Byline: JUDITH WOODS
Helen and Mike have been married for 11 years and have been celibate for six of them.
But they're perfectly happy. Or, as Helen points out, they're still together, so they must be - mustn't they?
'After our two sons were born we just fell out of the habit of having sex,' says Helen, 44. 'It took us almost a year to conceive our second child, and I found it was a relief to stop because it had become a means to an end rather than a pleasure. I'm always tired and I don't feel any urge for sex now. Mike used to grumble about wanting to make love, but he doesn't try to initiate it any more.
I assume he's happy because he never mentions it.' We live in a world where we are bombarded with sexual imagery in advertising, music and fashion. In our overheated culture, sex is no longer a straightforward expression of desire, it has become a potent symbol of youth and vigour, success and personal fulfilment. Against this backdrop, it's little wonder that sexless marriage is a taboo subject.
Yet recent research suggests that one couple in 20 is celibate, rising to one in ten in the 45-54 age group.
Sexlessness, it seems, is the unacknowledged reality of modern marriage.
So is it possible to be happy in a celibate union? Can a couple connect on an emotional level without physical intimacy? And as long as one partner still experiences sexual urges, can they ever truly be content with a chaste kiss good night?
'A happy celibate relationship is theoretically possible, but extremely uncommon,' says Professor Janet Reibstein, lecturer in psychology at the University of Exeter and author of The Best …