It’s very common for a relationship to go through phases where one or both partners lose interest in sex. This can be simply down to the fact that sexual interest tends to ebb and flow over time. It’s not unusual for partners to have different sex drives at different stages of their relationship.
Why might you or your partner have gone off sex?
There are lots of reasons why you or your partner might be feeling less interested in sex:
- Feeling less connected than usual. Perhaps recently you haven’t spent as much time together. Or maybe something has happened in your relationship that’s caused a rift, such a big argument or an affair.
- Too busy to make time for sex. You may be so busy with work, looking after children or dealing with other pressures that you don’t have time to spend on your relationship.
- You don’t feel connected with your sexual self. Maybe there are things about your body or how you look that you don’t like, and this makes it difficult for you to see yourself in a positive, sexual way.
- You’ve had negative experiences with sex. Perhaps you’ve been criticised by a partner in the past or grew up believing that sex is negative in some way.
- You struggle with performance anxiety. Meaning the thought of having sex makes you worried and stressed. If we're worried or stressed about something it is likely that we might want to avoid it.
- Mental or physical health issues may be making things difficult. You may have insecurities about a physical injury or condition, be unable to have sex, or your interest in sex may have been disrupted by a mental illness.
Getting perspective on sex
Anxieties surrounding sex can also come from different expectations about how much sex you think you should be having.
It’s very common for one partner to have a lower or higher libido than the other, or for one to have a more passive attitude towards initiating sex. Likewise, many people don’t experience spontaneous sexual desire and find this only usually kicks in after their partner makes an advance. They may also need the setting and mood to feel right.
Both these things can leave one of you feeling like the other isn’t attracted to them, while the other feels there’s nothing wrong.
Worrying about your sex life can also be triggered by feeing like you’re not having as much sex as you ‘should’ be – and thinking that everyone else is at it much more than you. The truth, of course, is that the ‘right’ amount is however much works for you and your partner – no more, no less.
How to talk to your partner about not having sex
If you feel like there’s an issue with your sex life, the first thing to do is figure out why. The best way to do that is to talk to your partner.
We know this can feel embarrassing and tricky, especially if you haven’t spoken about sex together in a long time – or ever before. If you aren’t sure where to start, you might find the following tips useful:
- Try to phrase what you want to change in a positive way. Using ‘I’ phrases (‘I used to like it when we…’) rather than ‘you’ phrases (‘you never want to…’) can help avoid your partner feeling like they’re being attacked or criticised. It can also be useful to talk about the situation rather than what you feel like they’ve done to make things worse: ‘We haven’t had sex in a while’, rather than ‘you haven’t wanted to have sex in a while’.
- Listen to what they say. A conversation needs to go two ways, so once you’ve explained how you’re feeling, listen to what your partner thinks too. It may be difficult to hear some of what they have to say – but this is always a risk if you want to have an open, honest talk.
- Try to understand their perspective. It’s one thing to listen, another to really take on board what your partner is saying. Try to see things from their point of view. They may be experiencing specific anxieties that are making it difficult for them to think about sex, or may feel embarrassed, guilty or inadequate about the situation. This will also help you to understand more about what sex means to them – and whether you’ve got different ideas about what a ‘good’ sex life should be.
Working back towards it
If you haven’t been intimate with your partner for a while, trying to move towards having a sexual relationship again can be a daunting prospect.
You might find it helps to take the approach that we use in sex therapy. This is based around taking some of the pressure off sex, and learning to enjoy it again – slowly – from the ground up:
- You might like to start by taking sex off the table entirely. A lot of sexual anxieties can stem from the feeling that any kind of sensual touch will have to lead eventually to full sex. This can create a strong association between sex and having to ‘perform’, which can create a negative loop for a lot of people that puts them off sex entirely. Applying a temporary ‘ban’ on sex can help to remove this anxiety, so you can focus on beginning to enjoy being intimate again without having to worry about ‘getting it right’ later.
- From here, it can be a good idea to take very small steps to reintroduce intimacy into your relationship – at a pace that’s comfortable for both of you. This doesn’t necessarily mean reintroducing sexual acts. It could mean just touching or kissing more. You might like to try giving each other massages or holding hands. That way, you can re-learn to enjoy being sensual in a pressure free environment.
- From there, you might like to try introducing more intimate acts –again, at a pace that’s comfortable for both of you – such as lingering kisses.
- You might then eventually move into sex acts such as intimate touching or oral sex – but still leave full sex off the menu, only putting it back on when you’ve both agreed you’d like to try.
Throughout this process, it’s important to keep talking and checking in with each other: telling each other what you’re enjoying, anything you might be finding difficult, and what you might like to try going forward. If one of you is finding things are progressing too fast, you could slow down.
What’s important is that you’re aware of how the other is feeling and neither of you feels under too much pressure to progress too quickly. If you think that you’ll need help, don’t be embarrassed to ask about sex therapy. Although talking to a therapist about your sex life can feel a little strange at first, many couples are surprised at how effective it is.
In fact, 94% of people who attend sex therapy with us found their sex lives had improved.
It can be particularly useful if you’ve been experiencing problems for a long time. Just because you’re stuck at the moment doesn’t mean you need to stay stuck.
Likewise, if your issues with sex stem from issues in your relationship itself, relationship counselling is a really good way of unpacking these. Again, we know it can be difficult to ask for this kind of help, but many couples find that even one session is enough to start to unplug problems in communication that have been making things difficult for years.
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