Saying No To Sex Can Be Good For Your Relationship

written by Trisha Stone
JD Mason

YESSS, finally some research that reduces some of my wife guilt. Regardless of whether you’re a man or woman, married or not married, we have all said “No” to our partner and felt guilty about it, right?! We have all had times when our partner is in the mood and we are just NOT, right?! (Don’t leave me hanging here.)

During these times we quickly run through our options: (1) Get in the mood, (2) Say “No”, or (3) Have sex even though we don’t want to (i.e., when we are not in the mood and know we won’t get in the mood).

Desire discrepancies between partners are common in relationships — in one study, 80% of people had experienced a desire discrepancy with their partner in the past month; in another study, couples reported some degree of desire discrepancy on 5 out of 7 days a week. Psychology Today

for this article we’re going to ignore option 1 (get in the mood: It’s a great strategy but that’s an article for a different day). So as we’re considering Option 2: saying “No” — we quickly think though THe negative THINGS that can HAPPEN IF WE REJECT our partner:

  1. We will disappoint our partner
  2. We can hurt our partner’s feelings
  3. We can harm our relationship overall — how many times per day or week are we supposed to be having sex anyways??
  4. We will likely feel guilty (about disappointing our partner and maybe even feel like we’re not being a good partner, not fulfilling our “duty”, etc.)
  5. Other random negative thoughts: Subconscious fears that we are giving our partner a reason to cheat, comparing our sexual frequency with others and 100 other random oftentimes irrational thoughts because the bottom line is we want to meet our partner’s sexual needs, we want them to feel desired, we want them to be happy!

And on top of all this…we also thinking about how we’re going to have to make it up to our partner a.s.a.p. (likely the next day) to avoid feeling even more guilty — but maybe we know we’re going to be busy the next day, our favorite TV show is on, or just don’t think we will be in the mood for whatever reason.

Wow, I’M FEELING TERRIBLE JUST THINKING ABOUT saying “no”. I’M GOING WITH Option 3: I’M JUST GOING TO do it even when I don’t want to in order to avoid any of these negative thoughts or potentialLY NEGATIVE consequences. 

For those of us who have done this, we are not alone. This is SO common.

Romantic partners often have differing levels of sexual interest. In these situations, lower desire partners may engage in sex for avoidance goals (e.g., to avoid disappointing their partner). (And remember lower desire does not always mean one person in the relationship is the “lower desire” partner, we can switch roles weekly, monthly, yearly. Our relationships change over time!)

Research shows this is WRONG. Having sex to avoid negative consequences is associated with negative relational outcomes. The findings, which appear in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, suggest that declining your partner’s sexual advances helped sustain relationship satisfaction — if you do it in a positive way. On the other hand, chronic pursuit of sex for avoidance goals had detrimental consequences over time.

This makes a lot of sense to me. If I’m having sex only to avoid something negative happening then I’m likely not having my best sex. In fact, I’m probably having bad sex. That is not to say that you shouldn’t try to get in the mood. There have been so many times when I was not in the mood but have gotten in the mood (that’s another article). But if you know you’re not feeling it, and that feeling isn’t going to change you should 100% say “No.”

So the next question I know you’re all thinking is “How, do you say no in a positive way? Quickly? At the same time as you’re having a billion different thoughts about the options we discussed above?” The “I don’t feel well” or “I’m tired” excuses don’t really work well if you’ve used it several times, right?!

Here are my tips:

  1. It’s 100% OK to tell your partner you’re tired and/or you don’t feel well, etc. because let’s face it there are days when we are tired and don’t feel well. But you should only say it if that’s the real reason versus an excuse to not make the time, or not make the effort — i.e., when you CAN choose to get in the mood but decide not to.
  2. Saying “No” is easier to communicate to your partner in a positive way when you are making sex a priority and taking turns initiating. If one person is always doing the initiating even if they are only getting rejected 10-25% of the time that still feels like a lot because they are always the one initiating. Everyone wants/needs to feel desired. And the next time your partner initiates and you say “No”, your partner is more likely to take it positively (and not take it personally) if you were the last one who initiated.
  3. If you say “No” give your partner an alternate date, time and place. It takes the pressure off your partner to make another move and risk getting rejected again.
  4. I also have to mention In the Mood because I USE IT ALL THE TIME: I love sending Chris fun and sexy date invitations. He can either accept or “How About” and suggest a different date, time, place or date idea. We flirt back-and-forth making new suggestions until we both agree! It’s a great way to get in the mood. There’s no “in-the-moment” rejection, it’s fun, it’s exciting and it feels really good to get an invite from your partner.

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