The term “sexless marriage” gets a lot of attention, but often, relationships are “touchless” long before they get labeled sexless.
I was watching a movie, "Le Week-End," the other day. It's about a British couple who, after 30 years of marriage, return to Paris to recreate their honeymoon. The movie was quirky, yet it so clearly showcased the awkwardness of a sexless marriage.
A sexless marriage or relationship is one in which minimal or no sexual activity is taking place between the two involved. Minimal in this situation would be defined as sexual activity that occurs less than 10 times per year.
While the term “touchless” does not have as formal a definition as sexless does, I am going to define it as no meaningful touch, affection or physical intimacy between partners, other than casual greetings.
While some couples who are unable to make sexytime happen still touch one another throughout the day and cuddle at night, the vast majority of sexless relationships are void of this kind of touching.
It's quite common in our society to get so busy with work, school, kids, blogs and all the running around, we overlook our partners. We can go whole days without having physical contact with them.
Touch is an incredibly important need for human beings. When a baby is born, we touch, hold and caress the baby. In classic psychology experiments, it has been shown that even with sustenance and warmth, babies will die without affection from a caregiver. A baby is unable to regulate its own nervous system and actually needs someone else to tune to in order to stabilize itself.
I once read an article about sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) that noted in nations where SIDS rates were low, the infant slept in the bed with at least one parent. This allowed the baby to regulate via their parents’ nervous systems. In countries where babies slept alone, SIDS was much higher.
As children grow older, they often receive less and less touch. We live in a fear-based culture, and the fear of sexual abuse or inappropriate touch is high. Typically, boys stop getting cuddled or touched earlier in their lives than girls.
Some experts have speculated this early decrease of physical touch of boys could be one reason why boys engage in rough play with friends. They are trying to get physical contact with another human body.
Fast-forward this into intimate relationships, and we have two people who are touch-deprived (possibly from early in childhood) and most likely sex-starved.
How do you begin to bridge the gap in your relationship if this is happening?
Examine your own relationship with touch.
What are your expectations around touch? Does touch always have to lead to something sexual, or can you just touch your partner because it feels good? Can you receive touch from your partner without it feeling like something must happen sexually because he or she touched you?
Often, couples stop touching because they attach an expectation to the touch, or there is an established pattern of touch leading to other behaviors that has become too predictable or limiting to them.
One kind of touch means this, or another kind of touch will mean that. Could you let touch simply be an expression of pleasure in that moment?
Maybe you don't touch your partner because you get the sense he or she does not like the way you do it. This is common, especially when the touch has carried the meaning that something must come from the touch.
In this case, I recommend slowing yourself down. Take some deep breaths. Take more deep breaths when you are with your partner, and feel your hand attached to your arm, attached to your body.
Notice your partner’s body, really look at his or her body and see it. Notice where you want to touch him or her.
(Hint: If you just want to touch your partner's genitals, that won’t give you the response you are looking for. It's great you want to touch the really sexy places, but see if you can find other places on the body that are also appealing.)
Try a neck, wrist, small of back, shoulder or thighs. As you let yourself reach out, stay really connected to your breath and your hands. Feel your partner under your hands, even if only for a second or two.
Gradually try to increase the touching up to a few times a day or longer caresses. If you have been in a touchless relationship for a while, don’t set your expectations too high.
You might have to keep exploring this new way of reaching out for a few weeks (or longer) before your partner relaxes enough to show interest back.
A client came to see me because he and his wife hardly ever had sex, only on holidays and birthdays. He wanted to feel closer to her, but he felt every time he went to touch her, she pulled away. We worked on getting him to slow down, breathe and touch for the desire of connection.
After a few weeks of letting himself make loving contact when he wanted to, without it having to mean something or lead to something else, she opened up and wanted sex (at home, and without a birthday attached).
He was shocked. I wasn’t, but I was very happy for him.
He was learning how to create an experience for her beyond the act of sex in and of itself.
What if you don’t like the way your partner touches you?
Tell your partner! Tell him or her as soon as possible. Life if too short to go without pleasurable touch.
You deserve to be touched in the way you desire, and your desires need to be forefront in your relationship, especially if you want sexual energy to grow.
Here is how the conversation could get started:
Hey babe, when you touch me like that, I feel like you are just trying to have sex with me, and you are not interested in just being with me. It makes me shut down and want to pull away from you. I want to be sexual with you, but I just think my body needs more time to warm up. Do you think we could set aside some time this week to sit down and maybe I can give you feedback about touch, and what my body would respond better to? Honey, I notice these days we hardly touch, and I am missing how connected I used to feel to you. I have been thinking about touch a lot lately, and I realized I never showed you how I like (or how much I like) to be touched. I would love to show you next time we are together and alone.
It's a necessary to be touched, held and caressed. This is not gender specific; this spans all genders and ages. The type of touch would clearly change based on your relationship with the other person, but touching in general is crucial.
In intimate relationships, we seek to fill so much of our personal needs, and we rely on our partners for our touching needs.
It might be interesting to ask your partner if he or she feels like you touch him or her often enough, or with the right pressure or speed. We can always do more in our relationships to create more pleasurable experiences for our partners.