One partner wants sex, the other doesn’t

One partner wants sex, the other doesn’t

Long term relationships can be tricky at the best of times. So can shorter term relationships, for that matter. But the issue we’re discussing here is almost exclusively found in partners who have been together for more than a few months. Could be 12 months, could be 12 years or anything in between.

When people first get together, there’s usually a flood of hormones that means sex – a lot of it – is on the cards. Those are the days of rushing home from work at lunchtime for a quickie, going to bed early for sex and starting your morning off with even more sex. It’s like you’re insatiable at this point and, you know what? It’s all good fun! Sex toys make an appearance, role play outfits are dusted off, or purchased, and heels polished up for a Tuesday night strip tease. There’s actually medical science behind this period of a relationship known as the ‘honeymoon’ period, and it’s that this is designed to bond couples together quickly. Our foremost role in this earth is to ensure the continuation of our species by reproducing. That’s it. And that is why new couples have these lust-filled early weeks, Mother Nature is trying to ensure that this reproduction is done as soon and as much as possible. But, inevitably, this will come to an end and the bedclothes are found more often wrapped around a snoozing couple than flung on the floor mid-coitus. And this stage is fine, this is when couples become more bonded emotionally and where the foundations of a strong, long-term relationship are laid. BUT – what if a certain sexual distance is created? What if one partner is quite happy without and the other is struggling without the sexual connection? What’s the answer? There isn’t one. Couples have to move through this sticking point if it comes and work out what’s best for them. Luckily, there are a few things to try before the flag goes up.

I’m missing sex.

Firstly – be honest with yourselves – is this something that’s been building for a while? Or is it out of the blue? Because you’d be surprised how many people experience a dip in libido that’s almost totally situational, i.e. stressed, depressed, worried, low mood, anxiety – all of these things are well known for causing your sex life to head downhill. And if it is something like this that’s causing the issue, then the good news is that it doesn’t have to be a long term thing. Life can be stressful, even just everyday life – working, commuting, childcare, elderly parents. It only takes one extra thing, like moving house, death of a relative, job loss, and it can tip people over the edge into a situation where they don’t feel like they’re coping emotionally, and sex is going to be waaaay down the agenda. If this is ringing bells, the solution to starting to override those negative feelings is in simple communication. If your partner is struggling a bit with their existence, then nagging about sex is going to be the last thing they need. So pull back a bit on that front, support them and then when they’re feeling better you can start to communicate better and that always helps towards a positive outcome.

If the lack of sex has been building for a while and you’re noticing that your partner seems a little more detached than usual, communication is your friend here too. Start off with gentle conversation about how you feel and why it’s bothering you and ask for their perspective, even if it’s hard to hear. A compromise is ideal, but only you know whether that’s achievable for you and whether it’s enough.

If your partner has stopped wanting sex and shuts down any attempt at discussion, however mild, then it might be that counselling starts to become an option. It works for lots of people, not all, but a lot, and even if it doesn’t solve the situation entirely, it can help to get you back on track towards a happy medium.

When is it the end?

It’s a sad statistic, but around 64% of couples break up because of a sexual disconnection. Basically, if it’s really important to one partner and not to the other, and this is looking like a long term thing rather than an aberration, then it might be time to think about a split because you are quite possibly incompatible. This can be a really difficult thing to contemplate, especially if you’re emotionally close, even if not physically. But the hard truth of the matter is that if your relationship is feeling more like friendship, it’s time to work out whether that’s enough for you going forward. For some, it’s an OK, manageable situation, for others it’s definitely not and has a really negative impact on mental health.

Sex is non-existent but we don’t want to split up. What now?

And here it can become a little tricky, because of course there are solutions to this, they’re just sometimes not very palatable. One option is to be prepared to handle your sexual urges yourself and set up a regular delivery from And the other, usually more attractive proposition, is to agree to have an open marriage, meaning that each partner is free to have sex with whomever they want to. If one person is absolutely certain that they don’t want a sexual relationship at all, then it’s not unreasonable for the other to sound out whether or not an open relationship is possible. It often is, just with rules and solid agreements about what is acceptable and what is not.

So, the first port of call if one partner doesn’t want sex and the other does, is a really deep conversation about what not and why not. Then you can both agree on a way of moving forwards together, or not and agree to part ways. Just don’t separate on an impulse, make sure that’s really the right decision for you. There are lots of couples who manage to work through scenarios like this and come out of the other side.

Stuart Brown
Doctor of Sexual Health at the NHS Royal London Hospital & Relationship Expert. Columnist at An advocate of safe sex. Avid Arsenal fan.

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