Some shudder just hearing it — the sexless marriage. Yet before they know it, married people and cohabitators alike find themselves erotically exiled, as if put on an involuntary sex diet.

Most people have no clue how sex got banished from the bedroom. The million-dollar question they pose to sex experts (like yours truly): How do we escape this four-post desert island and begin feasting on each other once more?

These couples are smart to be asking. The sooner they start rescue efforts, the sooner they’ll reap the rewards of a renewed sex life. The more sex couples have, the more happiness reported, according to Denise Donnelly, associate professor of sociology at Georgia State University.

Complimentary research findings indicate that couples in sexless unions are less happy than those having sex.

A sexless union may come about for many reasons, including a combination of any of the following. It could be that:

— A couple never had a lot of sex to begin with;

— A specific event led to no sex, i.e., the birth of a child or an affair;

— Lovers are just plain bored with each other or their lovemaking;

— Lovers are juggling too much between family, career, and other life demands;

— One or both are plagued with low sex drive due to physiological, mental, or relational factors;

— Lovers are taking each other for granted, are apathetic, and not making sexual intimacy a priority, especially when consumed with their own career or schooling;

— Sex other than for procreation is seen as wrong and hence guilt-provoking;

— A partner is uncomfortable with sex or his/her body and/or sexual skills;

— The partner interested in sex fears hurt or rejection after having been turned down -- and many times at that;

— One partner views sex as a bargaining tool and reserves it for just that;

— Partners are unhappy with each other and staying together because they are expected to or because they have kids.

So how does one resuscitate the sex in their relationship? By taking care of the sex bit, one must attend to other matters as well. An action plan should include the following:

1. Be introspective. You need to start with yourself, asking some tough questions on how your relationship got to this point. Items to consider include: What does the lack of sex indicate? Could it be that you’re not a good match? Has your relationship reached its expiration date? Or, is there a much bigger problem to tackle outside of the bedroom?

2. Talk about your sex life and relationship. This matter can be very difficult to discuss, but is well worth the effort since couples who talk about sex tend to have healthier marriages. In doing so, you want to raise awareness without blaming or sulking. Simply point out what’s going on without issuing ultimatums or making threats. Let your partner know that you want to talk about what can be done to fix things.

3. Only worry about yourselves. You are in this for you, and you do not need to keep up with the Joneses. Don’t allow yourselves to feel abnormal or unhealthy for not having sex, as society tends to make us feel. Don’t put pressure on yourselves when it comes to having an “ideal” amount of sex.

4. Plan for a break. Get sex off of the back burner by making time for it on a regular basis. While the occasional vacation can be just what the doctor ordered, seek to take time off from work (and send any kids away) to be alone at home. Balance this with efforts to connect outside of the bedroom and in non-sexual ways.

5. Seek professional help to establish or re-establish communication. Working with a therapist or counselor is great to establish a safe environment. Such a professional can help you to reach your goals, examine the reasons for a lack of motivation, and face past and present influences that are contributing to the situation.

By dealing with the sex specifically, a sex therapist can further assist you in overcoming obstacles, strategizing, and dealing with issues like sexual trauma, fears about sex, and how to have better sex.

As you take steps to get to a better place, it’s important to realize that couples can be happy without sex since it’s only one form of intimacy. Being intimate in ways beyond the bedroom is perfectly fine. Yet the importance of sex is not to be underestimated.

In a 1993 study, Donnelly found that those in a sexless marriage are likelier to have thought about divorce than those in sexually active marriages. Research published in the Journal of Sex Research in 2001 further reported that those who are involuntarily celibate frequently experience anger, self-doubt, frustration and depression.

Such data should be plenty of incentive to end this sexual starvation. Let it go any longer, and one becomes weaker with greater frustration, feelings of isolation, and lower self-esteem. Why suffer when some relationship CPR could breathe new life back into your relationship?

Dr. Yvonne K. Fulbright is a sex educator, relationship expert, columnist and founder of Sexuality Source Inc. She is the author of several books including, "Touch Me There! A Hands-On Guide to Your Orgasmic Hot Spots."

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