Most evenings, with their little girl safely tucked up in bed, Charlotte and Chris Everiss enjoy a kiss and a cuddle on the sofa in front of the television.Happily married for a decade, the couple cannot bear to even imagine their lives without one another. Yet, astonishingly, they haven’t made love for more than two years.Both insist that their marriage, which followed a two-year courtship after meeting on a dating website, is stronger than most. It’s just that sex, they say, is not important to their happiness. ‘We still turn each other on but we don’t want to take it any further,’ says Charlotte. ‘We don’t have the time or the energy.‘I find it hard switching off knowing that our four-year-old, Addison, is in the next bedroom. I think if Chris really missed sex he would tell me, or I’d catch him watching porn on the internet as a substitute. ‘But he doesn’t seem to want to go back to having sex, either.‘We sound like Darby and Joan, I know - even though I’m only 34 and Chris is 40 - but that, to us, is contentment.’
Too tired: Charlotte and Chris haven't made love for more than two years
Charlotte and Chris, it seems, aren’t the only ones whose sex life has dwindled to nothing. A recent survey estimated that 15 to 20 per cent of couples have sexless relationships - defined by experts as making love fewer than ten times a year - while around 5 per cent go without altogether.Actress Helen Mirren spoke for many of these couples earlier this year when she said: ‘I think the power of partnership in marriage is under-recognised in our society. That’s what makes marriages work, not sex.’
Content with a kiss and cuddle on the sofa: The couple, who have a four-year-old, say they are happy not to take it further
'I don't know that we're all that different from other couples, we're just more open about it'In a sex-obsessed society, where everyone - young, old, male and female - seems to be boasting of how many times a week they ‘do it’, it may come as a relief to many that couples like Charlotte and Chris are happy to admit that sex plays no part in their marriages at all.Most couples who find themselves at a point where sexual intimacy has died tend to confide their predicament to no one at all. But today three brave couples reveal to Femail how they have learned to live contented lives without sex.You don’t need a degree in psychology to work out why Charlotte, a social media consultant from Great Wyrley, Staffordshire - who in the early years of her marriage made love to her husband three times a week - may have problems surrounding sex.Three years ago, when their daughter was 18 months old, Charlotte almost died after an ectopic pregnancy resulted in her having a partial hysterectomy during a six-hour operation. Since then, she and Chris have made love only once, around ten months after her loss, an encounter from which she derived no pleasure.
Chris is understanding about her aversion to sex. ‘It can be hard knowing that our cuddles will never lead to anything more intimate,’ he says. ‘Charlotte is a gorgeous woman and I’m still very attracted to her, but she nearly died and I count my blessings every day that she’s even still here.’‘I have an hour-long commute at either end of my working day so, to be honest, most of the time I’m too tired for sex anyway.’Chris, a digital marketing manager, says he doesn’t discuss with friends the absence of sex from his marriage, but believes it is more common than people admit.‘I don’t know that we’re all that different from other couples, we’re just more open about it,’ he says.In all other respects, the Everisses have an enviable lifestyle. They live in a beautiful, four-bedroom detached home, have a Mini Cooper convertible and a VW Golf parked on the driveway, and enjoy several foreign holidays a year.
Stronger than ever: Charlotte and Chris have been married for ten years and say lack of sex has not damaged their relationship
'Of course, men have their needs, but I think I'm better able to control my urges than some - I distract myself with hobbies, like doing up old cars'Chris firmly believes that marriage is a lifelong commitment and says that walking out on his family has never crossed his mind. But for a couple who have not yet reached middle age, surely the prospect of living another 40 years without fulfilling basic, primitive urges is difficult to bear?‘It’s not as if we just stopped having sex because we stopped loving one another, there are reasons,’ says Chris. ‘I don’t take it personally, and my wife and daughter mean far too much to me to look elsewhere for sex.‘Of course, men have their needs, but I think I’m better able to control my urges than some - I distract myself with hobbies, like doing up old cars.‘However, I am hopeful that in the future, when Charlotte and I both feel better in ourselves, our sex life will resume.’Charlotte is less optimistic.‘Sex was an important part of our relationship in the early days. Like most new couples we had lots of it and it was good,’ she says.‘I do feel guilty knowing that Chris sometimes gets aroused when we snuggle up together so, out of wifely duty, I’ve tried to let him make love to me a couple of times in the past three years.‘The one time we went all the way, after we’d shared a bottle of wine one Friday night, it wasn’t at all enjoyable for me. It wasn’t painful, but I lay there thinking: “How quickly can we get this over with?”‘I think Chris probably sensed that, which is not great, but maybe he was just relieved it was happening at all.’While some girlfriends have admitted to Charlotte that they, too, rarely make love with their husbands, her openness about her own situation has cost her one friendship.
‘Most mums I know think the ironing basket is a more attractive option than sleeping with their husbands, and they can go months without sex,’ says Charlotte. ‘But one friend, who has a very active sex life, thinks it’s abnormal that Chris and I don’t make love. I felt she was judging us, so we don’t really speak any more.’Psychologist Leila Collins says it’s all too common for mothers to ‘shut up shop’ and stop having sex with their partners once their family is complete.
Stressed: Tracey and Julian's sex life is on the back-burner while he focuses on his career
'We talk about rekindling our love life but never seem to get around to it'Predictably, what often follows is that their men then start affairs, or seek out the services of prostitutes.‘Lack of sex in a marriage is the reason behind lots of affairs,’ she says. ‘Other men will pay for sex rather than risk losing their families.‘Sexless relationships are a lot more common than people realise - I hear about this issue all the time from patients.’But it’s not just women who call a halt to lovemaking.Tracey Dowler, 42, spent several months worrying that husband Julian, 55, didn’t want to make love to her because he was attracted to other women. But she has now accepted that the stress of his demanding job as director of a motor mechanical and haulage company is the reason they no longer have sex.And, while she admits there have been times when she has felt like walking out of their immaculate, three-bedroom semi-detached home in Rugby, Warwickshire, over the lack of intimacy, Tracey values other aspects of their marriage too highly.‘We got married in 2007 after only knowing each other for six months, so it was pretty whirlwind,’ says Tracey, a wedding fair organiser. ‘When we were dating, we’d have sex up to three times a night, which was wonderful, but after the wedding we only made love once or twice a week. We started going months between encounters and now we haven’t made love for well over a year.’
Tracey still feels very attracted to her husband, and he says the same of her. The couple are loving in other ways, holding hands when they go out together, kissing one another goodnight before going to sleep and saying “I love you” at the end of telephone conversations.
Soul mates: Tracey values other aspects of her marriage too highly to be concerned about lack of intimacy
'For us, sex really is not the be-all and end-all of married life'But Julian has 40 employees under him and says his job has become far more demanding in the years since their wedding. He gets up at 4am to start work at 5am, puts in a 12-hour day and, as he is on 24-hour call, his phone often rings several times during the night with drivers needing advice.Weekends are no more relaxing as Julian also runs a photography business, which he is hoping will take off enough for him to concentrate on it full time.They are both keen to have a family together. They’ve had IVF and plan to have another round of it in August.‘We talk about rekindling our love life but never seem to get around to it,’ says Julian. ‘We had a weekend away at a country hotel a couple of weeks ago and I was so exhausted I spent most of the time asleep.’Julian regards Tracey as his best friend and soulmate - a fact common, it seems, to many couples enduring sexless marriages - and believes that once he retires they will be able to rekindle some semblance of romance.
Once a couple gets out of the habit of having sex, however, this can be easier said than done. ‘Couples who don’t make love start living like brother and sister or friends and get out of the habit of seeing one another in a sexual way,’ says Relate counsellor Paula Hall. ‘If both partners want to reintroduce sex, we encourage them to do so slowly, learning how to be sensual with each other and gradually building up to intercourse.’
No sex please: Rhae and Keith haven't made love for the last eight years after he was diagnosed with prostate cancer
BETWEEN THE SHEETSThe average person has sex 103 times per year, one study has foundRhae and Keith Elliott, from Cambridgeshire, have been married for 44 years but have not been intimate for more than eight years.When Rhae was 56 and Keith 67, he was diagnosed with prostate cancer that affected his sexual function and, although his GP said Viagra may help, Keith never pursued it.‘To be honest, I felt embarrassed discussing it with my female doctor and couldn’t wait to get out of the surgery and forget about it,’ recalls Keith, now 75, a retired senior foundry manager. ‘Even before the prostate cancer, we’d go weeks without sex. For me it was never the most important thing in the world, and I’d say the same for Rhae.‘I don’t feel pressured to try because Rhae doesn’t put me under any pressure. For us, sex really is not the be-all and end-all of married life.’Rhae has found the absence of sex in their marriage more difficult to come to terms with.‘I’m 64 now and have been celibate for eight years,’ she says. ‘During the first couple of years, I’d get very upset when Keith rejected my advances.‘He’d say: “I’m sure we’ll get back to doing it eventually”.
‘Then in 2007, we were living in France, renovating a house, when I raised the subject of sex and Keith said “Rhae, I don’t want to do it any more, can we stop talking about it?”‘I had to decide then whether our relationship was more important to me than my sex life. And it is.‘I have friends who sleep apart from their husbands and some don’t even like them very much, but Keith and I are really close.
Married for 44 years: Keith and Rhae say their relationship is now more about companionship
'I don't worry that Chris will stray if I don't make love to him - he's too much of a gentleman'‘We’ve had some wonderful trips to China, Australia, America, Canada and Fiji. We go on fishing trips together and love gardening - we’re great companions.’The Elliotts have a grown-up daughter and Rhae, a retired chief administrator, says the irony is not lost on her that, in her younger years as a working mother, she often felt too tired and stressed to fulfil her husband’s desires.‘But we’ve gone without sex for so long now, I wouldn’t want Keith to try Viagra,’ she says. ‘Our relationship has morphed into companionship, and I think to have sex now would be embarrassing.‘We’re used to seeing one another naked, when we undress or are in the bath, but if Keith made advances now it would be like getting intimate with my brother, or best friend. Just not right, somehow.’
Janice Hiller, consultant clinical psychologist at London’s Tavistock Centre for relationships, counsels hundreds of couples a year and says the death of intimacy in marriage is the reason most people seek help.‘I’m sure many more don’t sign up for counselling but make a choice to stay together without sex,’ she says. ‘It often starts when parents of young children start seeing their partner as a parent rather than a love object. We have evolved to do that, but the danger is that some people get over-preoccupied with that role, making it awkward to start having sex again.’While Charlotte Everiss acknowledges that she was traumatised by events surrounding her ectopic pregnancy, she says that she and Chris feel no need for counselling.‘We don’t feel the need for a sexual relationship to prove we have a solid marriage,’ she says. ‘Having our family over for Sunday lunch makes us just as happy these days.‘And I don’t worry that Chris will stray if I don’t make love to him - he’s too much of a gentleman for that.’
Death knell: Lack of intimacy can lead to the breakdown of many marriages (posed by models)
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