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When your partner doesn’t want sex.

when your partner doesn’t want sex.

Just as everyone is hungry at different times of the day, there's a good chance that your sex drive will rarely coincide with your partner's 100% of the time—it’s just basic human biology.

That said, when your partner doesn’t want sex, it can be easy to take it as a personal rejection, which, understandably, can cause conflict in a relationship. In the moment, it can be easy to feel that your partner turning you down means that they’re not into you—but, likely, that’s not the case at all (so don’t get into your head about it)!

So, what can you do if you feel like your significant other is never in the mood? You might have heard about the guy who kept a spreadsheet of all the times his wife turned down sex—let’s just say that’s a good lesson in how not to handle the situation. 

Here are some more positive ways to address when things feel off. Communication, as always, is incredibly important in intimacy—and that especially goes for times when you feel like you and your partner may be on different pages. 

Respect their boundaries.

Everyone has different boundaries when it comes to sex and intimacy. It might feel more natural or even easier to bring up boundaries with a new partner, but the truth is, boundaries can shift and change over time. That’s why it’s also important to discuss boundaries with long-term partners as well.

When one partner wants sex and the other doesn’t, it could be for any number of reasons. The most important thing is to not pressure the other into anything they’re not comfortable with. 

Try to be objective.

While it’s easy to feel as though you (and your desirability) are the reason that your partner doesn’t want to have sex, that’s rarely the case. There can be many contributing factors to when one partner wants sex and the other doesn’t, including the fact that some people just have higher sex drives than others. Stress can also be a big mood killer, so perhaps your partner is under a lot of pressure at work. Or they may be experiencing a physical issue, such as erectile dysfunction, that they are embarrassed to talk about. Try to keep this in mind before assuming the worst.

If you’re in a long-term relationship, feelings of desire can also ebb and flow. Spontaneous desire—that near-instant need to start making out, immediately—is far more common at the beginning of a relationship. Responsive desire, a term coined by clinical sex therapist Dr. Rosemary Basson in 2001, is far more common in longer relationships, especially amongst women. It boils down to the fact that it may take your partner a little longer to get in the mood; until there’s been some significant wooing, they might not want to have sex.

Admittedly, a lack of desire can also point to relationship issues—though that’s not necessarily the case. If you do think that ongoing communication problems and arguments are seeping into your time in the bedroom, though, it’s important to address the core issues at hand. Have a conversation with your partner, and consider seeing a relationship therapist if you think it might benefit you both.

Talk about it.

As with many issues relating to sex—or life in general, for that matter—talking about it can help a lot. Without being accusatory or emotional (we know that spreadsheet might sound tempting), be open with your partner about the fact that they are regularly turning down sex and ask if there’s anything you can do to help change that. It could be a matter of determining the time of day that they feel most open to sex (they really could just be extra tired in the evenings). Or perhaps they need a little more romancing—like going *out* on a date—to get in the mood. When you want sex and your partner doesn’t, you’re likely on a different page about something. But chances are, you aren’t going to figure out what that something is when you’re in the bedroom. 

Broach the topic while you’re in a comfortable environment for you both, and practice good conversation skills: Use “I” statements to express how you feel without making it seem like you’re blaming your partner for their lack of desire, and earnestly ask them how they feel. 

Try something new.

In long-term relationships, sometimes sex can become a little transactional and monotonous, which could be another reason why your partner doesn’t seem as into it. If that’s the case, our tips on maintaining desire in long-term relationships might help. Sometimes, newness comes in the form of location—whether that’s a trip to the country or into a different room of the house. Believe us when we say that a little shag on the rug can spice things up. 

It can also look like investing a little more time in foreplay. Partnered massage can work well to get your partner in the mood, even if it doesn’t necessarily lead to sex. Using a vibrator with a partner is also a great way to mix things up, and to make sure both parties are sexually satisfied. Remember, too, that orgasm doesn’t have to be the end goal of any sexual experience. Thinking of it as a “nice to have” instead of a “must-have” can help to free up some stress and pressure that you or your partner might be feeling. 

Understand what you each value about intimacy.

Especially as you get older, your definition of intimacy may shift and change—and that’s likely true for your partner as well.  While you may equate intimacy to having sex, they may find more satisfaction in foreplay, like making out and massage. To have a productive conversation with your partner, it’s important to first understand what’s important to you in intimacy, and why: how does it make you feel physically and emotionally? 

It’s helpful to frame your preferences in a positive light, when possible: Saying, “I love when we do this,” is far easier for a person to receive than a statement like, “We never do this anymore.” 

Don’t stress too much.

Ultimately, when your partner doesn’t want sex, it’s important not to stress out too much about it. It can be easy to get wrapped up thinking about how much sex you should be having, or wondering if you’re not having as much sex as you should. But thinking, “Is everyone else having more sex than me?” is not helpful in the slightest. When it comes to intimacy, what’s more critical is that you and your partner are on the same page about what your needs are, and how you can help each other to have your needs met. What goes on between the both of you in the bedroom is no one’s concern but your own.

 

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