“What do you do when your spouse wants to take a sex break?”

“How do you stay patient during a sexual break?”

“Is it okay to take a break from having sex?”

“When does a sex break become a sexless marriage?”

“What is a sex fast”

“How long should a sex fast last”

“What to do when your spouse proposes a sex fast”

In my Marriage Preparation university class, my professor mentioned that often times therapists will encourage couples to purposefully take a break or fast from sex: to not have sex for a certain amount of time. I was so confused. Isn’t it a bad thing to avoid having sex with your partner?

A “sex break” or sex fasts is when a couple decides that for a certain amount of time they are not going to have sex with each other.

For us, a sex break doesn’t mean we stop being intimate or emotionally pull away. In fact, sexual breaks can sometimes allow a little room for desire and passion to grow. Instead of sex feeling dutiful or mundane, it can make the idea forbidden or exciting again.

When we decide to have sex fast, I like to build desire by slyly touching each other or making out, without the pressure of wondering if we are leading up to sex. We will set aside a week where we aren’t going to have sex. Throughout that week, I will flirt with, touch, tease, etc. my spouse and let him know how excited I am to have sex again. The pressure builds until the big payoff. And hey, if you don’t make it until the end of the week, that’s just fine too ;). Other couples may do it differently, and that’s totally fine too! The important thing is that both spouses are aware of the “rules” and that the ultimate goal is to strengthen the relationship.

That being said, there is absolutely no room in a marriage for denying sex as means of bartering or as punishment for unwanted behavior. Let’s talk a little bit more about good and bad reasons to take a sexual break.

Harmful Reasons for taking a Sex Break or Sex Fast

Let’s explore some reasons why a sex break could be harmful for your relationship.

  1. Bartering: Sex should never be a bid to get what you want. A lot of spouses, especially if they are the lower desire spouse, will withhold sex as a way to get control of the relationship. They withhold until they get something that they want. This type of thinking usually stems from the idea of, “well if I’m going to give them sex, I should get something out of it”. Sex between a husband and wife should be used to build intimacy and love going both ways. Bartering with sex is communicating to your partner that you do not value sex as a form of intimacy, and therefore has no room in a healthy relationship.
  2. Punishment: Sex should also never be withheld as a punishment for undesirable behavior. As mentioned above, sex should be used to build intimacy and love between spouses. Refusing to give sex as a punishment says that you care about that behavior more than growing that bond with your spouse. Please note: if your spouse has done something to upset you or has turned you off sex you should not feel obligated to have “duty sex” just because they want it. Talk with your spouse, let them know how what they did affected you, and make a plan to work through it. Don’t seek to communicate your disapproval by withholding sex. 
  3. Not Wanting to Put in the Effort: Making time and a space to have sex can be hard. It takes a lot of effort to plan and orchestrate a sexual encounter. Especially for a lower desire spouse, this can feel tiring, stressful, and like just one more thing to do. However, taking a sex break simply because you no longer feel like putting in the effort will not help this state of affairs. Remember, a good sex life is always going to take effort. 

Helpful Reasons for a Sexual Break

Alright, so know that we’ve gone through the “why nots”, let’s talk about the healthy “whys” of taking a sexual break/fast. 

  1. Rekindling Desire: In a married relationship, sex can become mechanical, tiring, stressful, or just boring.. Taking a break from sex can actually help revive passion in a marriage, if done with the right attitude. Instead of taking a break from intimacy, take sex off the table and look for other ways to express your love. Go back to a time when sex wasn’t expected and you felt in love, like perhaps when you were first dating/flirting. 
  2. Creating Healthy Habits: Sometimes, bad habits can form in our sexual relationships. Partners can become “needy for sex” or too dependent on the validation that sex provides to prop up one’s sense of self. In these cases, a sexual break can be a good opportunity to step back and regroup. Talk with your spouse about your bad habits. Talk about the new habits you want to form. Take this opportunity to remember the emotional and spiritual connection you have with your spouse. Although physical connection is important, it should not be the only foundation of a marriage. Take a break when your priorities feel out of line. 
  3. Healing: Unfortunately, sometimes we or our spouse gets hurt. Physically, emotionally, spiritually, events in our lives can leave deep scars that taint our perception of sex. This includes everything from a particularly painful delivery to being abused. Whether or not a person was hurt by their spouse specifically, trauma like this can make it very hard to want to have sex. As a spouse, be patient with your hurt partner. It can be even more damaging for a person if they feel like they are required to have sex, even when it brings up painful memories. Take a break. Communicate your needs with your spouse. Seek therapy or counseling if that’s what it takes to feel better again. Trust in God and His power to heal. 
  4. Practical Breaks: Lastly, sometimes circumstances just prevent you from having sex. Long distance relationships are a big reason for couples taking a break from sex. After having a baby, women cannot have penetrative sex for weeks and sometimes months. My husband and I just spent a few months traveling Europe, where we would sometimes stay for weeks in hostels *. Not a safe place to have sex. In these cases, we can make the most of the situation and use this forced break as a time to build intimacy in other forums (such as emotional closeness). We can also use our resources to flirt and build desire for the day we can have sex again.

The key to a helpful sexual break is communication. Talk with your spouse about the reason for the break, and what you hope to get out of it. Don’t confuse a sex break as an effort break. Seek to increase intimacy in other ways. 

All of this being said, sometimes spouses find themselves in a sexual break they did not ask for with no end in sight. A sexless marriage can be a big struggle for a couple. In fact, it can feel hopeless. My advice is don’t give up! Communication is still the key. Talk with your partner about their hang-ups. Get educated on the body and the sexual experience. Talk about desires, fears, and start slow. Don’t be afraid to ask for help and seek coaching or therapy when needed. A great resource for sexless marriages is the book The Sex Starved Marriage by Dr. Michele Weiner Davis.

In conclusion, a sex fast can actually help your sexual relationship! Talk with your spouse about your expectations, and use the Intimately Us and Just Between Us apps to flirt, fantasize, and build desire during your break. If a sexual break is needed due to hurt or lack of desire, reach out to our fantastic coach Dan Purell for help!

Thank you for reading! For more ideas to strengthen your relationship, follow our podcast Get Your Marriage On!

Written by Amanda Severson with Get Your Marriage On!