Is sex – or lack of sex – a major cause of divorce?

May 21, 2011

in Series, Sexuality, The "D" word

Sexual problems © Fabio Berti | Dreamstime.com

Is sex a major cause of divorce? I found a couple of sources that seem to suggest it is:

In Why Americans Divorce I read that “22 percent of men cited sex as the reason for the divorce”. In Sex is biggest cause of divorce I learned that a UK law firm reports “sex was a factor in 43 per cent of divorce cases”.

Frankly I doubt this is something we can get a good handle on by survey. How many folks are going to own up to the divorce being caused by their affair, or their sexual refusal, or their fetish? Those wronged by these things may also be reluctant to share those details – “We grew apart” is easier than “S/he would never have sex with me”.

Is sex a factor in 43% of divorces? I would think it’s a factor in most divorces to some degree or another. Most divorces have many factors, but in most situations, one or a few of these factors are so significant that the others are essentially unimportant. So the question is this – how often is sex a significant contributing factor to divorce?

When divorce follows adultery, clearly the adultery caused the divorce, right? Maybe not. While some folks are just too selfish, or too lacking in self-control, to avoid the chance of sex with someone else, I think most understand the potential marriage ending consequences of an affair. I suspect many affairs are sign that the person no longer cares about the marriage. Sometimes an affair is a signal to their spouse, or giving them a reason to file divorce. I doubt many affairs happen in solid marriages, so in some ways the affair is more a symptom than a cause.

What about men, and a growing number of women, who are sexually starved for many years? As deeply as this hurts, I doubt it directly causes many divorces. On the other hand, ongoing sexual frustration slowly kills a marriage, and as the couple drifts further and further apart divorce becomes more and more likely. An affair also becomes more likely – not directly due to a lack of sex, but more because of the lack of relationship that comes from a lack of sex.

So is sex a big factor in divorce? I think it is – but in a less than obvious way. I see sex as an act that brings a couple together. It builds their relationship, and binds them together. It makes them feel close, intimate, and connected. If divorce is weeds choking out a marriage, then sex is a very good weed killer. Sex won’t fix big problems, but it does smooth out and diminish a lot of things that would become big problems over time. Sex helps a marriage avoid getting to the point where being apart seems like a good idea. If this is the case, then sexual problems allow other marriage killing things to develop and grow. Sex is a potent marriage protector, and a lack of good sex means the marriage is less strong and more open to attack.

That, by the way, is why I talk about sex a good deal. Sex is not just a bonus in marriage, it’s important. Sex won’t save a marriage on the brink of divorce, but a good sex life can keep a marriage from being on the brink of divorce. More and/or better sex won’t improve all marriages, but less sex will hurt the vast majority of marriages.

Image Credit: © Fabio Berti | Dreamstime.com

{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

J (Hot, Holy & Humorous) May 21, 2011 at 7:21 am

So aptly put. I contend in my own personal testimony that sex saved my marriage. Extreme, huh? But a healthy sex life can be a bonding glue through otherwise tough times. Sex is also a great reflection of how much you treasure your spouse – since it is not designed to be a selfish act (though the world may preach differently). This is a terrific post!

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The Generous Husband May 28, 2011 at 11:46 am

@J – A good sex life can be a great marital glue, and I suspect that often helps a couple through a particularly difficult time. Without that glue, divorce or permanent harm to the marriage are more likely.

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A. Nonymous May 21, 2011 at 10:28 am

Divorces are triggered by one or both persons feel cheated.

Women feel cheated when the husband has an affair, doesn’t make her happy, doesn’t make her feel good, and doesn’t provide to meet wants and needs.

Men feel cheated when they don’t get laid in spite of making a commitment to exclusivity (e.g. marriage) which, for the most part, women value more than men.

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The Generous Husband May 28, 2011 at 11:47 am

@A. Nonymous – While somewhat simplistic, what you say has a lot of truth to it. More broadly, I’d say it’s about unmet expectations – be those expectations valid, skewed, or totally wrong..

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Take Two May 24, 2011 at 9:53 am

I still think you undersell the importance of sex a little. Sex is not a reward, or even the foundation, it is the marriage, period. One compromise of this institution puts the whole marriage on life support.

Every action and decision is made with respect to the sexual relationship. We seem to only get this in a negative context. But when God talks to us about his relationship to us, he uses sexual language. Of course, this makes us uncorfotable, because of our views on sex. We still should let it stand. Perhaps if we take the right perspective we could actually help marriages.

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The Generous Husband May 28, 2011 at 11:49 am

@Take Two – That is provably the first time I have been accused of underselling the importance of sex! I do not disagree with what you say at all.

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anoymousforreal May 26, 2011 at 7:00 am

Well in my case I’m the one that is sex starved! My husband just changed after marriage!.. he couldn’t keep his hands off of me before, now I’m always find myself begging for it or trying to always keep things cool between us because he gets upset that adds on to the starvation. Its crazy! Especially because we r both in our 30’s and healthy. Its mostly always an excuse with him. I’m praying that I am able to resist temptation elsewhere. But outside of the no sex, the affection is lacking as well. I love him with everything in me, but its getting harder and harder. I try to talk to him about it but he sees it as being shallow or that its other things to be concerned with. Its like he’s already gotten so complacent and this is only our 1st yr of marriage. I’m very attractive and so is he so I don’t see the problem. I’m not sexually timid. I try not to nag him about it, I’m a guys kinda gal. So we watch sports together etc. What could be wrong????

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Take Two May 26, 2011 at 1:57 pm

I’ll tell what I have learned about these situations, not because I’m the best resource, but you’ll be lucky to find an honest assessment anywhere. I can echo virtually every though you spoke, except in my case the genders are reversed. I’ve spoken with a counselor at length about this issue and the answers are very similar between men and women, and it isn’t uncommon. He actually told me it’s a little more common for him to see men lacking sexual desire in his practice, so you’re not alone. There are a couple of things that he told me that I’ll share.

The first possible issue is that there is a physical problem. You said that he is in good physical condition, but there still could be hormonal problems. It may not be the most likely problem but these problems can be the easiest to fix. Besides, there is no way to fix a physical problem with counseling, and the counselors will be brutal to both of you in the meantime. A good physician should be able to diagnose a problem if there is one. This is a good place to start.

The second issue is much more complicated and it has to do with past sexual sins. This issue is mostly overlooked since 90%+ go into marriage with sexual experiences that could cause problems. Most counselors just tell you that that this is the way it is, but you have to fight to find one that knows better. The Bible is clear that sexual sins are about the worst thing people can commit and the consequences are far-reaching. It is also clear we can never remove the sexual sins on this planet, but I do believe there can be enough healing to sustain a relationship.

Basically sexual sin is pure selfishness that defiles the body for life. One needs to first acknowledge this and seek healing to overcome. Some can do this on their own, and some stumble through life able to make ends meet, but many are unable to cope and so they avoid sex in a real relationship because what it means to them. Because they associate sex with the dirtiness they experienced, they often want to keep it out of marriage, which they see as clean. Of course this is just part of the perversion they have invited, but it is real. You will most likely need a skilled counselor to help work through the healing to overcome this.

You probably have a decent idea of your husband’s sexual history but there may be more you don’t know. It can be a very tangled web and very intense. It is not an option to allow the relationship to be sexually unfulfilling. I would question the validity of any marriage that is not fulfilling the command to be sexually one consistently without an unavoidable hindrance. May God bless you with wisdom and help.

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anoymousforreal May 26, 2011 at 7:06 am

I also should add he says he’s not cheating, and I want to trust him. But he could be emotionally cheating?? I don’t know..but I do know I am praying dailey for God to intervene. I feeling more and more lonely as the days go by, and he dosent seem to care or be concerned. But I’m still praying.

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anoymousforreal May 27, 2011 at 8:04 am

@takestwo, thank u so much for ur in site, I really believe that we will eventually resolve this. He does have a very extesive sexual past, he used to be a “player” back in the day, but of course he’s saved now and is a changed man, but I do think his past has a lot to do with expecially what u said about the sexual sins, since it would make sense, considering his past. We talked some yesterday about this, but I’m just gonna lay off and just be the best wife I can be and just continue to pray. He is a really wondeful man, so I don’t want to lose him over this. I guess it just makes me feel so abandoned and unloved..even a little bit insecure, but in the meantime I will seek God to fulfill those places, until my husband is fully restored. Thank u sooo much because ur post truly helped me.

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The Generous Husband May 28, 2011 at 11:52 am

@anoymousforreal – It may be that his past is the problem. Perhaps for him sexual enjoyment is so linked to sin that he finds it difficult to do the first without the second – or maybe he feels bad about enjoying sex with you because he feels he is violating you in some way.

Talk with him about it, and keep talking. If he is tied up in his mind, he needs to work through it, and talking with you could help.

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anoymousforreal May 28, 2011 at 12:57 pm

@generoushusband I really believe this is the issue. Either that or low testorone or both..either way it needs to change and change quickly. I need him enotionally and physically and we r too young to be dealing with this. I’m trying to be patient and empathetic, but lord is it hard. Just not used to men acting like this I guess. But thanks again.

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ivan martens May 21, 2013 at 6:11 am

Under the heading of “Sex issues are a symptom”. For myself and it seems other men, good sex is what keeps you engaged and motivated enough to work on the other hard issues. If you are well connected sexually with your wife, then almost any other issue is a problem that can be handled and managed. But if you don’t have that core intimacy… fugetaboutit.

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