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.’
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.’
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 how they have learned to live contented lives without sex.
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.
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.’
What do you think? Do they have a point, or do you think their marriage is headed for disaster? Feel free to share your views.