I receive many emails from CKNW Sunday Night Sex Show listeners and those who’ve heard my TEDx Stanley Park TED Talk. This particular email struck me as within it lies so much pain, misperception and potential for disaster or a better marriage. Their choices.

Dear Maureen,

I just saw your Tedx Talk on YouTube and wonder if you can help. I’m in a sexless marriage – it’s been 10 months since I last initiated sex with my husband, therefore 10 months since we’ve had sex. Everything else in the marriage is ok (not great, but bearable). We have a four year old son.

Sex is very important to me, not just physically but emotionally as well. My husband won’t go for counseling or therapy of any sort. He says that if I really want sex, I can look outside of our marriage. He has also rejected my request for a divorce.

So in the last few months I picked up a boyfriend who is a married guy in a sexless marriage as well. It does solve some problems but ultimately it’s not the answer as it is not a comfortable solution because I am cheating which I believe in my heart to be wrong on so many levels.

What should I do? I feel that I need to get out and into a real relationship. That’s what is normal and proper right?

Thank you so much.


The sexless marriage is a real issue for so many couples, young and old. There are a number of reasons for a sexless marriage such as painful sex, unresolved conflict and medical conditions to name a few. But first, let me define the sexless marriage for you. It is a marriage or relationship where sex occurs less than ten times per year. This happens in approximately 20% of marriages, according to a recent Time Magazine survey.

Sex is an important aspect in a marriage. It is the tie that binds a couple. It is an important aspect for intimacy, happiness, togetherness and health. Naturally no two people will have the same degree of desire for one another, however when the discrepancy invokes pain in one of the partners, it may be indicative of a bigger problem.

It is important to note that there are many loving couples that do not need sex in their marriage. For them, there is no problem. But for couples where one person wants sex and the other doesn’t, there is indeed a problem. That said it is incumbent on the person with the low sexual desire to get appropriate treatment for the issues. It is unfair to impose fidelity on a person who is deprived of sex from their spouse.

In Mary’s case, her husband is not imposing fidelity necessarily but he is inviting not only another person into his marriage but further trouble into his bedroom. It is so mean to suggest that his wife go and find someone else. Perhaps he doesn’t believe she ever would? Well, she did. It is actually abusive on some level to withhold sex from a spouse when there is no medical, psychological or emotional reason.

There are many obvious issues in this relationship but for now I will stick to the sexual concerns as they relate to their relationship. There are a number of reasons for low sexual desire. We see it more frequently in women but when it happens to men, it can be just as or even more devastating for their partners.

The reasons for low sexual desire in men are many and may include depression, medication side effects, substance use and abuse, depression, poor physical health, chronic disease, the suicidal mind (yes, it’s a thing), low self esteem, stress (which constricts blood vessels), erectile dysfunction (which may occur as a result of the constricted blood vessels), body image issues (yes, men are concerned about their bodies too), sexual abuse, trauma, job loss, grief, low testosterone (levels dip as men age and with stress) and/or unresolved conflict, low thyroid hormone or less frequently high levels of prolactin, a hormone produced in a gland at the base of the brain. Many men may have co-morbities in other words may suffer any one of a number of these issues.

Only Mary and her husband can answer her question. First and foremost, being “normal and proper” is irrelevant. Second, her husband must decide if his marriage is worth saving. I will speculate that the sexual issues are also related to the other issues in the marriage. In other words whatever is wreaking havoc on the sex life, is contributing to their not so great but bearable marriage.

If he decides he wants to save his marriage, he must do a personal inventory and be honest with himself. Then he must seek the help he needs for his issue. If he does decide to get help, his marriage has a chance. I would imagine that Mary would support him in his decision which would be beneficial. If not, Mary must decide if she wants to live in this so called sexual purgatory within her marriage. Mary needs to have the confidence that she has a right to a healthy sex life and marriage.

If Mary decides to leave the marriage, her husband cannot hold her hostage. There are laws in every jurisdiction to protect against that so it would be a good idea to at the very least consult a divorce attorney to learn her rights.

They must consider their child as well. Their little boy is watching and absorbing the dysfunction in their marriage. Children learn what they live. The worry and stress of Mary will certainly impact raising of her child and may distract her from her motherly duties. She must decide what is best for him as we’ll. Finances are yet another consideration. How will Mary make it on her own if her husband decides not to get the help he so needs and deserves.

All of this starts with a conversation and the right language that demonstrates love, acceptance and support. Say what you mean, mean what you say and don’t say it mean is a good mantra to live by whenever you have the difficult conversations. Explaining to her husband that life can be better for each of them whether they are together or apart is only fair.

Of course Mary can carry on with her extramarital affair, but as Mary states, it’s not a comfortable solution. Living a lie is distracting her from her own life and even though her husband has “given her permission” so to speak, infidelity is frowned upon by family, friends and society in general. It also seems to me she is compromising her own value system.

Sexual problems in a marriage aren’t easy to deal with and are more often than not related to other issues. That said, it’s worth it! Dealing with them early on in the relationship will set the foundation for managing other problems which are sure to come whether the marriage is dissolved or not.

Maureen McGrath is a women’s health expert and hosts the Sunday Night Sex Show on News Talk 980 CKNW. She is creator of the blog 50ShadesofPink.ca and has a clinical practice in North Vancouver, British Columbia. She is an expert in the Sexless Marriage. Her TEDx talk on the matter has received close to 5 million views in one year.

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Maureen McGrath

Maureen McGrath

Host of the CKNW Sunday Night Health Show on Corus Radio. As a leading women's health expert and Registered Nurse, I understand the importance that sexual, vaginal, bladder and bowel health has on overall health and relationships.

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