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How important is sex in a marriage?

When kids, work, and life get in the way, sexual intimacy in marriage can take a backseat. Does it matter?

Can coexistence without any form of intimacy make a marriage?
Can coexistence without any form of intimacy make a marriage?

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In a marriage, sex can lead to intimacy or intimacy can lead to sex, depending on the couple. Despite this, as a society, we tend to underplay our sexual needs and our desire for intimacy in a marriage.

Take for instance a couple I’m coaching currently. They are about to get married, and have been living together for six months now. They say there is enough intimacy, but they have not had sex yet: the girl has some inhibitions and the man is willing to wait. Intuitively, however, both know that her inhibitions about sex will cause issues as the relationship progresses. Having come to this realisation, the couple is now meeting a sexologist and counsellor to address and perhaps work on resolving the situation.

Another couple, N and V, who have been married for 18 years and have two teenage children haven’t had sex in six years. “In the beginning it comes naturally, there is great sexual chemistry, enough opportunity and energy for you to have sex,” says N, recalling the trajectory of her relationship. She thinks sex is “extremely” important in a marriage. For N, the dip in their sex life started when they had their first child followed by the second one soon after. Then more life-events like job changes, parents’ declining health, mother-in-law issues, lack of staff and career concerns took over. Now, they don’t have sex at all, and N finds other ways to express herself sexually – writing fiction about her sexual desires, and the use of a vibrator. Looking back, N thinks that had they made more of an express sexual interest in each other, they could have tided over difficult patches in life together, and that it would have been quite healing.

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Quite the opposite was recorded with a couple that participated in the 2013 HBO documentary, Americans in Bed by Phillipa Robinson. Married 71 years, they still had an active sex life, with the wife calling the husband a “great lover”. Their intimacy shines on screen — they communicate playfully, and their attitude towards each other shows mutual trust, care, and acceptance.

In the same documentary, another couple seemed to have a great emotional connect, compatibility and intimacy. However, due to a medical condition with the husband, they had no physical intimacy. She doesn’t deny her desires, or her use of a vibrator, but this does not take away from the love and intimacy the couple has nurtured and shares.

Couples like N and V with whom both intimacy and sex ceases over time, seem to form a pattern of mere coexistence. Can coexistence without any form of intimacy make a marriage? Not in a true sense. Couples who share intimacy, but no sex like the ones just mentioned seem to still find fulfilment together. The couples that have both of course, like the older couple in the documentary, have it best.

But it’s important to know that this does not happen automatically — couples must decide that they will make time and space for this aspect of their relationship by giving it the prominence it deserves. Like all other aspects in a marriage, sex and intimacy too require communication, awareness, and effort. As a marriage evolves, commitment, communication and course-correction become key to solving most issues, even those about sex and intimacy.

This is a limited series by Simran Mangharam, a dating and relationship coach, who can be reached on

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