How to say no when your partner wants sex and you don’t

Living with a mate who wants more sex than you do can become a high-pressure situation with no apparent right answer. You don’t want to say no again; you are tired of saying no. You are tired of that defensive role, of feeling like a stingy female metering out the goodies. Yet you don’t want to have sex when you’re not into it. So either you are the stingy woman who won’t have sex or you are the woman having sex who is not into it. Neither choice is an empowering one for you. 

Let’s visit the story of Sofia and Nathan. Nathan wanted sex once a day or more. Sofia did not. Sofia was trying to figure out the level of her own desire, without Nathan’s influence. The greatest help for Sofia in finding her desire, she said, was acquiring the skill to say no to sex clearly and with confidence. Once she was able to tell Nathan no without feeling guilty or yielding to pressure, it helped her find her yes. Sofia learned that men could accept a no. She found she was able to say no and it did not end their relationship. 

“He could take it,” she said. His yearning for her did not go away, and he did not go away. Sofia saying ‘no’ clearly was relaxing for them both. Neither one had to wallow in the indecisiveness of a wavering, fuzzy choice. Before, she had feared that if she said no, he would think she was not interested in him, or think that she was not a sexual person. She had figured that saying no would be awkward or difficult. Turned out It wasn’t. Sofia says it has been the opposite. Saying no directly instead of skirting around the issue is “way more positive” for her. 

Saying no, Sofia found, added to her ability to say yes. When she felt a clear yes, she could give herself over to the moment completely. She and Nathan then had sexual experiences that she treasured. Finding her yes grew when she learned to say no with confidence. 

How to Say No

Be direct and clear. And when you say no keep your sexiness alive. Just because sex is a no for you in one moment, there’s no need to dial down your sexuality. You are an alive and vibrant being. It is you, a dynamic woman who is saying not now. You do not have to take on the persona of a matronly, uptight, or apologetic female because you are saying no. You can say no, not now, with your eyes sparkling. You also don’t need to undress in the closet hoping to avoid turning your partner on. If it is not the moment to be sexual, communicate that. 

Saying ‘no’ is a sensitive declaration. It can be destructive if your partner has resentment about your lack of availability for sex. Couples with different levels of desire for sex are in the opposite of a win-win situation; it is extremely painful and disempowering for both. Be respectful of your partner and their feelings of frustration or powerlessness. If resentment is pervasive get professional help in sorting this out. Often there are other dynamics in play behind a partners lack of interest that don’t have to do with sex itself.

If you are the partner with lower desire, and you are saying no, there are ways to stay closer as you say no. One of the ways is this: when you do say no to sex, you can add a promise of a future yes at that same time, and mean it. For example: 

I have to go work. Come shower with me now and we can play tonight. 

No sex now, but looking forward to Saturday morning. 

Alert: Be sure if you actually make a promise to have sex, that you keep that promise. Sex is so centrally important for some men and women it is not a promise you want to break. 

Empower your communication around YES and NO

In June 2016 there was a headline in The Wall Street Journal, “Women May Be More Interested in Sex Than You Think.” Curious, I read on. It was a discussion of research that had just been published on how difficult it is to perceive accurately whether your partner wants to have sex. The study subjects were all couples in long-term heterosexual relationships. Women predicted accurately their partners’ interest in sex, and men missed women’s interest one third of the time. Multiple theories were put forward to account for this misperception, all interesting and intelligent. Some of the discussion was that the women’s indication that she was a yes for sex was communicated so indirectly that it was not interpreted as a yes by their partner. What I took away from this research is the importance of sending sexual signals to your partner that he or she won’t miss and also won’t misinterpret. If you have a yes for sex, are you sure your signal was received as a yes?

There are times when a woman would actually like to have sex yet she is too tired or distracted to say yes. Her perception is that she is so tired or distracted that she wouldn’t get into the sex — so rather than have a frustrating sexual experience she says no. If you would like to have a wonderful romp with your partner, yet you are afraid that wouldn’t happen, I would encourage you to do one thing differently. I would encourage you to be honest and disclose the whole story. Saying your whole truth could be something like “Yes–I would love to have fun with you in the bedroom, but I am so tired (or worried, or wound up) it doesn’t seem in the realm of possibility that I could have a good time.” I have seen partners successfully meet this challenge. They see where you are at, often sympathize, and surprisingly move you to a better place. You don’t need to fake enthusiasm that you don’t have, or pretend like the worry you carry doesn’t exist. You can bring all of you into the moment and potentially be met by a caring, loving and respectful partner. Admitting you are afraid that you won’t get aroused can add to your arousal. Great sex can come out of moments like this. Sex with tenderness and vulnerability has power. Underneath your worry can be a heck of a lot of vitality and sexual appetite.

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