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What to Do When Your Partner Doesn’t Want to Be Intimate

What to Do When Your Partner Doesn't Want to Be Intimate

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When you want sex and your partner doesn’t – it can hurt. It can feel confusing, scary, and like you have no idea what’s going on. In this article, I’m breaking down what to do when your partner doesn’t want to be intimate in four essential steps. All based on my experience as a sex therapist and intimacy coach, specialising in low and mismatched libidos. 

But before we dig into the what – let’s first understand why you and your partner have different needs.

Because one of the keys to fixing a situation like this is understanding where your partner is coming from. And for them to know where you’re coming from, too. That’s the only right way to deal with your partner’s sudden lack of libido (or persistent lack of desire).

“I want sex but my partner doesn’t”: What it might mean 

Research shows that there is a consistent link between lower relationship satisfaction and sexual satisfaction in couples with greater mismatched sex drives.

So, is it any wonder when our partner doesn’t want to be intimate with us that we believe it’s because they’ve fallen out of love? Not exactly.

But while it’s a common assumption, it’s important to be careful when drawing this conclusion. Because a lowered or non-existent sex drive doesn’t have to mean the end. In fact, this is one of the most prevalent sex myths out there. 

Yes, low sex drive could mean your partner no longer wants to be with you – but there are also dozens upon dozens of other reasons. These range from the biological and medical, all the way to the cultural and social. 

Some common biological causes of low libido are

  • Menopause or postpartum
  • Hormonal birth control
  • Diabetes or thyroid issues
  • Interference of antidepressants

Some common psychological reasons are

  • Feeling unattractive
  • Being stressed (in life in general but also about sex itself)
  • Sex is uncomfortable or painful
  • Struggling to be present during sex

Some common relationship causes are

  • A lack of emotional connection (with your partner but even with yourself)
  • Constant arguing (in general but also about sex)
  • Struggles to talk about sex
  • Having sex you don’t want to have

Some common cultural and social reasons are

  • Feeling shame about what turns you on 
  • Lack of sex education 
  • Negative (possibly religious) messaging about sex during your upbringing
  • Worried you’re having less sex than others

Getting a greater understanding of all the possible (multiple) factors at play is a good place to start. This breeds curiosity, which will help you get out of your head and anxiety, and into a problem-solving state. 

Because there are always reasons when someone stops wanting sex. You just need some help to work them out.  


What to Do When Your Partner Doesn't Want to Be Intimate Sex Fresh Start Workbook Overview 1

My free resource The Desire Test helps you take that first step towards an increased sex drive, by understanding your decreased desire. 

Take the 10-page assessment quiz, get the answers you need to understand what’s standing in the way of your desire, and get free sex and relationship tips directly to your inbox. You can unsubscribe at any time.

You can’t make your partner want more sex

In my practice over the years I’ve been asked the same question over and over again “how can I get my partner to want sex?” – and the truth of the matter is – you can’t. 

Yes, what you do in your relationship matters. And yes, as mentioned above, your relationship has a large impact on your partner’s desire. For instance, if they’re always left to pick up after you at home, or only get kisses when you want sex, this is definitely something to change.

But at the end of the day, it’s not just about what you do – it’s about what they do, too.

They’re responsible for their desire, just like you’re responsible for yours.

And this is an empowering place for them to be in because once they know this, they can kickstart their desire (if they want to!). 

Because here’s the thing – your partner might not even want to want sex anymore. If this is the case, it won’t matter if you keep making romantic gestures or giving them gifts. If they truly don’t want to desire sex, nothing you do will change that for them. 

That being said, don’t give up just yet. Because even if you can’t turn their sex drive on – there’s still plenty you can do in a situation like this!

4 tips on what to do when your partner doesn’t want to be intimate

1. Work out why it’s frustrating

Step 1 is working out why your partner’s lack of sex drive is so hard on you. While the easiest answer might be “because I want sex and can’t have it with anyone else”, it’s usually deeper than this. 

Sex isn’t just about sex – it’s about everything and therefore has a large impact on our overall mental well-being.

When you and your partner are stuck in a pursuer-distancer pattern where you pursue them for sex and they only seem to get turned off, it’s not “blue balls” or “blue vulva” that’s making it hard. 

It’s hard because it brings forth something deeply emotional and painful. Maybe you feel:

  • Unloved and unwanted because you keep getting rejected
  • Invalidated because sex is the most powerful way for you to feel seen by them
  • Unattractive and unsexy because they’ve stopped looking at you “that way”

Put into words how this lack of intimacy makes you feel and why. Once you know this, communicating your needs to your partner will likely be more productive. Because they’ll be less likely to think it’s “just” about sex and understand the deeper ramifications this is having. 

2. Work out what you need

Step 2 is getting clear on what you really need to feel better in this situation.  Because again – your first response is likely to be: sex. But is it really sex itself or is it sexual things?

Is it a look or a touch? Is it a compliment every now and then? Is it the way they say no that could make all the difference? 

Sex is a joint activity, meaning both of you need to be on board with sex for it to happen.

You don’t want them having sex for your sake. This could turn into sex feeling like, or becoming, a non-consensual experience. 

So, ask yourself, if sex isn’t on the table, what are some other ways I could feel more loved and attractive?

Think of them as stepping stones towards a more active sex life. This will help lower the bar for your partner (who is likely feeling pressure surrounding sex right now), and make it easier for them to meet you where you’re at. 

Once they do that – you’ll be creating a positive cycle in your relationship. One that, over time, will hopefully lead to more sex. 

3. Put yourself in your partner’s shoes

Step 3 of what to do when your partner doesn’t want to be intimate, is to put yourself in their shoes for a moment.

If you’re really honest with yourself, what are some potential reasons they may not be feeling into it anymore?

  • Are they turned off by something recently? 
  • Have they been carrying the mental load at home for weeks, months, years, or decades? If so, maybe they’re tired and frustrated?
  • Have they recently started antidepressants?

By looking at the list at the beginning of the article of causes of low libido, you may be able to find several possible reasons.

Keep in mind, it’s not always clear to us (or even to our partner), why things are the way they are. But the more you can stay curious and try to think about why they don’t want sex (as opposed to how much you want sex right now), the likelier your conversation with them will go well.

And the more they feel validated and seen – the more they’ll want to validate and see you in the ways you need.

It takes two to tango, after all. 

4. Work out what to say to your partner & how

While I wish I could say there are non-verbal ways of getting around this – there usually aren’t. Why? Because if you’re here reading this chances are you’ve both been doing this dance for a while; you wanting sex and them not wanting it. 

There are roadblocks in the way, and to get past them you (unfortunately) can’t go on a detour. You need to lift them away piece by piece – and this is best done together, in productive conversation. 

When bringing this up with your partner, consider: 

  • An appropriate time: this is usually not in bed right before you go to sleep, but rather, when you’ve both filled up your cup a bit and aren’t stressed or ready to check out mentally.
  • What you’re hoping to get out of the conversation: Are you hoping to feel like you’re both on board to improve your relationship and sex life?

    Do you want them to share openly with you about what’s going on so you can make more sense of it? Would you like this to lead to significant change – if so, what seems realistic and doable for you both?

  • How to communicate it: When you know what you want, why you’re feeling how you’re feeling, and you’ve been able to put yourself in their shoes – communicate all of this.

    Saying “I want more sex”, has likely already been done at this point. So consider other ways of formulating what you want and why it’s important to you (without putting blame on your partner!).

    This “why” piece is crucial because it will help them feel less like “all you want is sex”, and more like there’s a purpose to the sex you want. 

How to create long-term change when your partner stops being intimate

If you’re looking to work on this from the ground up, and truly get to a place where you can make long-term, sustainable change (without falling into the same old patterns time and time again) – professional help is going to be the fastest way there. 

Getting the help of a sex therapist or coach can help you get to a place where your joint sex life feels truly mutually beneficial. Because at the end of the day – this is the only kind of sex you want. 

The only kind of sex worth striving for. 

Where you both knock each other’s metaphoric socks off and feel close in a way that sometimes only sex can offer.  

If you’re ready to take that step, you’re ready for my 9-month online course Re:Desire.

This course is aimed towards those in relationships with low or mismatched libidos and helps you have more and better sex – without the tired old tips like scheduling sex or trying new sex positions.

Based on my Master of Science in Sexology and my extensive experience – it helps you both create stress-free sex and intimacy. To get started, learn more about the online sex drive course, Re:Desire, here.

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