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Should you say yes to sex with your partner if you don't feel like it?

Q: Should a spouse "give in" and have sex, even when they really don't want to?

A: The answer to this depends on knowing yourself and how you feel about your relationship; if your mind and body are telling you that you do not want to or you are really turned off by the idea, then you should not "give in" and have sex.

However, there could be several other factors that impact your desire for sex. You may be attracted to your partner and love them very much and not want to have sex with them.

It's normal for couples to have problems with their sex life and desire mismatch is one of the most common issues I see. There is often a higher and lower desire partner in many relationships, and it can quickly turn into a very contentious and stressful issue.

When people meet and start having sex, things are often pretty good and there is not a lot of conversation about sex. No one quite anticipates they will stop wanting to have sex with their partner.

For the low desire partner, the stress of life often gets in the way of their desire, and they don’t exactly know how to tell their partner they don’t want to have sex anymore - they may not know why themselves. I encourage the low desire partner to be curious about why they don't feel desire for sex. Are there hurts, resentment or betrayals to address? Do they need to prioritize their own pleasure or find their sexual self for the first time or again? Do they have beliefs about sex and pleasure they need to unpack?

To further complicate the mismatch of desire, often the partner with lower desire is unknowingly increasing their partner’s desire due to intermittent reinforcement, which keeps them trying to pursue sex. They know if they ask enough times, they will likely get a yes.

Many couples don’t have raw and honest conversations about sex. Despite the awkwardness or discomfort it brings, it is so important to find a way to express your feelings to your partner about sex and when and how you want it to begin. Often, we aren't as honest as we should be about sex and desire because we are afraid of hurting our partner. However, people don’t realize that not talking about it often harms the person more.  Being rejected by one’s partner without any conversation around why can often lead to painful feelings of hurt and anxiety on both sides.

I encourage all couples to discuss initiation and how you prefer to be approached for sex. What are your rituals for initiation as a couple? If you don’t have any, consider creating some. It is important to acknowledge the vulnerability in asking for sex from your partner. Without realizing it, you may be criticizing their initiation style because it seems so poorly timed to you - but to your partner, it’s sometimes the only way they know how to ask for it. 

Talk about how to you say no to sex without hurting the other. You could say “How can I turn down your request for sex without hurting you? It is best to be direct and honest. These are important conversations to prevent feelings of rejection and pain, and ones we often are not taught how to have. Many women are taught to go along with what their partner wants and not be communicative about their needs. This serves no one in the end.  

If you don’t want to have sex, you could emphasize that you would like to feel close and have connection but you do not want penetrative sex tonight (if that is what you believe your partner wants). Explain why you do not want to and suggest another time so they do not take this personally.

Closeness can be found in many other ways including cuddling, massage, kissing, or even meaningful conversation. When turning down your partner, you could remind them how much you care for them, but you aren't up for it tonight. If there are specific reasons about them that contribute to why you don’t want to have sex, you could mention this to them at another time, not in the moment when they are initiating.

Conversations about sex, should really be had outside the bedroom at a less vulnerable time, when you are both relaxed and comfortable.

Sex in a long-term relationship if often about bonding, so having “it’s my duty” sex will not promote bonding. A strong relationship is built on open and honest communication so be honest about how you feel with your partner and what you need to feel bonded and connected physically and emotionally. 

Having “mismatched desire” is often not the issue that leads to difficulty in relationships - it's more about how it is handled. 

~ Laura

I’ll be answering another question about sex in an upcoming blog post, from the steady flow of questions I'm getting from my subscribers. Got a sex question? You can ask anonymously right here. I’ll answer as many as I can in my upcoming emails.

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