No Desire to Have Sex

What are the possible causes of having no desire to have sex with a partner?

In my experience, there are many possible causes of having no desire to have sex with a partner. A person could have a physical problem, like untreated reduced thyroid function. Or, someone could be experiencing high levels of anxiety and having panic attacks. Another individual might be undergoing a lot of stress, or having difficulty adjusting to change. Then, it’s also possible that somebody has never had much sexual desire and what they had has gradually fizzled out. But, often enough, there is no easy or obvious explanation for having no desire to have sex with a partner when you look at just the individual with that problem. To understand what’s going on, you need to figure out how the relationship is going with the partner.

It is very, very common to have a person say he/she doesn’t want his/her partner too close. Sometimes the individual will request not to be touched by him/her at all. In these cases, clearly a boundary has been set up for a reason but it may be difficult to understand that reason. The partner usually takes this as a terrible rejection and feels extremely threatened by it. Not knowing what to make of it, he/she may try to force him/herself on the person thinking that will get the two of them past this irrational, hurtful phase in their relationship. However, being pushy and forward like this usually makes the situation much worse.

The partner can take for granted that something has happened to make his/her loved one put up his/her guard. It could be a lack of emotional closeness, a feeling of being unready for physical contact or feeling somehow threatened by it. For example, a man who wanted understanding and support from his wife received a lot of demands and coldness instead. He said he couldn’t help it; he shut down sexually towards her and became impotent. She pressured him to go to the doctor for a prescription for Viagra, but then he couldn’t be convinced to swallow it.

It might even be that the individual feels emotionally or sexually mistreated or exploited. For example, over a period of time, the couple has lost a lot of closeness, but the partner sees that as no impediment to their sexual relationship. The person who needs the emotional bond to feel comfortable sexually then starts to feel like a piece of meat. That can be experienced as very dehumanizing and objectifying. It can start up a real power struggle between them: One might count the number of times they’ve had sex in the last year, blaming the other for its lack and threatening to leave if their sex life doesn’t improve.

Another possible cause of having no desire to have sex with a partner can be that the individual was never really that attracted to him/her. This happens in marriages of convenience, rebounds, or marrying a friend who is like a brother or sister. These people will often say that they knew they didn’t have much chemistry with their partners, but rationalized it somehow. They might figure that the rate of having sex drops over time in all marriages. Or, they could think the partners will grow on them. Then, they find themselves in a long-term relationship trying every which way to reduce or eliminate the need to have sex.

What strategies can be implemented to foster the desire?

If the individual with no desire has shut down sexually due to feeling a lack of closeness he/she probably finds it awkward, unpleasant or even violating to be expected to have sex with a person who feels like a stranger. The same is true for the person who feels mistreated or exploited. In these cases, it is essential to re-build an emotional bond that feels loving and trusting. This will take time and the individual who has shut down needs to be the one to initiate or request physical contact.

It is vitally important for the rejected partner to be strong, patient, dignified and respectful about all of this. It is a complete disaster for him/her to try to force, coerce or trick his/her loved one into having sex before he/she is ready. That has the distinct potential to create hatred and mistrust which will take a lot longer and be much more work to fix if it is fixable at all.

The person who never had much chemistry or desire for his/her partner and even that has deteriorated may not be open to resuming a sexual relationship at all. The best possible scenario in these cases is establishing a friends with benefits scenario in which sex is more a matter of convenience, recreation or release than it is an enormously loving and passionate experience.

How should you communicate the situation to your partner?

Often enough, a partner who is being rejected sexually knows it and feels it. He/she may be the first one to talk about it.

In the cases in which the partner is blissfully unaware that his/her loved one has no sexual desire, he/she needs to be told. I recommend that this be done kindly and gently. But it’s very important for the partner to know that his/her sexual contact is unwelcome. That’s because additional unwelcome sexual contact will only cause more harm; if it goes too far, it may be impossible to rectify the situation.

Although circumstances in which one partner has no desire to have sex tend to be very painful, they can be opportunities for growth and change. I’ve seen many couples successfully work through their issues and re-develop sexual relationships. The keywords for this kind of success are understanding, patience and respect.


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