The Gemara (in Kesubos 63a) says, “When Rabbi Akiva returned, he brought twelve thousand students with him. As he approached his home, he heard a certain old man saying to [his wife], ‘Until when will you lead a life of living widowhood?’ She answered him, ‘If he would listen to me, he would sit in the beis medrash another twelve years.’ Hearing this, [R’ Akiva] said to himself, ‘I am acting with my wife’s permission.’ He went back and sat another twelve years in the beis medrash…”.
Being that a husband has a biblical obligation to have marital relations with his wife (onah), I assume that for the first 12 years R' Akiva received an exemption from his wife so that he did not need to return home to perform this mitzvah. I further assume that R' Akiva took his wife's (overheard) statement as a continuation of this exemption. I would like to know if any sources discuss this and if such an exemption (ie, not explicitly stated, but perhaps implied) can be learned out l'halacha from this aggadah.
If there are any sources which contradict my assumptions and offer other reasons why R' Akiva was exempt from this mitzvah (or state that he came home to perform it at certain periods) I would accept those as an answer as well.