When the intimacy stops in a relationship, it’s an indication that something is “off.” Often, it’s the result of multiple factors; neither partner is to blame. With healthy communication and an open mind, you can address the issue head-on and find a fix instead of dealing with relationship bed death.
Not sure where to start? We’ve got three of the most common reasons couples stop having sex and what you can do to get back to getting it on.
Why Do Couples Stop Having Sex?
Sex is about pleasure, sure, but it’s also a tool couples use to maintain their emotional connection. When the intimacy stops in a relationship, it’s rarely both people mutually deciding that it’s not fun anymore.
Let’s take a deeper look at three of the most common reasons couples cite for not getting intimate as frequently (or at all).
Problems in your relationship are often to blame for lack of sexual activity — whether these are relatively benign problems like being annoyed at your partner for not keeping up with their portion of housework or more serious issues like infidelity.
Regardless of the specific issue in your relationship, a lack of connection with your partner can make the idea of having sex with them a lot less, well, sexy. Yes, makeup sex can be super hot, but it only briefly masks the problem if you don’t address it.
Simmering resentment will bubble back up to the surface eventually, and losing interest in your partner sexually (or having the idea of intimacy with them turn you off) can be an early sign that something needs addressing.
Often, poor communication is at the heart of most relationship problems. We’ll talk more about how to develop better communication with your partner in a bit.
Life can be incredibly stressful, a fact that has become increasingly obvious over the last few years. You may be the most mentally healthy person in the world, with the best coping skills, and still find yourself emotionally exhausted by everything in your life.
Sex, even one-night stands or friends-with-benefits situations, requires at least a small amount of emotional investment. If you don’t have anything to give emotionally, your body will try to hang on to your resources to take care of yourself (yes, we see you there, constantly prioritizing everyone else).
Emotional exhaustion can also lead to physical exhaustion, causing you to lack energy and sleep more (even if it isn’t “good sleep”). The mind-body connection is very real, so we must remember to treat how we feel physically and emotionally as two parts of the whole that make up our overall health and well-being.
Unless pain during sex is your specific kink (no judgment), sexual discomfort can also seriously impact your interest in the bedroom. Painful sex will happen to three out of four people with vulvas at some point while they’re sexually active.
It can be a temporary problem, like a medication's side effect, or a more chronic one. Menopausal and postmenopausal people are the most likely to experience sexual discomfort.
Sexual discomfort can also refer to how emotionally comfortable you feel having sex — a factor often referred to as sexual (or performance) anxiety. You may feel uncomfortable having sex with your partner if you’re going through a physical health issue or are dealing with body image issues.
It may not be that you aren’t interested in having sex, just that you are worried about how you will look or perform.
What Does It Mean When You Stop Having Sex?
There’s no one-size-fits-all answer to this question because every relationship is individual and subjected to unique factors that may impact it. The answer to what it means when physical intimacy ceases in a relationship is ultimately up to you to decide and solve (with help, of course).
For some people, withholding sex is a punishment (we don’t condone this, by the way, as it’s super unhealthy and toxic). For others, it’s a way of protecting themselves if they don’t feel physically or emotionally safe (due to emotional instability, painful sex, or even a lack of connection).
Your reason for not being as interested in sex anymore is likely very different from your partner’s, so never make assumptions about how they feel — ask them! It all comes back to the importance of quality communication in your relationship.
How Can You Create More Intimacy?
So, you haven’t had sex with your partner for a while, and neither of you seems to be making the first move. How do you fix it?
Here are a few suggestions for creating more intimacy and re-lighting that spark in your relationship.
Talk It Out
When intimacy stops in a relationship, it’s time to sit down with your partner and talk it through. We understand that this can be a difficult, emotionally vulnerable position, especially if either of you isn’t great about opening up.
It’s hard to fix a problem involving two people if you’re not including one in the problem-solving process, though, so it’s essential.
It can help to have these types of conversations with a professional mediator — a relationship counselor or sex therapist can help find the right words and focus on the right things. They’re even more helpful if the problems that seem to hold you back are explicitly related to your relationship.
You may also want to seek individual counseling, especially if you’re dealing with things from your past that may impact your ability to let go and enjoy sex. Sexual trauma, for example, can have a long-lasting effect on your enjoyment of sex. As they say, the body keeps the score even though you know that the event is in your past.
If you choose to go it alone, make sure you find a quiet place where you can talk openly without being disturbed. Don’t start the conversation if either of you is on a time crunch, either. Feeling rushed isn’t conducive to getting a satisfying outcome.
Find What Works for You
Problem-solving is a huge part of dealing with any issue — sexual or otherwise. An exciting part of problem-solving a sexual issue is that you get to experiment and find what works for you. It’s almost like being permitted to mess around and try new things!
It’s definitely helpful for breathing new life into your intimacy, plus it’s just fun. For example, has your sex life become routine? Are you bored? Are you struggling to reach orgasm, or do you have to fake it more than half the time?
It’s time to change things up. Try a new position, buy a new sex toy, experiment with an arousal oil to heighten sensation, or even try out that kink or role-play situation you’ve fantasized about. And, again, talk to your partner about what’s going on.
They can’t fix something if they don’t know it’s a problem — show them how you want to be touched, teach them how to get you off, and listen to them if they have advice for you.
Work on Non-Sexual Forms of Intimacy
Sex in any long-term partnership is just as much about getting off as it is about staying connected. Building a stronger, more resilient connection outside the bedroom can also set the stage for more mind-blowing sex (and a healthier relationship overall).
Intimacy and sexuality are intrinsically linked, so working hard at developing and maintaining one will naturally improve the other. So how do you build non-sexual intimacy?
Think about all the things you used to enjoy doing together when you were first dating (with your clothes on — calm down, killer, we’re getting there). Spend time together! Go on a date, take a walk, try a new recipe, have a deep conversation, take a class, go to the gym.
Intimacy isn’t built with grand gestures; it’s found in the little things that get lost along the way the longer you’re together. Get to know each other all over again, and you’ll be tearing each other’s clothes off in no time.
The Bottom Line
It can be distressing when the intimacy stops in a relationship, and humans tend to internalize the problem and assume it’s something they’ve done wrong instead of bringing it up. However, in most relationships, it takes two to tango — and it takes two to talk it through and come up with a satisfying (and pleasurable) solution.
It takes effort to keep the sexual spark alive, especially in a long-term relationship, but it’s also super hot and a lot of fun to come up with a solution together.
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