We’ve all been there: You’re hot and bothered, in the mood to head to the bedroom, but your partner is just… not. Or it’s the other way around, with their sex drive raging and you not feeling it. at. all.
This scenario is totally normal every so often. Yet for a lot of couples, this isn’t just a once in a while scenario. “Dead bedrooms,” as they’re called, are very real.
Dead bedroom relationships are clinically defined as those in which a couple has sex fewer than six times a year, Holly Richmond, PhD, a sex therapist in New York City, tells Health. While they are incredibly common, the definition of a dead bedroom can be subjective and depends on what each partner means by sexless, she says.
“I have had couples come in and say, ‘We’re in a sexless relationship. We’re only having sex once a week.’ It’s a different experience for everyone, but when we refer to it clinically, it’s generally less than six times a year,” says Richmond.
While sex no more than every two months sounds extreme, this infrequency is something a lot of people can relate to. The subreddit r/DeadBedrooms has over 165,000 members; it’s dedicated to the sexless relationship phenomenon and continuously racks up a stream of posts that all point back to the same relationship problem: couples who are getting it on a lot less often than one or both partners would like.
While these posts can vary when it comes to how often couples are having sex, many users have written in about being intimate just once every few years.
So why are so many couples in dead bedroom relationships? Many factors play a role, Richmond explains. One of the most common is simply the natural progression of being part of a long-term couple, when the sex-all-the-time honeymoon phase subsides.
“Couples will come in and say, ‘We had such great sex or so much sex in the beginning, and now we’re hardly having any,’ says Richmond.
It’s normal for relationships to change over time, and sex occurs less often than it did early on. When this relationship stage sets in, Richmond says that couples need to work at keeping the spark alive.
“Fire needs air. So creating autonomy, space, and novelty in your relationship is how you work to fix it,” she says. “It’s often just a natural loss, one where the couple isn’t working hard enough to keep the desire alive. And then what happens is one partner or the other has been rejected over a series of months or years, so the initiating partner stops asking because the rejection hurts too much. So then they get into a cycle of no one asking and no one initiating, or they just get into a rut.”
Of course, this isn’t the only factor creating a dead bedroom relationship. Work stress, libido-lowering medications, chronic illness, and injuries are all factors that can influence intimacy. Becoming a parent is another major reason couples lose their spark in the bedroom.
“Having a newborn can be exhausting for both parents, but particularly for women, because of the constant breastfeeding and eventually having to go back to work. Iit can be hard to balance it all,” she says. “Sometimes the couple will bring the baby or child into the bed, so then they have to find space or make space to have sex.”
So what are couples supposed to do when all these things hit and their formerly hot sex life is now circling the drain?Richmond says there are ways to work through these road blocks.
“It’s about cultivating eroticism—and that doesn’t mean sex,” she says. “Eroticism can just be that life force, that energy and connection, in your relationship.”
Richmond advises that couples can do this by finding 15 minutes a day to just turn off their phones and sit together, spending time having a meaningful conversation and appreciating each other. She often tells her own clients to not immediately try to reintroduce sex, but to reintroduce their connection first, she says.
“It’s important to open up those lines of communication again,” says Richmond. “Asking one another how they feel about their current sex life, rather than pointing fingers, is a good place to start.”