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What To Do When Your Desires Don't Align

August 12 2022 | Written by Rhea Kumar (She/Her)

Sex, love, and intimacy are often blurred into one singular concept, but the truth is that there are times when your partner might not want to have sex. (And that may not have anything to do with you.) Or maybe you’ve decided that you’re not into it and not sure how to tell your partner. This blog discusses what might be going on, and what you both can do. 

There are plenty of ways that you and your partner can discuss this and see it not as a “problem” to overcome, but rather a new way of exploring your relationship and intimacy. 

Dr. Emily Nagoski, author of Come as You Are, highlights two different types of ways we get turned on. Some of us might act out of spontaneous desire, so basically you can get turned on pretty quickly, just by a look. This is often what you see in movies, where just the mere gaze of your partner could get you in the bedroom (if you’re even able to get there).

However, most of us experience responsive desire. Nagoski says:

“If your desire is more responsive, you might view sex through the lens of, “What am I getting out of this experience? Is the effort worth the reward?” Some of us just require different ways of getting turned on and the stimuli that do so will vary.


@wearemarlow Reply to @leia_beia1 there is no “right” way to experience desire, hope this makes it easier to understand! #foryou #wearemarlow #differentstrokesfordifferentfolks #spontaneousdesire #responsivedesire ♬ Lo-fi hip hop - NAO-K


So, now we’ve discussed what might get us turned on, it’s important to understand what might turn us off.

Breaking news: You and your partners’   sex drives and desire for sex won’t always neatly line up. On top of that, sometimes one partner naturally has more of a sex drive than the other. Some individuals just don’t desire sex

There are many reasons why your partner doesn’t want sex. Here are just a few: 

  • A low sex drive
  • Sexual trauma in their past
  • Experiencing stress in other areas of their life
  • Mental health difficulties
  • Physical health issues
  • Energy levels
  • Vaginismus (a condition that causes the muscles around the vagina to tighten when penetration is attempted) or other conditions that can make penetration painful
  • Erectile dysfunction or other conditions
  • Certain medications
  • Busy schedules
  • Fear or embarrassment
  • They’re just not in the mood

Here’s What You Can Do:

Learn How To Talk About Sex With Your Partner 

A simple Google search related to a partner not wanting sex conjures up scary images. One result reads, “Can relationship survive without sex?”. Understanding what you both ‘get’ out of sex is a conversation that must be addressed. 

According to Dr. Dudley Danoff, a urologist and founder of the Cedars-Sinai Tower Urology Medical Group in Los Angeles, the most important step is to talk. Setting boundaries is the healthiest way to overcome this. Talk about your needs and the discrepancies in your sexual levels. It’s difficult to educate your partner verbally about a topic that is often addressed with…actions, but this is the only way to come to terms with what you both expect out of sex, and if you’re willing to try new ways to maintain intimacy.

Create New Ways to Share Intimacy 

Matt Lunquist, a clinical psychotherapist, says that intimacy and sex are often conflated, and couples, particularly young couples, might believe sex to be equivalent to intimacy. The truth? Sex is just an expression of intimacy (in most cases). That being said, relationships can exist with one or the other. Intimacy goes further than sex. 

In fact, we can probably write an entire blog on why sexual boundaries are important in any relationship no matter how long you’ve been together or how comfortable you are with one another.

As Lunquist says, intimacy allows for the expression of sex but it doesn’t stop there. Intimacy can be shared between couples in others ways like doing passion projects together, massaging one another, cooking together, even sitting and talking for hours about your fantasies (yes, sexual fantasies!) are some expressions you can consider. 

But if you are focused on the act of touch, then here’s something to consider.

Dr. Barry McCarthy, a professor and psychologist who discusses sex therapy in his book, Rekindling Desire, says that there are five dimensions of touch: “affection, sensual, playful, erotic and intercourse.” 

So, essentially touch is a spectrum, and sex is just a mere component of this. 

Seek Help  

There’s no harm in admitting that you don’t know where to start. Even if you and your partner have tried to discuss your discrepancies, you may need professional help. 

Sex therapy is often the last resort because it carries the baggage of stigma. But seeking a licensed therapist or counselor who specializes in relationship difficulties is a good start. 

A professional will allow you to present several potential areas to work on to get to the root of sexual questions and misunderstandings. Maybe you need couple’s therapy, or perhaps individual therapy to address the larger issues. 

Compassion is key, and if you take this step, delay passing judgment on until you understand your partner’s point of view. It’s also important to now burden yourself with guilt if you’re the one who has chosen not to have sex. 

To conclude this, Dr. Jess O’Reilly, host of @sexwithdrjess says that levels of sexual desie fluctuate over the course of a relationship. Ebbs and flows come with the territory, but it’s territory that can be addressed.