We’re always hearing that we could be having better sex, a better orgasm, or a better relationship. But how often do we hear the nitty-gritty of how we can actually better understand our deepest desires and most embarrassing questions? Bustle has enlisted Vanessa Marin, a sex therapist, to help us out with the details. No gender, sexual orientation, or question is off limits, and all questions will remain anonymous. Please send your sex and relationship inquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org. Now, onto today’s topic: what to do if your partner suddenly becomes disinterested in sex.
Q: “After three years together, my (male) partner is suddenly uninterested in sex. We’ve had our sexual ups and downs throughout the years, but I’m talking, like, overnight disinterest. It’s been months now, and he hasn’t initiated once. I’ve tried asking him what’s up, but all he says is ‘nothing.’ He even seems annoyed that I’m asking. I’ve asked him if he still wants to be with me, and he says he does. I’m at my wit’s end. I can’t help but feeling like it’s my fault, or like I’ve done something wrong. Is it that he’s not attracted to me anymore? Not turned on by me anymore? What do I do? Sex is important to me!”
A: I’m so sorry that you’re dealing with this difficult situation with your partner; it must be shocking for you to notice such drastic changes to his sex drive, and have no idea why it happened. Sex drive issues can be complicated, but there are a few steps you can take to try to improve the situation.
Don’t Blame Yourself
Right away, I want to address your fear that this is somehow your fault. This is a classic response pattern that I see from so many of my female clients in my sex therapy practice, and I want you to know that this is absolutely not your fault. It may not even be your boyfriend’s fault. Contrary to what most people think, our sex drives are not in our control; they can be affected by so many different influences. So don't look for someone to shoulder the blame; the two of you need to work on getting your sex life back on track together, as a team.
Talk To Your Partner
It’s time for you and your partner to have a more in-depth conversation about what’s going on. Tell them that you want to talk about your sex life, and ask when it would be a good day and time for them to do that. When that time comes, you could tell your partner, “I know that our sex life has its ups and downs, and I’m OK with that. But I need us to be open and honest with each other about what’s going on for us. It seems like you’re not interested in sex lately, and I want to understand that better. Can we talk about what’s been going on?” If your partner again says that it's nothing, let them know that you need them to say more than just that.
Look For A Cause Together
Your partner’s sex drive has tanked for a reason — in over a decade of work in the sex therapy field, I have never seen someone who completely lost their sex drive with absolutely no cause whatsoever. Sometimes it seems like there’s no reason, but a bit of time and digging always uncovers a cause. Here are some of the common ones:
- A health issue, like an undiagnosed medical condition
- A reaction to medication
- Hormone imbalances
- Work or personal stress
- Pregnancy or birth
- Relationship problems
- Sleep problems
- Confidence or body issues
If you think it might help, you can tell your partner that you read an article by a sex therapist that said there’s always a reason for a dramatic change in sex drive. See if that helps him feel more comfortable talking about what might be going on for him.
Say What You Want
As part of these conversations with your partner, it’s important for you to let him know what you need out of your sex life. He shouldn’t feel pressured to be intimate when he’s not ready for it or interested in it, but he should be willing to hear, acknowledge, and respect your needs. Rather than focusing on quantity, talk to your boyfriend about quality. What purpose does sex serve for you personally and in your relationship? What do you miss when the two of you feel sexually disconnected? For your boyfriend, hearing something like, “I miss feeling close to you” will feel a lot better than, “I need us to have sex three times a week.”
Work With Them
Together, you and your partner can try to address what’s causing his change in desire. I highly recommend booking an appointment with a couples therapist or a sex therapist. If you suspect something might be up health-wise, offer to go to a doctor’s appointment with your partner. If your partner has issues in their work, family, or personal life, ask what you can do to support them. Remember, you’re teammates!
Initiate Sex More Often
In your question, you didn’t mention whether you initiate sex. A dynamic that I often see play out with couples is that one person takes on the role of the initiator more frequently (or sometimes exclusively). Over time, they can get tired of always being the one to initiate, so they start pulling back. They secretly hope that their partner will start initiating, and get frustrated if their partner doesn’t. This might be what’s happening with your partner.
It’s also important to initiate sex because it helps you remember that your needs are important. If you cut yourself off from initiating, you run the risk of cutting yourself off from your sexuality in a broader sense.
Your first conversation (or first few conversations) with your partner about this issue may not go very well. Sex drive is a very delicate, complex issue, and people often feel very sensitive about it. Keep trying for at least a few weeks. If your partner is eventually willing to talk and work with you on your sex life, be patient with him. Sex drive issues can take some time to rebound. Let him know that you appreciate his efforts working on such a sensitive subject, and that you’re in it for the long haul with him.
… But Be Willing To Walk Away
On the other hand, if your partner is unwilling to talk about their lack of interest in sex or work on it with you, you may need to seriously consider the possibility of ending the relationship. You can’t expect your partner to meet all of your sexual needs, but he should at the very least be willing to talk about the issue and make an effort to work on it. If he doesn’t, that could be a sign that he doesn’t have enough respect for you, your needs, or your relationship.