking divorce records out of the public sphere. However, there are several workarounds for someone who wants to access your records, so consult with your divorce lawyer about keeping your records private after a divorce.

The most secure way to keep your divorce records out of the public record are:

  • Negotiate for a settlement outside of court. An experienced divorce mediation lawyer will suggest making privacy a part of the negotiation settlement, even without you suggesting it.
  • File an uncontested, no-fault divorce. An uncontested, no-fault divorce, in which partners avoid establishing blame, is the best way to avoid exposing your relationship flaws in the public record. In Utah, a no-fault divorce can be granted on the grounds of irreconcilable differences. Neither spouse is held responsible for the dissolution of the marriage.

Consult with an experienced divorce lawyer near you to determine how divorce proceedings may be affected by a sexless marriage. Put your mind at ease by talking with an expert in the field. A divorce lawyer will advocate for your rights and help you make important decisions with confidence and purpose.

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