You haven't truly lived until you've gone through a dry spell. Something about a period of unintentional celibacy and singledom brings your existence into sharp relief. Or, at least, that's what Josh Hartnett tried to teach us in 40 Days, 40 Nights.
But now, with all the reports of teens drinking less underage, taking drugs and smoking less often, and generally turning into a group of woke 40-year-olds by the time they've hit 25, we're starting to see sexlessness seep into relationships too. An August study found higher rates of sexual inactivity among millennials in the US, running against the grain of the "hookup culture" think-pieces that have tried to demonise the place where online dating and casual sex collide.
Dry spells aren't just a single person cliche, it seems, so we spoke to a few people about why they've ended up in sexless relationships and how it's going.
"I'd be more up for it if he were better in bed"
I would be more up for it than I already am if the guy I'm with right now was better in bed. Any time I go round to his, the foreplay's always pretty shit, so I've started to make excuses. He never goes down on me, either. I was shocked when we first had sex: he'd been in a long-term relationship, so just assumed he'd be a lot more experienced. I chalked it up to me having some really great sexual partners in the past, but I can't even bring it up as his ex cheated on him and he just can't take criticism. He even cried when I tried to break up with him. Now I just actively avoid having sex with him. I'm not really sure how long this can go on for.
— Laura, 24
"If I'm honest, I don't miss sex that much"
I lost my job around a year ago and then put on shedloads of weight, so sex was the last thing on my mind. My boyfriend had relocated not long after, and I saw him every other weekend, so not sleeping together wasn't too much an issue at first.
But we've barely slept together since and, if I'm totally honest, I don't miss it all that much. I've never had a particularly high sex drive as it is. Now I make excuses not to see him as much, as I know he wants to have sex. And if I do, I've tried to time it on my period. I can't get away with it entirely, though - there have been times when I've gone through with it just to avoid another argument, but then I end up feeling resentful. He occasionally brings it up whenever we fight about something like the dishes, so I know he's a lot more bothered about it than he lets on.
But honestly? I'm just not into it. I don't think I fancy him as much as I used to. There have been a few times where I've been tempted, but it was never with him – maybe a co-worker or a guy mate. The guilt got the better of me, though.
It isn't enough for me to finish with him – at least not now. We've been through a lot together and I couldn't start over again. Not to mention that I doubt any other guy would willingly put up with months of never sleeping together. I'm hoping I'll get back to the point where I want to, but will it happen anytime soon? I doubt it.
— Steph*, 25
"Nowadays I'm lucky to get a handjob"
I couldn't believe it when I first got with Emma*. I'd known her for a while, and we'd occasionally get together when we were drunk, but she'd recently come out of a shit relationship and said she wasn't really looking for anything else. To my surprise (and all my mates' surprise), she did. We made it official a few months later.
We had a great sex life at first. Sometimes she'd even be the one to initiate it. But after we finished uni and she moved back home, our sex lives become unexciting and basically non-existent. Sometimes I'm lucky enough to get a handjob. I know Emma struggles with depression so I've tried not to take it personally, but you don't feel too great about yourself when your own girlfriend doesn't want to have sex with you.
I've got my own place now, but whenever Emma stays round and I've tried to get closer to her it doesn't really go anywhere. I wouldn't complain if she instigated things a bit more, but I guess I can wait if it means still being with her.
— Jack*, 24
"I might just not be that keen on sex with him"
Most of my friends are engaged or married now, and it's no secret that I've felt the pressure to settle down. I met my current boyfriend on a dating app. He ticks all the boxes on paper: he's got a great job, dresses well and it's great in every way, except for the fact we've barely slept together since we first got together. I do feel guilty, but there's never been a time when I've really been massively into it.
That said, I did meet a guy a couple of years younger at a bar about a month ago. We spent weeks flirting with each other on WhatsApp and finally pinned down a date to do the deed. It fell through at the last minute, but it did make me realise that it's not that I'm not interested in sex; it might be that I'm not that into him. I should end it, but I've got a long winter stretching ahead of me and, if I'm honest, I don't fancy spending it alone.
— Georgie, 26
"We never went 'all the way' – he was married"
Clichéd as it is, I fell for a married man. Although we "dated" for six months or so, we never went the whole way. As crazy as it sounds, I really did think that would have been one step too far. He was OK with that and we used to do other stuff, which suited me fine.
Ultimately, a sexless relationship just isn't going to work for me – it ended up causing a massive strain on the relationship as we were both constantly horny and I wasn't going to budge. And clearly he wasn't OK with it: I ended it when I went through his phone one dinner and found him sexting no less than five girls. I'm so glad I held off.
— Olivia*, 22
* Some names have been changed
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