Lack of Sexual Intimacy: What It Means and How to Deal with It
Out of the blue, your partner has lost all interest in sex. Or perhaps your partner has always had a lower sex drive, but lately, the gap has become even more pronounced.
When your partner is not sexually responsive, it is easy to assume the worst. You may fear that your partner is no longer attracted to you, is no longer in love with you, or is having an affair. While these are (unfortunately) possible explanations, a host of other, less dramatic reasons could account for the sexual shutout.
Most couples have differing “baseline” sex drives—the frequency of sex which, under normal conditions, each partner considers ideal. Although men are generally perceived as having higher sex drives than women, this is not universally the case.
Finding someone who wants precisely the same amount of sex as you—at all times—is unrealistic. If your partner’s sex drive and your own are more or less equivalent, try to bear with him/her during any sexual lulls, lulls which could be caused by any number of factors. But if the frequency has abruptly deviated from former levels or your sex drives are dramatically different, you may want to have a candid conversation with your partner about what is causing his or her lack of sex drive.
Some possible reasons for lack of sexual intimacy:
Lack of non-sexual intimacy
For women in particular, emotional intimacy is often closely tied to sexual intimacy—if there is excessive conflict or emotional disconnect in the relationship, a woman may shut down sexually. The male sex drive can also be impacted by similar dynamics—if a man feels consistently antagonized or underappreciated, he may pull away sexually. A good rule of thumb: the stronger your relationship is as a whole, the better your chances of a satisfying sex life.
Stress or exhaustion
Physical and emotional exhaustion—from work, child care or other factors—can drain both men and women. To the extent that you are able to help your partner cope with his or her stressors—by assuming additional work on your end or by being supportive—your partner is likely to rebound more quickly and have more sexual energy.
Real or perceived rejection
Often, one partner feels they always initiate sex. Over time, they may begin to feel like their partner is sexually indifferent. Even if you do not actively reject your partner’s advances, lack of sexual enthusiasm or reciprocity can signal to your partner that you are merely consenting to sex, rather than actually interested in it.
Body image issues
Feeling physically desirable helps reduce inhibitions and makes sex more appealing. Weight gain, aging and pregnancy can impact self-image—so can low self-esteem or body image issues. For women, flattering lingerie and good (usually dim) lighting can help. But both men and women can feel self-conscious about their looks. Be sure to compliment your partner’s appearance both in sexual and nonsexual contexts. For example, if your husband or wife looks particularly good when they are getting dressed for work, be sure to mention it. This reinforces that you truly find them attractive and that your compliments are not merely a ploy to get them into bed. If your partner has gained a significant amount of weight recently, commit to getting healthy together—just avoid making them feel that they have to measure up (or down) in order to be attractive to you.
Lack of non-sexual affection
When affection is only demonstrated in the context of sex, women in particular can feel used. Infuse your relationship with plenty of affection apart from sex or even foreplay. Casual hugs, kisses and nonsexual massages can help bring you closer together.
Substance abuse or addiction
Alcoholism is a common culprit behind diminished sexual interest and performance in men. Some prescription medications, even when used properly, can also have unfortunate sexual side effects. Be aware of these side effects and encourage your partner to seek help for any unhealthy dependencies.
For couples battling infertility, sex can quickly begin to feel like a chore and an unproductive one at that. Sex can feel unromantic and regimented. The emotional toll can further diminish one’s interest in sex. No matter how badly you want children, try not to fixate on fertility to the extent that sex becomes merely a discipline.
Poor sexual technique or sexual performance issues
Sorry to say it, but if you aren’t bringing your “A game” to the bedroom on a regular basis, it will likely diminish your partner’s sexual enthusiasm. For women, orgasms are often difficult to attain through sexual intercourse alone—if need be, find alternate means to make sure she gets there. Erectile dysfunction and premature ejaculation are also common, but manageable, obstacles in achieving mutually satisfying sex. While “how-to” tips on sexual performance abound, often the best way to make sure your partner is sexually satisfied is to simply ask what does—and doesn’t—feel good. It can be awkward to discuss and may leave you feeling exposed, but it is the surest path to clarifying what is and isn’t working.
Chronic depression can lead to reduced interest in sex; make sure your partner receives the treatment and support he or she needs to cope with his or her depression.
Sexual abuse is all too common in our society and can leave lasting scars. These issues, if not dealt with, can spill over into an otherwise healthy relationship. If your partner has not already done so, encourage him or her to process through these issues with a licensed professional.
A woman’s hormone levels naturally fluctuate throughout the month, making her somewhat more or less inclined towards sex at various points. Pregnancy, lactation and menopause can also impact hormone levels.
Shame about sexual interactions
Individuals who have engaged in sexual activity that runs contrary to their personal values, comfort level or religious convictions may feel ashamed. The person may be haunted by past (or present) decisions to the extent that it impacts his or her sex life. Talk openly and non-judgmentally with your partner regarding any value-based considerations that could be involved.
Physical constraints or limitations
Back problems, chemotherapy, chronic pain, and post-pregnancy complications are just a few of the physical conditions that can affect your partner’s desire and ability to have sex. Be understanding of these limitations and find creative and sustainable means to engage with each other sexually.
This possibility is listed last because, too often, it is the first assumption people make. Jumping to this conclusion—and vocalizing it—without first considering other explanations can damage your relationship. It is possible, however, that if your partner is sexually distant he or she may be having an affair, or at least considering one. In a survey of men who cheat, however, lack of sex with one’s partner was not found to be the best predictor of an affair. Instead, the study by M. Gary Neuman revealed that time spent away from home was the best predictor of infidelity. If you feel certain that your partner is having an affair, ask—just be aware that he or she will likely respond defensively, particularly if there is no clear “evidence” of infidelity.
There is no one-size-fits-all explanation for a lack of sexual desire, and no surefire remedy. The best solution for determining what may be affecting your partner’s sex drive is to communicate with your partner about what factors he or she thinks may be at work … and what you can do to help make sex more fulfilling and desirable for both of you.