What to Do If Your Partner Has Lost Interest in Sex

When a Dry Spell Turns Into Something Serious

Research suggests that sexual satisfaction plays a pivotal role in healthy relationships according to research, but there are a number of factors that can influence the quality of a couple's sex life as well as individual sexual desire over the course of a relationship. Every relationship can go through dry spells when your partner is suddenly less interested in sex than you.

It may be a short-term problem related to stress at work or other issues that have driven your partner to distraction. Even more commonly, a sudden, hectic schedule—ranging from end-of-year exams to a do-or-die work deadline—can leave your partner exhausted and uninterested in anything more than sleep or a night in front of the TV.

While dry spells like these are common and usually resolve on their own once things stabilize, a prolonged and unexplained lack of sex in a relationship can be harmful to the general well-being of both partners.

Not only can this stir feelings of frustration and self-doubt but it may also leave you wondering whether this may be your first step toward a sexless marriage. It is not an entirely unfounded concern; research suggests that the amount of sex people are having is on the decline.

According to a study published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior, American adults are having less sex, regardless of their gender, race, or marital status.

possible causes for loss if interest in sex

Verywell / Nusha Ashjaee 

Is It Normal to Not Want to Be Intimate?

There is no rule as to when a dry spell is "too long." Much of it depends on the couple's age, how long they have been together, and what their usual pattern of sex has been.

It is important not to confuse "average" estimates of how often couples have sex with what is normal for you and your relationship. Every individual and couple is different, and sexual desire is bound to fluctuate naturally over time. The important thing is that both of you are satisfied with the amount and quality of the sex that you have.

Ultimately, if a dry spell is causing palpable tension in the relationship or is undermining the confidence of one or both partners, action needs to be taken. And that can be tricky.

Unless both partners are willing to engage in honest and open communication, any discussion about the lack of sex may trigger feelings of guilt, anger, blame, or embarrassment, setting back rather than advancing a solution.

To this end, there are steps you can take to address the problem together. It would require, first and foremost, that you not make any assumptions about your partner's lack of sexual interest, no matter how much it may be causing you distress.

Why Your Partner May Be Less Interested in Sex

Decreased sex drive and intimacy tend to be common as people age. Research has shown that sexual intimacy starts to decline at around age 45 and continuing as people grow older.

They are many different factors that can contribute to a decreased interest in sex. So while you may assume that your partner is having an affair, is gay, or has simply lost interest in you, you need to be open to all possibilities.

Moreover, it is important to distinguish between low libido (the loss of sexual desire), hypoactive sexual desire (the absence of sexual fantasies), and sexual dysfunction. Each can have physical and psychological causes but are completely different in how they are treated. By understanding the difference, you can approach the problem more objectively and avoid many of the emotional repercussions.

Low Libido

Low libido is a decrease is sex drive that can lead to decreased sexual activity. It can be treated if the underlying causes can be identified. The causes for the loss of sexual interest can be many, including:

  • Stress
  • Depression
  • Erectile dysfunction
  • Hormone imbalances (spurred by menopause and hypogonadism)
  • Genital pain (such as vaginismus or balanitis)
  • Chronic illness
  • Medications
  • Low self-esteem
  • Relationship problems

The list could go on and on. Other emotional challenges can also play a role in how much a person desires sex.

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Hypoactive Sexual Desire Disorder

Hypoactive sexual desire disorder (HSDD) is defined as the absence of sexual fantasies and desire for sexual activity. It is the most common type of sexual dysfunction among women, affecting 8.9% of women between the ages of 18 and 44, 12.3% between the ages of 45 and 64, and 7.4% over the age of 65.

Research suggests that HSDD is linked to a number of negative outcomes including worse health-related quality of life, more frequent negative emotions, lower happiness, and less satisfaction with partners.

Despite the negative impacts of the condition, it is both underdiagnosed and undertreated. Fewer than 50% of people who are having sexual problems seek help from their doctor, often out of feelings of embarrassment or discomfort initiating discussions about sex.

Sexual Dysfunction

Sexual dysfunction involves any problem that occurs at any point during the sexual response cycle that prevents and individual or a couple from having a satisfying sexual experience. This can include problems with desire, arousal, orgasm, or pain.

Types of sexual dysfunction in men include erectile dysfunction, delayed ejaculation, and premature ejaculation. In women, types of sexual dysfunction can include inadequate lubrication during intercourse, the inability to relax the vaginal muscles to allow intercourse.

What to Do When Your Partner Has Lost Desire

When approaching your spouse about sexual problems in the relationship, the worst place to do so in the bedroom where you both exposed and vulnerable. Instead, find some neutral territory where you can be alone, private, and undisturbed.

Make every effort to express yourself sensitivity and without any suggestion of blame. While it is important to share your worries, do so within the context of the relationship rather than asserting how "you" are causing "me" to worry. That is where worry turns to blame.

  • If your partner doesn't know what is causing the problem but acknowledges its existence, suggest a physical exam with the family doctor. Low libido is often the result of an undiagnosed medical condition (such as low testosterone, high blood pressure, hypothyroidism, or diabetes) or the side effect of certain medications (such as antidepressants, birth control pills, and some prostate medications).
  • If your partner shuts down or is reluctant to discuss the issue, you need to take charge and not take things personally. In the end, this is not about you failing your partner or your partner failing you. It is simply that you both need to take ownership of the problem as a couple. By taking the lead—and suggesting couples counseling, if needed—you can bring the issue into the light and use the process to strengthen, rather than hurt, the relationship.
  • If your partner is able to pinpoint a problem (such as stress at work or feeling tired all the time), work together to find a solution. Focus on incremental change, and seek medical help if needed. And don't be shy to suggest therapy.

Therapy can be great for teaching stress management skills and may help identify undercurrents of depression or anxiety. Moreover, take the time to reiterate the importance of intimacy and physical closeness as you endeavor to find a lasting solution.

Can a Relationship Survive Without Desire?

It is important to remember that solving any relationship problem—whether it be sexual, financial, or emotional—is a process and not an event. Take your time, be patient, and, if needed, seek counseling to ensure your self-esteem and confidence remain intact. If you are struggling with a lack on intimacy in your relationship, know that it is possible to get help and get your relationship back on track.

11 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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Additional Reading

By Sheri Stritof
Sheri Stritof has written about marriage and relationships for 20+ years. She's the co-author of The Everything Great Marriage Book.