It's OK If You Don't Want Sex In Your Relationship Right Now
Kelly Gonsalves is the sex and relationships editor at mindbodygreen. Her writings on sex, relationships, identity, and wellness have appeared at Teen Vogue, Cosmopolitan, The Washington Post, and elsewhere.
Anyone who has ever been in a long-term relationship can probably attest to this golden truth about sex: No matter how great it was at the start of a relationship, things will eventually slow down.
Oftentimes this happens in the form of desire discrepancy—one partner wants to do it, but the other doesn't. One study found four in five people have dealt with mismatched sex drives in their relationship in the last month. So if you're a couple going through this right now, you're by no means alone.
You've probably read plenty of sex advice columns telling you what you need to do next: figure out a way to get the spark back, whether that means switching up your routine or going along with sex you don't really want or otherwise finding a way to rekindle your sex life.
But can we talk about how it's totally OK to not want to have sex for a while?
You are perfectly within reason to want to take a break from sex, even if you're married or dating someone you deeply love.
Why you don't feel like having sex.
"It is absolutely normal to not be in a mood for sex for some periods of time," says Zhana Vrangalova, a prominent sex researcher, New York University professor of human sexuality, and LELO sex expert, in an interview with mbg. "Our level of spontaneous sexual desires—the frequency and intensity with which [we] think about and desire sex without being 'provoked' by something sexual—fluctuates a fair amount over the course of our lives. These fluctuations are due to all sorts of biological, psychological, and relational factors."
Here are a few reasons Vrangalova gives:
- Hormonal fluctuations
- Certain medical conditions
- Being on certain medications ("SSRI-based antidepressants are notorious for affecting sex drive," she notes.)
- Having a new baby
- Lack of sleep
- Depression or anxiety
- Poor body image
- Frustration with or resentment toward your partner
- Lack of communication
- Boredom or dissatisfaction with the kind of sex you're having
"There are so many things that affect our sex drives at different points in our lives that virtually all long-term couples will find themselves in situations where one of them desires sex more than the other some of the time, and about a third of couples will struggle with this for prolonged periods of time or at a level that's distressing to one or both partners," Vrangalova explains. "Expecting for two people who've been living together for a while to both be in the mood for sex at the same time on a regular basis is unrealistic."
Can a relationship survive without sex?
Of course, it totally depends on the couple. "An active sex life is important to relationship satisfaction to the extent that it's important to the people in that relationship. Whether not wanting sex will negatively affect someone's relationship depends entirely on how their partner views their lack of interest and how the couple deals with this sexual desire discrepancy," Vrangalova says.
Some people just aren't that interested in sex, and some studies have found people who aren't sexually active are just as happy as those who have sex all the time. That said, a large body of research also shows a strong link between sexual satisfaction and relationship satisfaction (though definitions of "sexual satisfaction" vary widely from couple to couple), and desire discrepancy, in particular, can increase instability and conflict in a relationship.
But sometimes the particular climate of your relationship is why you don't want sex right now, sex psychotherapist Vanessa Marin adds. "There's a two-way relationship between relationship satisfaction and sexual desire. If you're not feeling desire for your partner, it may be because of other dynamics in your relationship," she tells mbg. "For example, maybe you're feeling like your partner isn't holding up their end of the bargain with the kids."
No matter your reason, your relationship will not implode if you need to take a break from sex for a while. If sex is important to your partner, this break shouldn't be forever—but just like you need to be compassionate about their needs, they need to be compassionate about yours.
"Asking for a break from sex may be difficult for your partner," Marin says. "But there are still plenty of reasons you may want to ask for a break, even though you know it may be difficult. And there are reasons your partner would say 'yes' to taking a break, even though it may be difficult."
What to tell your partner.
If you know you've just not been feeling the heat these days (or have just been having a lot of awkward brushes with your partner in the bedroom lately), it's important to take some time to pause and communicate with your partner about what's going on in your head and heart. This desire discrepancy is not a you-vs.-them problem; the two of you are on the same side, the same team, facing this shared problem together.
"Tell your partner you'd like to talk about something important," Marin explains. "Then work together to create the time and space for that conversation to happen. In the moment, make sure you both feel calm and open. Remind your partner that you love them, and that you have their best interests in mind, both individually and as a couple. Tell your partner why you'd like to take a break and the positive impact that you think it will have on your relationship overall."
As mentioned already, if sex is important to at least one of you (which is usually the case), you probably can't go on forever without ever having sex again. How long can a couple go without having sex? "There's no hard-and-fast rule here, so it's important for you and your partner to keep checking in with each other," Marin says. However long your sex break might be, Vrangalova says to make sure you're finding ways to offset the consequences of not having that physical intimacy, which is often a catalyst for deeper connection, play, expressions of affection, and shared joy.
Once you have a firmer understanding of why you're not in the mood for sex, you and your partner can work on creating a more sexually stimulating environment for both of you, whatever that might mean—more time away from the kids, exploring new kinks or sexual interests, using more vacation days for sex-oriented staycations so you're not stressed about work all the time, working through lingering relationship problems that have been keeping you distant, or whatever it might be. There are also many ways to be sensual without actually having sex, and over time, this might help get you back in the mood for sex.
But in the interim, there's absolutely nothing wrong with you for asking to push the pause button. There's also no rush for you to change anything right away. If you need a breather, then create that space for yourself. Breathe.
Just be honest with your partner in the meantime about how you're feeling and what you need, and keep the lines of communication open and the love freely flowing.
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