In a relationship, sex has many benefits and is an activity that enhances the connection between a couple. Sex drive differences can change sex from a wonderful part of a relationship to a source of conflict, and in extreme cases couples fall into a sexless relationship. In part 1 I discuss this idea of a sexless relationship (having sex less than 10 times a years is considered a sexless relationship), some of the causes, dangers, and what you can do if you are in a sexless relationship and you are the one who still wants sex.
People in this situation can try to remain supportive and understanding, while showing their partner that they still love them. But ultimately, there’s not a lot they can do to change the dynamic.
Today I want to want to look at this from the side of the person who is either not wanting, or is having issues with the sexual side of a relationship.
Sex is a good thing in a relationship. It builds connection between the couple, and it gives pleasure to both people. But it requires both partners to be interested and engaged. For the person who is less interested in sex, the question becomes why? I see four main reasons:
- They are not sure they want the relationship anymore. Sex requires openness and connection. If someone has checked out on the relationship, then it stands to reason that they would find sex difficult with their partner. When this happens, this person really needs to make a decision to either commit to the relationship or to get out. Staying in the relationship with a breakdown of intimacy is not fair to anyone
- They see sex as something to be given or taken away. In some relationships people are interested in control and power, and sex can be used as a weapon (and withheld when they are unhappy). A relationship requires empathy and sharing, and these sorts of attitudes are extremely unhealthy. I plan on writing about power and control in the future, but anyone who is interested in power and control is liable to end up bitter, angry and alone if they can’t change their approach to relationships
- They have an immature view of love. If someone sees love as something that should “just happen” rather than something that they need to build into their relationship, then they are bound to end up disappointed by what real sustainable love looks like. This can cause a breakdown of desire and intimacy, making sex difficult
- They have had a breakdown of desire. Sometimes this just happens in long term relationships. Usually the person wishes things were different, but they are having a hard time “feeling” for their partner. Desire is related to hormones, so there can be any number of causes behind this (stress, anxiety, depression, and menopause among them)
My interest is for the people in the latter two scenarios, as these are people who actually do care about the relationship and their partner. In these cases the person genuinely wishes things were different, but they are having a hard time changing the way they feel. I’ll refer to this as simply having a lower drive. For people in the first two scenarios, well, chances are you should get out of the relationship anyhow.
Tips for the Lower Drive Person
For the lower drive person, this is a difficult situation. Hopefully the higher drive person is being considerate and understanding, but ultimately the lower drive person is the one who needs to find a way to become lovers again.
First I would like to debunk the myth that sex “isn’t truly a need”. From an individual standpoint this may be true. Unlike food and water, you won’t die without it. But your relationship might. So from the perspective of a relationship yes, regular sex is needed in order maintain and nurture a relationship. What “regular” means is up for interpretation, and that is something that is different from couple to couple (and even for a single couple it will change over the life of the relationship). The absence of sex will put tremendous strain on the relationship, and put it at risk of failure.
It is important to understand it’s not actually the sex that matters (which is why occasional “duty sex” does nothing to improve the bond between the couple). Instead it is the closeness and intimacy that sex is symbolic of. THAT is the part that is needed in order for a relationship to thrive. When intimacy is there sex should come naturally as a result of it. This is why it is important to focus on the relationship itself.
Another thing to remember is that your partner has no other outlets. I’m a firm believer that people are responsible for their own happiness (in the choices they make and the attitude that they bring to their own situation). Sexuality is one of the few places that people are dependent on someone else for fulfillment. So if it’s missing in a relationship, then even if the rest of the relationship is in a good spot this problem will start to affect the rest of the relationship.
The best thing you can do is try and identify any problems in the relationship that may be causing issues with desire. If you’re working on the relationship and desire still isn’t coming back, there may be medical reasons (such as hypoactive sexual desire disorder), however these are extreme cases and only affect a small percentage of the population. Chances are there is something that needs to be addressed in the relationship, and the best way to deal with it is through couples counseling focused on the issue with sexuality.
One question to ask yourself is “should someone have to have sex when they don’t want to”? Obviously the answer is no, they shouldn’t. In fact having sex because someone feels they are supposed to (duty sex) can widen the gap of emotional intimacy instead of helping close it.
Here is the dilemma though:
If someone consistently doesn’t want sex and their partner does then it puts their relationship at risk. If their partner wants it all the time, then this is an issue with the partner not being considerate about the person’s needs. But when the couple has drifted into a sexless marriage, there’s a problem. For the benefit of the relationship it’s up to the couple to find some sort of happy middle ground. It will likely involve an adjustment of expectations for both parties, but it also means the person with the lower drive will have to find a way to be sexual again.
They shouldn’t have to have sex when they don’t want to. But instead of looking at this as doing something they don’t want to, it may be better to try to find a way to nurture their sexual side so that they start to want to be sexual with their partner again.
Making Sex a Priority
Sex is important to a relationship and has many benefits to both the individual and the couple. That is a fact. No one should “have to” have sex when they don’t want to. Also fact.
So the question becomes, if someone consistently isn’t interested in sex and it is putting strain on the relationship, how do they become interested again? How can they find a balance where both members of the relationship are happy? One recommendation is to make sex a focus and a priority in the relationship.
One common misconception is that someone has to be in the mood in order to be sexual. Difficulties getting in the mood are extremely common, and happen to pretty much everyone. With busy lives waiting till you are “in the mood” could be a long wait. And what happens if you are in the mood but your partner isn’t? The chances of both being in the mood at the same time is low. Those who wait for “the mood”, well, generally they find themselves in the sexless relationship.
Instead of waiting to be in the mood for sex, many relationship experts suggest you try to make time for sex with the hope that allowing yourself to be sexual will help put you in the mood (kind of a chicken or the egg approach). In this approach, the lower drive person is just as responsible for getting themselves in the mood as the higher drive person (perhaps more so).
To do this, you need to schedule sex. You may do this formally as a couple, or at the start the lower drive person may do it on their own (for example telling themselves that “tonight” is a night for sex). If the thought of doing this doesn’t cause additional stress, then instead it’s possible to mentally prep for sex. Think about sex, read a sexy story (either alone or together), whatever works to try and get yourself into the mood. And then be sexual with your partner.
The key is focusing on sexuality, touch (possibly massage or erotic massage), and building connection instead of the act of sex. In fact, if you don’t or even if you find you aren’t able to engage in penetrative sex, that’s fine. It’s more about taking time to be sexual together and rebuilding a sense of safety with physical intimacy with your partner.
Don’t worry about “shutting your partner down” before penetrative sex or orgasm. If your partner sees that you are putting effort into being lovers again, they will likely be very happy and supportive. When you do have sex it may starts as more of a physical act, but over time it should transition into a more intimate one.
Whether you are scheduling this formally or planning it on your own, come up with a desired frequency and schedule it. Once a week? Once every 2 weeks? Do what works for you and adjust it over time. It’s about building habits, and it may seem awkward at first but over time gets internalized. Be willing to accept that you don’t always have to meet the schedule, but the vast majority of the time you should try to.
Mindset is Key
Depending on how badly the emotional connection has broken down, this can be an extremely difficult thing to do. I recognize this isn’t like watching a movie you aren’t really interested. This is your body, and you are sharing it with someone else.
Because of this, mindset is extremely important. If you view this as an obligation you will get resentful and that will make things worse. But if you accept it is an important part of a relationship, then you will see this as an investment in the long term health and happiness of your relationship.
Heading to the Gym
A great analogy for this is going to the gym with a partner. Physical health is a positive thing (there are really no drawbacks to trying to improve your level of physical fitness). The benefits range from physical health to self-esteem to mental health. But committing to physical fitness takes a commitment of time and effort – it doesn’t just happen.
If you haven’t done anything in a long time though, making a commitment to physical fitness is difficult, and at the beginning it seems like work. You know there are benefits, but the way to achieve those benefits isn’t easy.
In order for the workouts to be effective though, you need to come up with a regular schedule and stick to it. Working out one day, and then not doing anything again for a month or even a few weeks doesn’t really help much. And in fact, if you don’t make it regular you may find it’s easy to make excuses skip a workout. Unfortunately when you miss one workout, it becomes a lot easier to miss another.
If you stick to your routine an interesting thing happens though. After a while you will find you start to enjoy it. And not just that, but if you have to skip a workout you’ll find that you miss it and want to make it up. Instead of “work”, it has become a regular part of your life.
Taking this analogy one step further, even for the people who are regulars at the gym there are days that you just don’t want to go. Maybe you didn’t sleep well last night, or maybe you have a cold. Having a partner who is expecting you to be there can sometimes act as the motivation to get out and do your workout anyhow. Sometimes you will go and you really won’t be into it, but other times even when you force yourself to go you will find that your body responds to being there and you have a great workout anyhow.
Built to Last
Relationships run into problems, and sexual issues are probably the most difficult ones for a relationship to deal with. But in a long term relationship it is important for the couple to maintain sexuality and being lovers.
It’s important to be open with your partner about what is going on, and recognize this as a problem for the relationship, and not just for the individual. If your partner truly cares about the long term health of the relationship, they will show patience and understanding. But it’s also important to remember that your partner has needs in the relationship too, and letting sexual issues go unresolved will threaten the health of the relationship.
When emotional connection has broken down, it’s the responsibility of both parties to do their part in actively rebuilding it. And part of that rebuilding involves making sexuality and sex a regular part of the relationship.
Scheduling and prioritizing sex may not seem spontaneous or romantic, but it doesn’t have to mean that it’s not intimate. It allows you an opportunity to focus on being intimate together. And you may find that once you prioritize it, you remember what you have been missing.