15 Surprising Reasons Your Partner Doesn’t Want Sex

If your spouse is rarely in the mood for sex, there might be something more going on than you'd expect. Here are some possible mood-killing culprits.

Financial woes

Considering that money troubles are a top cause of a breakup (here are the other top clues you might be headed for divorce), it’s not a surprise that financial issues can cause rifts in even the most harmonious couples. “The results of unaddressed financial stressors in a relationship can cause negative feelings towards your partner, fear and anxiety, broken trust, depression symptoms and a lack of sexual desire,” says Crystal Hollenbeck, EdD, licensed mental health counselor in Orlando, Florida. “Combining finances, creating a budget, and agreeing as a couple on financial goals will increase the sense of closeness, trust, and security within the relationship.”

Too many distractions

These days, it’s hard to sit on the couch and watch a TV show with your partner or go out to dinner at a nice restaurant without looking at your phone every five minutes. And this can seriously drive a wedge between couples romantically. “If your answer is your phone or tablet and not your partner, it’s time to make some changes,” says Celeste Holbrook, PhD, sexual health consultant in Fort Worth, Texas. “Plug your phone in the kitchen and (gasp) get a regular alarm clock—even an extra 10 minutes connecting with your partner sans electronic devices can give you a great boost in your sex life and relationship.” Here are signs you’re way too addicted to your phone.

Tension in the relationship

Young couple having a problem. Man is holding hands together while sitting on bed, woman is lying in the backgroundVGstockstudio/Shutterstock

Wherever the conflict is coming from, be it him neglecting to pick up his socks off the floor or her forgetting to fish out her hair from the shower drain, if not properly addressed it can cause a rift between couples. “Any kind of tension that builds up and smolders is the death of sex,” says Claudia Six, PhD, San Francisco-based sexologist and author of Erotic Integrity: How to Be True to Your Sexuality. “You have to address the resentments, resolve the conflicts, apologize sincerely and learn to communicate more effectively.” It’s having these difficult conversations, she adds, that have the most potential to fuel your sex life—check out these other surefire methods for a more intimate relationship.

Lack of exercise

When you get your heart rate up and start sweating mid-workout, your body is releasing what’s known as endorphins, or feel-good chemicals in your brain that put you in a better mood, according to McGill University experts. This alone can make you more interested in hitting the sheets with your partner, coupled with an increase in body confidence thanks to your hard-earned workout. So what are you waiting for? Get moving! Even better, work out with your partner so you both enjoy the benefits.

Infidelity

If one or both partners were unfaithful or micro-cheated, recovering a sexual connection can be difficult. “Whether it is the man or the woman who was cheating, the trust, which is such an important part of the intimate connection, has been eroded,” explains Wendi L. Dumbroff, a New Jersey-based licensed professional counselor. “This makes it difficult to fall back into each other’s arms.” She recommends couples therapy but explains that therapy alone is not always sufficient in helping couples to resume a sexual relationship. “Slowly reconnecting in ways that feel safe for the partner who was cheated on  can begin to heal and create intimacy between them once again,” she adds. Read subtle signs you’ve got a cheating spouse.

Lack of body confidence

No matter your age, pants size or weight, not feeling confident in your own skin and with the body that you will use to have sex is a major obstacle in the way to great sex, experts say. “Couples and sex therapy are useful to help partners communicate more freely around sexual issues, as well as helping to ensure that they can enjoy the sex that they do have,” says Dumbroff. (Check out the things sex therapists wish you knew.) “Additionally, practicing mindfulness exercises and learning to be present in the moment is very important to really being able to fully engage in a positive sexual experience.”

Medications

Young woman taking pillAfrica Studio/Shutterstock

Many medications can cause low libido or have side effects like vaginal dryness. Antihistamines can dry up all your membranes, from your nose to your vagina, explains Dr. Holbrook. “You may be feeling interested in sex, but need to grab some lubricant to make sure it is comfortable.” Always check in with your doctor about side effects before starting a medication and take some time to figure out any necessary workarounds, whether it’s lubricant, extra time in foreplay, or sex prior to taking your meds for the day, adds Dr. Holbrook. Read 13 things your vagina is secretly trying to tell you.

Birth trauma

No woman who carried a baby for nine months and then went through childbirth wants to hear it: Men can experience post-traumatic stress-like symptoms after witnessing the birth of a child. This, Dr. Hollenbeck says, can leave a man unable to engage sexually with his partner. “He or she may not be able to look at the vulva (vaginal area) in the same way he did prior to seeing the birth process,” she explains. For the woman, her vaginal area may have suffered a laceration or tear, so she may be experiencing pain during intercourse. She may also be traumatized by the birth experience, which can be similar to PTSD. She may also have postpartum depression or be preoccupied with the with the baby’s wellbeing. PTSD and postpartum depression can be treated effectively with therapy or medication. (Here’s how to keep an eye out for the signs of postpartum depression.)

Religious or personal beliefs

Dumbroff explains that although someone may not be consciously aware of why they don’t want sex, they may carry learned messages from childhood that can penetrate deeply and show up in a lack of desire or even an aversion to sex. “Taking detailed sexual histories and learning about a person’s family of origin can help to unpack these beliefs and messages and bring them into the light,” she says. “A person may then be freer to explore their sexuality and can begin to create a new narrative around sex and what it means to be a sexual being.”

Erectile dysfunction

It’s not talked about much, but it’s more common than you may think, according to University of Wisconsin experts. The condition affects approximately 10 percent of men per decade of life (i.e., 40 percent of men in their 40s, 50 percent of men in their 50s, 60 percent of men in their 60s). Read common myths about sex after 50.

“Men would rather avoid a sexual encounter because of what they see as their ‘non-working penis,’ than be embarrassed with a woman—even a significant other,” Dumbroff explains. “It may just be performance anxiety because of the one time they were unable to get or to keep an erection.” For issues such as this, she recommends men first be checked by a doctor, especially if they’re suddenly unable to get an erection, as it may be the result of a genitourinary issue or a cardiovascular problem. Sex therapy can also help couples expand their definition of sex past the act of penetration, she adds. After addressing underlying issues, medication can work well for erectile dysfunction.

The sex is not to their liking

“Sometimes people realize that they may not be turned on by ‘vanilla sex,’ but rather that they are in fact kinky in their sexual preferences,” explains Dumbroff. This, she explains, can present problems if their partner is not interested. “If the kinky person needs to have that in their life and cannot meet their needs with porn alone, a discussion about the possibility of finding it outside the primary relationship may be necessary,” she adds. Have an open conversation about each others’ likes and dislikes.

Sex addiction

Sensual young couple about to kiss on bedVGstockstudio/Shutterstock

If your partner is engaging in secret sexual behavior or has betrayed the relationship multiple times, Dr. Hollenbeck warns that this could be an indication of sex addiction, which is an intimacy disorder that must be treated by a certified sex addiction therapist. “The person struggling with sex addiction may be engaging in sex with other people, obsessed with pornography, masturbating too often or avoiding sex with their partner due to shame and guilt related to the out-of-control sexual behaviors,” she says. “The partner of a sex addict is often traumatized by the discovery of their partner’s secret life and the broken trust and sexual betrayal can be the cause of their loss of desire for sex.” Successful treatment for both the addict and the partner is available and the couple can have sobriety and a healthy sex life together through therapy. Here are some simple ways to improve your sex life.

Pain

Sexual pain often prevents a spouse, especially a woman, from wanting to engage in sex, according to Dumbroff. There are several reasons why this very real pain strikes during intercourse, which is why she recommends both women and men to seek medical treatment if they’re experiencing discomfort. “Some are definitely physical in their origin—an example is post-menopausal women suffering from dryness or women who have undergone chemotherapy, which can also create dryness and changes in the vaginal mucosa,” she says. “Lubricants and certain medical treatments can help with dryness as well as pelvic-floor exercises.”

Past sexual abuse

People with histories of sexual abuse—men and women alike—may avoid sex, explains Dumbroff. “Many times individuals have never even connected their personal history of abuse with their issues around their desire for sex, but the impact can be very powerful,” she says. “This most definitely requires couple and sex therapy, and the partner with the history of abuse needs to have control over the pace of what happens.” Learn what this woman managed to do after years of sexual abuse.

Lack of hygiene and etiquette

Whether you’ve been with your partner for just a few months or decades, self-care is an essential piece of the sexual desire puzzle. “Practicing good dental and bodily hygiene and keeping your hair groomed (including the vaginal area, beards and mustaches, underarms and legs and giving attention to your hair style and maintenance) are areas couples must give attention to throughout the entire duration of the relationship and not only when you are dating or have special occasions to attend,” says Dr. Hollenbeck. “Common complaints in this area are partners being turned off by gas, burping, seeing their partner dress up for work, but not when they are spending time together, and the lack of bathroom privacy.” Communication is paramount when it comes to resolving these issues, as it’s impossible for your partner to know something is bothering you if you don’t tell him or her.

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Medically reviewed by Tia Jackson-Bey, MD, on September 25, 2019

Jenn Sinrich
Jenn Sinrich is an experienced digital and social editor in New York City. She's written for several publications including SELF, Women's Health, Fitness, Parents, American Baby, Ladies' Home Journal and more.She covers various topics from health, fitness and food to pregnancy and parenting. In addition to writing, Jenn also volunteers with Ed2010, serving as the deputy director to Ed's Buddy System, a program that pairs recent graduates with young editors to give them a guide to the publishing industry and to navigating New York.When she's not busy writing, editing or reading, she's enjoying and discovering the city she's always dreamed of living in with her loving fiancé, Dan, and two feline friends, Janis and Jimi. Visit her website: Jenn Sinrich.