Feelgood Health

Can a relationship survive without SEX?

Sex. Does your relationship have enough of it? Would it survive without it? We asked Cape Town based Clinical Psychologist, Michele Carelse, to give us her thoughts, tips and advice for this touchy subject. Plus, learn the number one myth about sex in a relationship!

Can a relationship survive without sex?

1. How much sex is 'normal' in a relationship? 
Psychologist: "The term normal is relative and there really is no exact amount of sex that is right or wrong. A couple may have certain limitations such as physical disabilities, emotional issues (stemming from physical abuse or a sexual encounter in the past), there may be religious reasons involved as well as certain physiological issues (premature ejaculation, sexual dysfunction, lack of arousal, prescription medication etc) - even stress can affect libido there really is no one exact ideal when it comes to sex. Both partners need to find a happy medium that works for them rather than looking at the average or other arbitrary numbers. If you have ruled out stress or other obvious reasons for the sexual problem, it's important to speak to your doctor for an assessment of what the problem may be so that you can be helped. 
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2. Can a relationship work without sex? 
Psychologist: "Again, one must remember that people peak sexually at different times. Hormonal issues for women can disrupt the female libido or sex drive (such as childbirth or menopause), and for men stress and lifestyle factors can greatly influence sexual drive as well as proper sexual functioning. You may find that from week to week your sexual needs fluctuate. A relationship can certainly work without sex, as long as both partners are aware of the reason for omitting sex and that they communicate with each other. Also remember that no sex does not mean no physical affection like hugging, kissing and caressing! Physical contact helps emotional closeness. Provided there is good communication between couples, try to maintain physical closeness even though you may not be into sex for a while. If this is difficult for one or both people in a couple, consider counseling as a way of resolving things."
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3. Will my partner have an affair or leave me if we do not have sex? 
Psychologist: "This is one of the biggest concerns that I hear from couples. It may well be the biggest myth about sex in a relationship. Human beings are sexual creatures and we have a built in drive to have sex for reproduction but also for pleasure. In my professional experience, while some affairs tend to occur when the sexual relationship has deteriorated, there is also usually a much bigger issue at the root of the infidelity. Like a boat that has a slow leak weakening the hull, and the iceberg sinks it, the relationship usually has deeper problems that are long-standing. If there are reasons why there is no sex in the relationship, the biggest danger to the relationship is not the absence of sex, but rather the absence of communication and dealing with the feelings around the lack of sex... once again, if communication around the issue is difficult, seek professional counseling to assist you to strengthen your relationship and promote communication."
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4. What would your top advice be for those wanting to have a healthy relationship? 
Psychologist: "For couples who have sex: I would recommend finding out what makes your partner feel good. Talk about what you like and dislike. Your partner may love a foot massage, or hate her feet being touched. Just this small amount of information can make a huge difference to sexual chemistry. In the same way, never underestimate the power of pampering - sexually stimulating essential massage oils, bath salts, get all the senses involved. If a couple decides to exclude sex in the relationship: I would recommend that physical contact is still key - people need to be touched and feel connected, so plenty of snuggling and contact that you are both comfortable with (there is a lot that can be done instead of intercourse), and of course very good communication."
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5. What would you say is the key factor to a 'win-win' relationship? 
Psychologist: "Relationships can be grounded in three things: Love, sex and obviously the ideal of both. But whichever way a couple decide to go, the most important thing is that BOTH partners are in the same frame of mind. If both agree that the relationship is only sex-based, that is their prerogative. Similarly, if both partners are happy to base the relationship on love or friendship and abstain from sex, the likelihood is that the arrangement will work. The issue comes in when one partner feels differently about the role that sex plays in the relationship. So I would say communication from the start, discuss your intentions, sexual hangups or insecurities and feelings regarding the sex in your relationship, or lack thereof. Partners who discuss issues like erectile dysfunction or low libido are far more likely to work through it successfully than those that do not. Also, as mentioned before, if you think there is a medical reason underlying the exclusion of sex in your relationship, please have this checked out by your doctor as it is not necessary to deprive yourselves of sex when there is much that can be done to address the problem! Also investigate other things which may help to improve sexual health, including stress management, exercise or herbal remedies to boost libido. 
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