When you’d rather bathe your cat or do your taxes than have sexy time—we can assume you’re just not that into sex these days. Spiraling in a sea of exhaustion or resentment can put the fire out of your sex life so fast you’ll wonder what happened. Whether you’ve never really enjoyed sex, or you haven’t enjoyed it in months or years, there are some simple ways you can reconnect with your pleasure and desire to have sex.
So what are you supposed to do when your partner seems to constantly be tugging at your pants wanting sex, and you’re just not that into it? While it can feel frustrating and guilt-inducing, it’s a desire mismatch. In sex therapy, we call this desire discrepancy, and I see this in my practice all the time—it’s common and completely and normal! Sometimes you might end up doing it anyway, to please your partner(s), which often leads to feelings of resentment later. Or you politely decline… again, and your partner starts to feel rejected or inadequate, which may also lead to feelings of resentment. That certainly doesn’t feel good and can be hard on any relationship.
Focus on what gives you pleasure.
Sex can take an expression of love and intimacy and start to feel like an obligation. Over time, you lose touch with your sense of desire, pleasure, and what you really want. It’s a surefire recipe for ho-hum sex and a meh life.
As we grow older, our to-do lists grow too. There’s always something to do, something to clean, or someone else to look after. Caretaking, while necessary, can be a desire-killer.
When I work with clients on these challenges, first, we discuss their feelings, which often include, being overwhelmed, exhausted, insecure, bored, ambivalent, resentful, and more. I often encourage clients to start seeking help, and even just pausing for a hot second to notice how they’re doing too much for everyone else while ignoring themselves. That’s when sex becomes what I’m supposed to do, versus what I want to do. Autonomous will is essential to desire; desire means to own the wanting. People can be massively attracted, but have no desire. Desire is a motivation.
Here’s your permission slip.
- Claim your sexuality and want sex
- To get intimate when the dishes are still in the sink and the toys are still scattered around the living room
- Surrender and say no to more obligations
- Slow down
- Take care of yourself
- Create a sex life you enjoy!
For all the many reasons why sex is no longer enjoyable, there are just as many ways (or more!) to take control of your pleasure. This is good news!
- Own your sexuality and sensuality. Let’s reconnect your sense of pleasure to who you are and what you like sensually and sexually. It’s important to learn how to detach yourself from how others see you. The roles you may inhabit, such as parent or caretaker may not be ones that appeal to your sexuality, your sense of pleasure, or the selfishness that’s inherent in pleasure. Understand that your partner(s) are wanting sex as a way to feel emotionally connected with you, they’re not “using” you for your body or just for their own pleasure. They want to connect with you and enjoy pleasing you.
- Talk to a doctor. If you have pain, visit your GP or gynecologist first to make sure there isn’t a medical issue going on. Be open and honest with them about your sex life. The cause of pain could even be something as simple as needing more lubrication before sex.
- Dig deeper. In my work, we often have conversations about changing the landscape and perceptions of sexuality. I help people look back to their childhood sexual development, understand their attachment styles, structural dynamics, and life circumstances in order to gain a deeper self-understanding. We explore their family’s attitudes and experiences around sexuality and how it affected them. If someone has an aversion to sex, they may have been taught as children that sex was bad and that they shouldn’t enjoy it. Even if you started associating shame with sex at a young age, that idea could very well be running in the back of your mind as an adult.
- Tame your inner critic. Desire generally doesn’t have much to do with sexuality, but with inner criticism, lack of sense of self-worth, lack of vitality, or bad body image, you name it. Everyone wants to feel competent and admired—and to feel wanted. When you become comfortable with self-criticism, you may also become comfortable with being more vocal about what you don’t like in your partner, as opposed to what you appreciate. Unfortunately, in my practice, often people need to be on the verge of losing their partners to finally start telling them everything they appreciate about them.
- Turn yourself on with your thoughts. Finish this sentence: “I’m turned on when ______.”
Take the time to think about what turns you on. When you create the mental space to think about pleasure, what you choose to notice, gets more of your attention. It can be too easy to think it’s our partner’s duty to turn us on, but really, you’re in control.
- Schedule a sex date. To get out of a rut of avoiding or not making the time for intimacy, and to help you bring intentionality to connecting emotionally and physically, put a sex date on the calendar and stick to it. You don’t have to leave the house, but knowing that date is there will have you thinking about it all day long. Give yourself a sense of control over your sexuality to perk up your desire by taking charge of the sex date. Own your wanting and break the habit of being asked for sex and pushing your partner away.
- Get to know your body. If you didn’t do this growing up, go on a little exploration now. Take a mirror and see what’s downstairs. When you know and embrace your body intimately, you can better learn what feels good sexually.
- I touch myself—mastering the art of self-pleasure. How can you ask for something if you don’t know what feels good? Learning how to masturbate and tuning into what touches turn you on will help you develop some rock-solid sexual confidence. You may have grown up believing sex is only appropriate when with another person or touching yourself is inappropriate. Consider this your free pass to pleasure yourself and masturbate when it feels good to you. Learn how to arouse yourself and know what kinds of touches you like before feeling aroused. And then notice how this might change once you become aroused. Once you learn how to please yourself, you can better teach your partner how to please you.
- Turn inward. Not physically, but emotionally. Take just five minutes tonight before you go to bed to close your eyes, take a few deep breaths, and notice what’s going on around you. Listen to noises in the distance, feel the softness of your sheets on your skin, the weight of your body on the bed. There’s no need to judge any of this, simply notice. You can take this a few steps further and try some simple meditation and mindfulness practices. Simply noticing what’s going on around you is the easiest way to start to tune into what’s going on in your body.
This is just a start at all the ways you can take control of your pleasure and start enjoying sex (again). If you smiled while reading this article, check these out too:
Sexology International, like all of our work, is for people of all sexual preferences and all forms of gender expression, including people whose identity is something other than male or female. As such, we like to use gender-neutral pronouns. More recently accepted alternatives include words like “ze” and “hir” or the universal pronoun “they.” Throughout our work, we will be doing our best to use alternative pronouns, such as “they,” whenever gender or plurality is unimportant. In doing so we hope it helps everyone to feel included in the discussion and that it inspires you to think outside of traditional sex and gender binaries.