After only 18 months of dating, we realized we were in a Dead Bedroom.
To say this came as a shock would be an understatement. How TF did this happen?
Our relationship was way too new…
We loved each other way too much…
And yet the evidence was undeniable. All the glaring, tell-tale signs that our once passionate sex life had shriveled up and died:
Reece trying to initiate, only to get rejected and shut down. Jodie feeling pressured and guilty for never being in the mood. And for the first time in our relationship, the endless blaming and hurtful arguments about sex.
Like most sexless couples, we wondered if there was something wrong with us, or something wrong with our relationship:
- We thought that maybe we weren’t meant to be together (we were).
- Jodie wondered if she had an underlying hormonal problem (she didn’t).
- Reece feared that Jodie just wasn’t attracted to him anymore (she was).
We spent months going around in circles, having ‘the talk’ over and over again… but nothing changed.
What we didn’t realize was this:
There was something getting in the way of Jodie’s libido – but it wasn’t what we thought. And there were things Reece was doing to ‘turn her off’ – but they weren’t what we expected.
But after countless hours of research, and a journey of discovery that took us literally all over the world, we’re now happy to report that we’ve completely fixed our dead bedroom.
And what’s more, the approach we developed has helped save the dead bedrooms of hundreds of couples.
Let’s be clear – this is NOT the usual ‘spice things up’ or ‘try this libido booster’ disposable advice the internet is littered with.
This IS a whole new approach to reawakening a dead bedroom when nothing else has worked.
Before we get to that, let’s clear up a few things first:
What Is A Dead Bedroom?
A “dead bedroom” describes a relationship where there’s little to no sexual intimacy. There’s usually one partner with a higher desire for sex than the other, creating tension and arguments. Over time it leads to feelings of frustration, loneliness, and dissatisfaction with the relationship.
And why is this such a problem?
To point out the blindingly obvious – sex plays an important role in relationships. It helps us to feel loved, connected, and chosen by our partner. The science backs this up, with research* consistently showing that couples who have a satisfying sex life are happier with their relationship overall.
And the actual sex part?
Well, it feels good, it’s fun, and it has a whole bunch of positive mental, physical, and emotional benefits.
Yep, sex is great.
But when it’s not happening as much as one (or both) partners want, the lack of sex can be devastating not only to the relationship, but to our individual sense of self too.
Now, in most long-term relationships, once-per-week* sex seems to be the sweet spot.
But for couples in a dead bedroom, there’s usually a lot less sex than that.
What Qualifies As A Dead Bedroom?
There’s no clinical definition of a dead bedroom, but it usually refers to a relationship where sex occurs less than 10 times a year, or less than once a month. In truth, a dead bedroom is subjective, depending on how important sex is to you and the individual dynamics of your relationship.
You may still have a dead bedroom if:
- You’re having sex more than the usual definition of a ‘sexless marriage’, but the frequency suddenly drops off
- You’re having semi-regular sex, but there’s constant tension or arguments about it
- You’re experiencing a lot of rejection or disinterest when you try to initiate sex
Almost all relationships go through periods of less sex – because ‘life’ happens. And there are couples who are perfectly happy with a lower frequency of sex. But a dead bedroom is characterized by low frequency AND the resulting tensions extending for long periods of time.
How Common Is A Dead Bedroom?
It’s estimated that around 15% percent of married couples in the US have not had sex in the last 6-12 months. Since a dead bedroom includes relationships that are still having sex once every couple of months, it’s possible that Dead Bedrooms are as common as 1 in 5* American couples.
A recent survey* in the UK supports these numbers:
Over a quarter (29%) of respondents were in a “sexless’’ relationship, with 20% saying they’ve had sex fewer than 10 times in the last 12 months, and 8% saying they’ve had no sex at all in that same time.
If you’re wanting to know where you and your relationship fit into that (and you’re super into statistics), here’s a breakdown of sexless relationships by age:
And despite the common misconceptions, it’s not just men wanting more sex than women:
In our private coaching practice, about 50% of the high-desire partners we work with are women.
How Do Dead Bedrooms Start?
Most dead bedrooms start with a gradual decline in sex as a relationship transitions from the honeymoon phase into a long-term partnership. If a couple doesn’t have the communication skills to handle this shift, the increasing tensions around sex put further downward pressure on frequency.
In other instances, it’s a specific incident or a sudden change in the relationship that triggers a dead bedroom. (Having a baby, a change in employment, moving house, a challenging health condition, the death of a loved one, etc.)
Many couples describe a dead bedroom as a Cold War scenario. But instead of two powerhouse countries pitted against each other, it’s you versus your partner.
There are snide remarks and barbed comments about sex, and in some cases a total breakdown in positive communication and cooperation.
Overall, a sex-starved marriage creates a constant feeling of tension in the relationship and… well, coldness.
We call this ‘gridlock’, and it can feel insurmountable.
But thawing the tensions of a sexless marriage or relationship is possible.
It requires a whole new approach to sex and desire, and a whole new way of communicating. But if you’re open to it, this approach has the potential to save your sex life, and your relationship – no matter how long you’ve been together, or what age you are.
So with that preamble out of the way, here’s our 10-step process to help you bring back the warmth in your relationship and fix your dead bedroom, once and for all.
How Do You Wake Up A Dead Bedroom?
1. Take A Stand
After working with countless dead bedroom couples over the years, the first step to fixing a sexless relationship is always the same:
No longer accepting the status quo, and committing to whatever it takes to fix it.
Because the sad truth is that it’s all too easy to explain a dead bedroom away:
To let the months and years roll by with begrudging acceptance. To resign yourself to the belief that ‘this is just how it is now.’
But research* consistently shows that a satisfying sexual connection makes a relationship happier and healthier overall. And we know – from experience – that reviving a dead bedroom is possible.
So here’s what we encourage you to remember:
If you want more sexual connection, that’s OK, and there’s nothing wrong with you. Sex is an important and healthy part of a relationship, and it’s absolutely something worth fighting for.
On the flip side, we also encourage you to consider that:
There’s nothing wrong with your partner either. There’s something going on with their desire that perhaps even they don’t understand yet (more on that in a bit).
And despite how it may feel, we’ve found that it’s rare that they’re ‘doing this on purpose’ or just trying to hurt you.
It’s essential to be compassionate and understanding toward the challenges they’re facing. And, it’s just as important to draw a line in the sand for the relationship and sex life you want, to take a stand for yourself, and commit to doing what’s necessary.
Starting with a more productive way of looking at ‘the problem’ in the first place…
2. Embrace The Desire Imbalance
OK, let’s address this all-important and much-needed perspective shift:
EVERY relationship has some level of desire imbalance – one person who experiences more spontaneous desire for sex than the other.
Now, the bad news is that there’s nothing you can do to change this.
Of course, you can try and fight against it… or try and change each other… or how they experience their desire for sex.
But as you’ve probably noticed, this usually leads to more arguments, more resentments, and… much less sex.
The good news is that the desire imbalance doesn’t have to be a problem.
It doesn’t have to be a constant source of conflict in your sex life. Because differences in your subjective levels of spontaneous desire are actually a normal part of every relationship.
Your goal then isn’t to fix this imbalance – your goal is to learn how to work with it.
Once you accept that the desire difference is normal and natural, you move from ‘it’s their problem’ to fix, to a much more collaborative approach to your sex life – where it’s something you BOTH work at together.
Right, so what exactly do we mean by ‘spontaneous desire’?
3. Learn Your Desire Styles
When it comes to sex and sexuality, there’s so much we’re not taught. And unfortunately, much of what we do learn is pretty shitty and not particularly helpful.
One of the shittier things we pick up is the idea that everyone experiences sexual desire the same way.
Spoiler alert: they don’t.
85% of men and 25% of women experience spontaneous desire as their default.*
Spontaneous desire is exactly what it sounds like – desire that happens spontaneously, almost effortlessly, and seemingly out of nowhere:
The slightest of sexy thoughts floats through your mind, and suddenly you’re like, “Hey! I’d like to have sex!”
That’s spontaneous desire.
This means the remaining 15% of men and 75% of women experience desire as something completely different – and it’s a mix of what’s called ‘responsive desire’ and ‘contextual desire’.
Responsive desire is less like a spontaneous lightning bolt, and more like a slow burn. And while desire happens first for someone with spontaneous desire, someone with responsive desire needs to feel aroused and turned on before they feel the desire.
Wait… Let’s back up a little and take another moment with that, because it’s suuuper important:
If you have responsive desire, you need to feel the pleasurable, tingly things first before you feel the desire for more…
Here’s what that might look like:
You’re washing the dishes when your partner slides up behind you, wraps their arms around your waist, and your brain thinks, “Mmmm, that’s nice.” Then they start lightly kissing your neck, their warm breath on your skin, their body pressed tight into yours.
Gradually, your body starts responding. You’re feeling pleasure, and then your brain thinks… “Oh, that’s feeling really good. I think I want to take this to the bedroom…”
Pleasure first, then desire.
Women are far more likely to experience responsive desire as their primary desire style,* and most people will experience it at some point in their lives.
Yup, your desire style can, and does, change sometimes.
That’s significant because in our coaching practice we’ve found that a lot of problems in the bedroom start when one partner’s desire (or both) shifts from spontaneous to responsive.
Which is exactly how our dead bedroom began:
Jodie went from spontaneous desire in the passionate early days of our relationship, to responsive desire after we’d been together a while and the reality of normal life settled in.
So for us, this insight about desire styles was game-changing.
Now you might be sitting there thinking, “But I’ve tried so many times to turn my partner on and get their desire going. It doesn’t work!”
We hear you. You’re not alone. Here’s what you’re missing…
4. Stop Hitting The Brakes
Activating sexual desire requires more than just activating your turn ons (what we call your ‘accelerators’). Because there’s also a counter-force actively working against desire – and they’re called your sexual brakes.
Your sexual brakes are so much more than your turn-offs. They’re all the things in your inner and outer world telling your brain and body that now is NOT a good time to get turned on.
- performance anxiety
- low self-esteem
- body image issues
- chronic or unresolved relationship conflict
- concerns about pregnancy or STIs,
- social consequences (and that includes waking up the kids)
- lack of safety and trust in the relationship
And the most ubiquitous, bedroom-murdering brake of them all…
So what does this mean for your sex life?
Let’s go back to that washing the dishes and sexy kisses on the back of the neck scenario:
In a perfect, stress-and-distraction-free world, this works to start hitting the accelerator. There’s nothing getting in the way, so the right stimulation kicks desire into gear.
But in less-than-perfect reality, when you slide up to your partner, there’s more going on in their head than just your sexy kisses:
They’re worrying about that work meeting tomorrow… the extra few pounds they’ve put on since Christmas… and whether or not you’re still pissed about that argument you had the other day.
The brakes are on BIG time. And none of that is your fault. None of that is their fault either. But unless you know how to turn those brakes off, your sex life is going to suffer.
Because in the majority of dead bedrooms, it often boils down to this:
There’s something hitting the brakes on desire – either yours, your partner’s, or both. This means that all the sexy turns-ons in the world just aren’t going to work.
Your #1 mission is to work out what those brakes are, and to work collaboratively to turn them off.
So how do you do that?
Look, it should be clear already that it takes some work. And unfortunately, if you’ve been in a sexless marriage for a while, even your attempts to make them feel good can hit the brakes and turn them off.
(To help you discover your personal brakes and accelerators, and navigate your relationship’s unique Sexual Blueprint, check out the Reignite Your Love Life home study course.)
But to really move things forward, the best place you can start is to…
5. Rebuild Emotional Intimacy
Over almost a decade of working with couples, here’s something we see proven time and time again:
A lack of emotional intimacy will almost always lead to a lack of sexual intimacy.
And yeah, we get that it can be one of those infuriating chicken-or-egg situations:
For the higher-desire partner, sexual intimacy helps them to feel emotionally connected.
But for the lower-desire partner, the emotional intimacy helps them to feel open to sexual intimacy. And it’s pretty much a non-negotiable.
This has to do with responsive and contextual desire:
For sexual desire to really flourish, it needs a low-stress, highly affectionate context. And working on your emotional connection is one of the best ways to make that happen.
In other words – feeling safe, connected, and loved helps switch off the brakes, and creates a space for our accelerators to switch on.
Now, it’s important that your attempts to create emotional intimacy are genuine, and not a thinly veiled attempt to just ‘get sex’. Basically, you want to let go of ‘trying to make sex happen’, and get curious about what your partner needs to feel emotionally connected.
This is an entire topic in itself, so to get you started, check out this ultimate guide to creating more emotional intimacy in your relationship.
Don’t be disheartened if your attempts to build emotional connection are met with suspicion or cynicism. In relationships with low emotional intimacy or chronic underlying tensions, trying to reconnect can bring those tensions to the surface. But stay the course. Over time, the more your partner sees and feels your continued attempts to connect, the more they’ll trust that you’re being genuine.
6. Clear The Resentments
If you’ve been in a sexless relationship for a while, chances are there’s a build-up of unresolved resentments between you. Usually on both sides.
Reviving a dead bedroom means you’re going to have to talk openly about sex with your partner.
Now, in order to move the conversation in a more productive direction (as opposed to the usual repetitive and destructive arguments) you’ll need to really listen to each other and heal the underlying hurts.
As you can probably guess, this can be another one of those complex relational processes. (That’s why we wrote more articles about how to fix resentment in marriage, and created an entire communication course to help you transform conflict into connection).
But there’s one approach we discovered that really helps to move the dial:
Talking about why sex is important to you:
- What are you really wanting when you reach out for sex?
- What does sex mean to you?
- What does sex give you?
- What does sex give your relationship?
Helping your partner see that sex is more than ‘just sex’ can help them to understand your perspective, and to feel more loved and cherished as a result.
This is an important and vulnerable conversation that can create deeper emotional intimacy, while also paving the way to…
7. Increase Physical Affection
One of the most heartbreaking side effects of a dead bedroom is the steady decline of physical affection:
There’s less cuddling, less kissing, less hand-holding, and less everyday touch in the relationship overall.
It’s lonely and disconnecting on both sides.
So why does this happen? And why does it matter?
In low-sex and no-sex relationships – where tensions around sex are high – physical affection is often mistaken by the lower-desire partner as an attempt to initiate sex… And is quickly shut down.
If you’ve ever had your partner freeze up when you’ve gone to hug or kiss them, then you know what it feels like.
Over time, the constant rejection wears the higher-desire partner down. So out of self-preservation, they learn to withdraw their affection.
The lower desire partner fears that sharing an innocent kiss or hug might send mixed signals or be misinterpreted, so they withdraw their affection too.
In an attempt to avoid all the pain and disconnection around sex, each person has their guard up, and connection-nourishing physical affection is the casualty.
But it doesn’t have to stay that way.
Because if you stop trying to initiate sex with physical touch (more on that in a moment) and you make it clear that physical affection is simply that – affection with no agenda and no expectation that it leads anywhere – then it opens the door to genuine affectionate touch.
This is a crucial step in reviving a dead bedroom. It helps clear residual resentments, builds positive momentum, and sets you up to…
8. Form A ‘Collaborative Alliance’
We appreciate that ‘teamwork’ isn’t exactly abundant in a dead bedroom. You’ve no doubt tried working on this before, to no avail.
But that’s why ‘working together’ is step 8… and not step 1:
The previous steps are specifically designed to help thaw the tensions between you, and help lay the goodwill groundwork necessary for collaboration.
So what exactly does it mean to form a collaborative alliance?
Ultimately, it means you’re no longer shouldering all of the responsibility for reawakening a sexless relationship.
Instead, you’re focused on understanding your relationship’s unique Sexual Blueprint and creating an environment – together – where sexual connection can flourish:
- Working together to reduce stressors and lessen the effects of whatever might be hitting the brakes
- Understanding exactly what ignites your partner’s desire and helping them press the accelerators
- A commitment to creating sexy contexts together and prioritizing mutually-fulfilling sex
And while we’re talking about sexy contexts…
9. Forget About ‘Frequency’
When you’re in a dead bedroom, it’s common to be counting the days, weeks, months, (and in some cases YEARS) since you last had sex.
But focusing on frequency is a trap. It can make sex feel transactional – something neither of you wants. And it also makes you miss the bigger opportunity in sex:
Research shows that when it comes to sex, it’s quality, not quantity, that matters most.
In a recent study* of 168 couples published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior, the happiest marriages were not necessarily the ones in which partners had the most sex. Instead, the happiest couples had “a satisfying sex life and a warm emotional life.”
They focused on connection, affection, and satisfaction instead of frequency alone.
Letting go of frequency can feel scary – like you’re giving up or resigning yourself to a no-sex marriage. But doing so takes the pressure off and helps create a low-stress, low-expectation context (which is great for that responsive and contextual desire).
Which finally brings you to the last piece of the puzzle…
10. Initiate Sex The Right Way
This is it.
The scariest step for any higher desire partner carrying the painful scars of rejection – how to be vulnerable, put yourself on the line, and initiate sex in a dead bedroom.
Let’s begin with a recap of what not to do:
- Don’t try to make your partner want sex
- Don’t use physical affection as an attempt to get them in the mood
- Don’t take sole responsibility for hitting their accelerator and turning them on
Instead, here are the most productive things to focus on when initiating sex:
Invite your partner to connect with you, with your words. Let them know you’d love to connect physically because you love them, and you love being intimate with them. Let them know there’s no pressure, no expectation, and you don’t have to ‘get’ anywhere. Instead, ask what you can do to help turn off the brakes, and what you can do to make them feel good.
Then show up together and see where the journey takes you.
Every relationship is different, and seeing positive results is complex, requiring mindset and behavior shifts from both of you. That takes time, intentional effort, and a commitment to doing things differently.
In this post, we’ve included some of the most helpful information and insights we’ve used in reviving not only our own dead bedroom, but the dead bedrooms of all the couples we’ve worked with over the years.
For some, the steps outlined here will be enough to begin turning things around.
For others, fixing a dead bedroom is best done with a more structured, step-by-step approach.
If that’s you, we’ve created a home study program you can work through in the comfort and privacy of your own home.
Check out the complete Reignite Your Love Life home study course.
Dead Bedroom FAQ
Does A Dead Bedroom Lead To Divorce?
Couples in a sexless marriage are more likely to divorce, according to a sample of 6,029 US couples in the National Survey of Families & Households.* Other research shows that people in sexless marriages report they’re more likely to have considered divorce and that they are less happy in their marriages.
But that doesn’t mean divorce is inevitable. Fixing a dead bedroom is possible, and it doesn’t have to spell the end of your relationship.
How Do I Talk To My Partner About A Dead Bedroom?
The most important thing to keep in mind when talking with your partner about a dead bedroom is this:
You each have a unique experience of the situation, and both sides are valid.
Regardless of which side of the dead bed you’re on, the lack of sex in your relationship feels incredibly personal, and it hurts.
For the higher-desire person, it feels like your partner doesn’t want you. That they’re not attracted to you anymore. That you’re not important to them anymore. And that they couldn’t care less about sex. You feel broken, unloved, and rejected.
For the lower-desire person, it feels like your partner only wants you for the sex. That you’re not important to them anymore. And when it comes to sex itself, you actually think about it a lot – because it’s causing so many problems. But you can’t work out where your desire went. You feel broken, blamed, unloved, and pressured.
As valid as these feelings are, they’re not the truth of what’s actually going on. Sexual desire is much more complicated than we’ve been taught as a culture, and it requires a different approach in a long-term relationship compared to the early days. But when we don’t know that approach, it just looks like it’s the other person’s fault.
When talking about your dead bedroom, keep this in mind. You want to validate each other’s experience, while also getting curious about what’s truly going on for your partner, without feeling blamed or at fault.
Physical & Medical Causes Of A Dead Bedroom
- Medical conditions: Surgery or sexual problems (like pain during sex) can contribute to low desire, but other conditions can also contribute, such as chronic pain, diabetes, high blood pressure, arthritis, heart disease, stroke, and neurological disease.
- Hormonal changes: Changes in testosterone levels or estrogen levels can impact sexual desire. It’s common for men to develop low testosterone as they age, and for women to experience significant estrogen changes during pregnancy and menopause.
- Lifestyle causes: Excessive alcohol consumption, smoking, or using drugs can affect desire, as can too little sleep, a lack of exercise, or an unhealthy diet.
- Psychological issues: Mental health conditions, like depression and anxiety, are huge contributors to low desire. Outside of an official diagnosis, stress, burnout, low self-esteem or poor body image can also contribute.
- Medications: Certain medications can have side effects that impact sexual desire and functioning, including antidepressants, blood pressure medications, pain medications, H2 blockers and hormonal birth control.
- Sexual trauma: A history of sexual trauma can impact one’s sexual desire, and it can manifest in a number of ways, including arousal issues, pain during sex and low desire.
If you think any of these might be contributing to an arousal or desire problem, it’s important to speak with a doctor or a therapist.
Sources & References
At Practical Intimacy we’re committed to keeping our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy. We use only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles.
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Villines, Z. (2022). What a dead bedroom is and how to address it. Medical News Today
Langer, G., Arnedt, C., Sussman, D. (2004). POLL: American Sex Survey. ABC News.
Zhang Y, Liu H. (2020) A National Longitudinal Study of Partnered Sex, Relationship Quality, and Mental Health Among Older Adults. J Gerontol B Psychol Sci Soc Sci. 2020 Sep 14;75(8):1772-1782. doi: 10.1093/geronb/gbz074. PMID: 31132123; PMCID: PMC7489086.
Denise A. Donnelly (1993) Sexually inactive marriages, The Journal of Sex Research, 30:2, 171-179, DOI: 10.1080/00224499309551698
Twenge, Jean & Sherman, Ryne & Wells, Brooke. (2017). Declines in Sexual Frequency among American Adults, 1989–2014. Archives of Sexual Behavior. 46. 10.1007/s10508-017-0953-1.
Age, Birth Cohort, Monotony and Sex Frequency Among U.S. Adults in the NORC General Social Surveys 1989-2000
Relate (2018) Over a quarter of relationships are ‘sexless’. Relate.
Nagoski, E. (2015) Pleasure is the measure. Medium.
Nagoski, E. (2015) The Science of Saving Your Sex Life. Medium.
Bradley, S. (2022) Want better sex? Start by learning your desire style. Mashable.
Kinsey Institute (2021) Annual Report 2019 – 2020. Indiana University.
Parker-Pope, T. (2009). When Sex Leaves the Marriage. The New York Times.
Reece Stockhausen & Jodie Milton have made improving people’s lives and relationships both their passion, and their career. With over 25 years experience in the Personal Development industry, and 8 years coaching singles and couples, their no-BS advice has been featured in Cosmopolitan, Bustle, and HuffPost.
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