Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


When People Still Want Sex, but Not with Their Partners

It's a horrible feeling to want sex, but not with the person you love.

Key points

  • Estimates suggest that about 20 percent of marriages are sexless.
  • While some couples thrive without sex, often one partner, while still desiring sex, no longer feels sexually attracted to the other.
  • Experts advise that, for couples that wish to stay together, there are options to try.
Source: wavebreakmedia/Shutterstock

He thinks your libido is low, but the truth is, you masturbate almost every day. The problem isn’t your libido, it’s that you don’t want to have sex with him anymore. He’s trying to be understanding – he thinks you are stressed with work and family responsibilities. And that’s true, you are definitely stressed. But you are stressed about sex more than he realizes. It’s a horrible feeling to want sex, but not want it with your partner.

It’s not about love – you love him, no question. He’s a great dad, and a considerate husband. If only you could want sex with him, your marriage would be almost perfect. But you can’t tell your body what to want.

It’s not even that you are in love – or lust – with someone else. Sure you see guys you’d enjoy having sex with, but no one stands out as “the one.” Unfortunately, though, you do worry that you are at risk for having an affair. Masturbation is only so satisfying. After a while, you will need to be touched – really touched. The light hug you and your husband exchange periodically does nothing to fill the void that you are becoming only more aware of as time passes.

It’s a serious problem with no good solution. You don’t want a celibate life. You don’t want a divorce. You don’t want to have an affair. You can’t imagine opening your marriage. You feel stuck, guilty, sad, ashamed, and confused. You have no idea how this happened; you loved sex with your guy for many years. It seemed like sex would never become an issue. How it changed, you’ll never understand.

Now what?

I hear this story in my therapy room pretty regularly. Of course, it goes both ways. Sometimes it’s a hetero guy who's lost interest in sex with his wife. Maintaining sexual interest in long-term romantic relationships is challenging for just about everyone. And the truth is, there really are no easy solutions. You can talk about it with your partner, try to “spice things up,” seek the help of a sex therapist, even go to a swinger’s resort. Sometimes this stuff helps, but sometimes it doesn’t. How can something we know how do to innately still be so complicated?

As I see it, Mother Nature never intended passion to last long-term with a single partner. Your body wasn’t designed to stay in lust with the same person for years on end. As a result, it’s a common struggle for couples; estimates suggest that about 20% of marriages are sexless. That’s a lot of people. Not everyone is unhappy in a sexless marriage, but probably more often, at least one person in the couple finds the lack of intimate connection quite painful.

When I work with couples in my therapy room around these issues, I start by explaining sex from an evolutionary perspective. It’s important for them to recognize that their lack of passion isn’t personal; it’s of evolutionary design. The evolutionary purpose of passion isn’t to keep a couple together for decades. Its purpose is simply to motivate short-term pair bonding and procreation. Once that goal is accomplished, that innate desire for a well-known partner becomes more fragile, and may even subside. Nonetheless, nature’s wiring remains intact, as is obvious for people when they rediscover their passion in the arms of an affair partner, or when they divorce and find passion back in full force when they re-enter the dating scene.

Divorce seems to be a common outcome. Couples will hang on to their marriage as long as they can, while feelings of resentment and rejection intensify. People develop narratives about why their sex life is failing: Their partner is doing something wrong in life or in the bedroom; they are just too stressed to have time and energy for sex; their partner’s porn use disgusts them; they never were able to free themselves of anti-sex religious messages. There are many viable reasons. Yet while there are some experiences that seem to hasten this process for many couples, such as having children, all of these couples share something in common: Nature’s sexual ‘pre-wiring.” Nature’s goal for your sex life is likely very different from your own.

You may not feel like you have solutions for your failing sex life, but you do have options. First, keep your heart open. Rather than blaming yourself or your partner, recognize that nature is a powerful force. It’s likely no one is to blame for what’s happening with your sex life right now. No doubt there are things you both can do to improve the situation, but still, nature will always be a powerful unconscious force in your love life.

Next, consider using your sexual “pre-wiring” to your advantage. Also, playing with elements of dominance and vulnerability are ways to trigger your innate sexual pre-wiring in a long-term relationship. Finally, remember that just because a problem doesn’t have a “solution” doesn’t mean that a therapist can’t be helpful.

There are many challenges to being human. Sharing an intimate relationship with one partner over time is clearly one of them. Please hold yourself, and your partner, with love as you forge your intimate path together.

Facebook image: wavebreakmedia/Shutterstock