When kids arrive, many parents find that lovemaking drops to the bottom of their to-do list. But can a marriage survive without sex?
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“Nobody talks about this, ever,” says Karen,* a 30-year-old suburban Toronto mother of three. “But I know I’m not alone.” By the time Karen arrives at the heart of the matter, she is like an attorney delivering evidence in a courtroom, quick to come to the point: There’s “virtually no sex” in her marriage, she says.
“My husband and I can go months, and have gone years. He has the drive and desire. But I don’t.”
It’s not for lack of devotion. Karen remains in love with Chris,* her husband of 10 years, and they’re equal partners in raising their children, aged two to eight. They believe marriage is sacred and forever, whatever adversities may come — but lately, their family has had more than its share of tumult.
After the birth of her middle child in 2004, Karen tumbled headlong into a bleak postpartum depression, which she initially blamed for the halt on their sex life. “It lasted three years and included hospitalizations on my part and every antidepressant in the book at one time or another.” Then she became pregnant again, and just as Chris was on parental leave for their second child, he was let go from his job. By 2006, Karen recalls, “I was very sick and unable to work, and we ended up filing for bankruptcy.”
Even when they emerged from that wreckage and Chris found a new job, something within her seemed altered. It felt like there was no going back. “I still found myself not wanting to have sex.”
While many couples openly admit to a dampening of sexual desire after their kids arrive, Karen’s right: Almost no one talks about the kind of enduring loss she’s experiencing. Yet, just as she suspects, her circumstances are shared by many. According to Newsweek magazine, psychologists estimate that 15 to 20 percent of couples have sex no more than 10 times a year. And Psychology Today reported that, in the United States alone, a third of women and one-fifth of men suffer from a persistent lack of interest in sexuality, sexual thoughts or fantasies — the condition is called hypoactive sexual desire.
*Name changed by request.