13 Surprising Reasons Your Partner Doesn’t Want Sex
If your spouse is rarely in the mood for sex, there might be something more going on than you'd expect. Here are some possible mood-killing culprits.
Considering that money troubles are a top cause of a breakup (here are the other top clues you might be headed for divorce), it’s not a surprise that financial issues can cause rifts in even the most harmonious couples. “The results of unaddressed financial stressors in a relationship can cause negative feelings towards your partner, fear and anxiety, broken trust, depression symptoms and a lack of sexual desire,” says Crystal Hollenbeck, EdD, licensed mental health counselor in Orlando, Florida. “Combining finances, creating a budget, and agreeing as a couple on financial goals will increase the sense of closeness, trust, and security within the relationship.”
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Too many distractions
These days, it’s hard to sit on the couch and watch a TV show with your partner or go out to dinner at a nice restaurant without looking at your phone every five minutes. You don’t need an expert to tell you that those tiny screens can drive a seriously big wedge between couples. “If your answer is your phone or tablet and not your partner, it’s time to make some changes,” says Celeste Holbrook, PhD, sexual health consultant in Fort Worth, Texas. “Plug your phone in the kitchen and (gasp) get a regular alarm clock—even an extra 10 minutes connecting with your partner sans electronic devices can give you a great boost in your sex life and relationship.”
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Tension in the relationship
Wherever the conflict is coming from, whether he’s neglecting to pick up his socks off the floor or she’s forgetting to fish out her hair from the shower drain, if not properly addressed it can cause a rift between couples. “Any kind of tension that builds up and smolders is the death of sex,” says Claudia Six, PhD, San Francisco-based sexologist and author of Erotic Integrity: How to Be True to Your Sexuality. “You have to address the resentments, resolve the conflicts, apologize sincerely and learn to communicate more effectively.” It’s having these difficult conversations, she adds, that have the most potential to fuel your sex life.
Lack of exercise
When you get your heart rate up and start sweating mid-workout, your body is releasing what’s known as endorphins, or feel-good chemicals in your brain that put you in a better mood, according to McGill University experts. This alone can make you more interested in hitting the sheets with your partner, coupled with an increase in body confidence thanks to your hard-earned workout. According to a 2018 study, even small bouts of exercise “drastically” improved sexual functioning in participants. So what are you waiting for? Get moving! Even better, work out with your partner so you both enjoy the benefits.
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If one or both partners were unfaithful or micro-cheated, recovering a sexual connection can be difficult. “Whether it is the man or the woman who was cheating, the trust, which is such an important part of the intimate connection, has been eroded,” explains Wendi L. Dumbroff, a New Jersey-based licensed professional counselor. “This makes it difficult to fall back into each other’s arms.” She recommends couples therapy, but cautions that is not always enough to help couples to resume a sexual relationship. “Slowly reconnecting in ways that feel safe for the partner who was cheated on can begin to heal and create intimacy between them once again,” she adds.
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Lack of body confidence
No matter your age, pants size or weight, not feeling confident is a major obstacle in the way to great sex, experts say. “Couples and sex therapy are useful to help partners communicate more freely around sexual issues, as well as helping to ensure that they can enjoy the sex that they do have,” says Dumbroff. “Additionally, practicing mindfulness exercises and learning to be present in the moment is very important to really being able to fully engage in a positive sexual experience.”
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Many medications can cause low libido or have side effects like vaginal dryness. Antihistamines can dry up all your membranes, from your nose to your vagina, explains Dr. Holbrook. “You may be feeling interested in sex, but need to grab some lubricant to make sure it is comfortable.” Always check in with your doctor about side effects before starting a medication and take some time to figure out any necessary workarounds, whether it’s lubricant, extra time in foreplay, or sex prior to taking your meds for the day, adds Dr. Holbrook.
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Religious or personal beliefs
Dumbroff explains that although someone may not be consciously aware of why they don’t want sex, they may carry learned messages from childhood that can penetrate deeply and show up in a lack of desire or even an aversion to sex. “Taking detailed sexual histories and learning about a person’s family of origin can help to unpack these beliefs and messages and bring them into the light,” she says. “A person may then be freer to explore their sexuality and can begin to create a new narrative around sex and what it means to be a sexual being.”
It’s not talked about much, but it’s more common than you may think, according to University of Wisconsin experts. The condition affects approximately 10% of men per decade of life (i.e., 40% of men in their 40s, 50 percent of men in their 50s, 60% of men in their 60s).
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“Men would rather avoid a sexual encounter because of what they see as their ‘non-working penis,’ than be embarrassed with a woman—even a significant other,” Dumbroff explains. “It may just be performance anxiety because of the one time they were unable to get or to keep an erection.” She recommends men first be checked by a doctor, especially if they’re suddenly unable to get an erection, as it may be the result of a genitourinary issue or a cardiovascular problem. Sex therapy can also help couples expand their definition of sex past the act of penetration, she adds. After addressing underlying issues, medication can work well for erectile dysfunction.
They want to spice things up
“Sometimes people realize that they may not be turned on by ‘vanilla sex,’ but rather that they are in fact kinky in their sexual preferences,” explains Dumbroff. She says this can spell trouble if their partner is not interested. “If the kinky person needs to have that in their life and cannot meet their needs with porn alone, a discussion about the possibility of finding it outside the primary relationship may be necessary,” she adds. Have an open conversation about each others’ likes and dislikes.
Sexual pain often prevents people, especially women, from wanting to engage in sex, according to Dumbroff. There are several reasons this very real pain strikes during intercourse, which is why she recommends both women and men seek medical treatment if they’re experiencing discomfort. “Some are definitely physical in their origin—an example is post-menopausal women suffering from dryness or women who have undergone chemotherapy, which can also create dryness and changes in the vaginal mucosa,” she says. “Lubricants and certain medical treatments can help with dryness as well as pelvic-floor exercises.”
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Past sexual abuse
People with histories of sexual abuse—men and women alike—may avoid sex, explains Dumbroff. “Many times individuals have never even connected their personal history of abuse with their issues around their desire for sex, but the impact can be very powerful,” she says. “This most definitely requires couple and sex therapy, and the partner with the history of abuse needs to have control over the pace of what happens.” Learn what this woman managed to do after years of sexual abuse.
Lack of hygiene and etiquette
Whether you’ve been with your partner for just a few months or decades, self-care is an essential piece of the sexual desire puzzle. “Practicing good dental and bodily hygiene and keeping your hair groomed (including the vaginal area, beards and mustaches, underarms and legs and giving attention to your hair style and maintenance) are areas couples must give attention to throughout the entire duration of the relationship and not only when you are dating or have special occasions to attend,” says Dr. Hollenbeck. “Common complaints in this area are partners being turned off by gas, burping, seeing their partner dress up for work but not when they are spending time together, and the lack of bathroom privacy.” Communication is paramount when it comes to resolving these issues, as it’s impossible for your partner to know something is bothering you if you don’t tell him or her.
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- Crystal Hollenbeck, EdD, licensed mental health counselor in Orlando, FL
- Celeste Holbrook, PhD, sexual health consultant in Fort Worth, TX
- McGill University: What are endorphins?
- Claudia Six, PhD, sexologist and author of Erotic Integrity: How to Be True to Your Sexuality, San Francisco, CA
- Wendi L. Dumbroff, a licensed professional counselor, Madison, NJ
- UW Health: Erectile Dysfunction