Ask the Sexpert: When Desire Isn’t Important to Your Partner

AGWDM when  desire isnt importantAt any time, I know of several people who have a spouse or partner who says that sex and desire isn’t important to them. They don’t want it, they don’t need it, and it’s not a problem for them that needs to be fixed.

But where does that leave the other partner who is craving sex and intimacy in any way, shape or form? I asked Dr. Holly Parker, who teaches The Psychology of Close Relationships at Harvard University and is a clinical psychologist at Edith Nourse Rogers Memorial Veterans Hospital in Bedford, Mass., for her advice. This is what she said:

AGWDM ask the sexpert Dr. Holly Parker“I wouldn’t say that someone has an ethical requirement to be physically intimate with their partner. However, physical intimacy is an important part of what separates ‘a couple’ from ‘a couple of friends.’ For the vast majority of the population, it is generally understood, especially in a marriage, and now typically in long-term exclusive relationships as well, that physical intimacy is an inherent part of the relationship. A lack of physical intimacy in a romantic, long-term, committed relationship is like being friends with someone but refusing to do any shared activities together; that’s part of what friends just do. It’s an investment in the well-being of a relationship, as research shows that a couple’s sex life predicts their marital happiness and not the other way around.

“But, forget the relationship issue for a second. As individuals, as humans, we are sexual beings, and physical intimacy is an important part of life. It’s not a luxury or a want — that kind of connection is arguably a need for most people for a healthy and happy life.

“So, if a member of a couple expressed no desire for physical intimacy on an ongoing basis, it is important to understand why. Rather than try to convince the person to be intimate, a focus on asking questions, listening, and understanding is almost always a wonderful place to start. How long has there been no desire? What does your partner make of this? Is it an issue in the relationship, such as anger and resentment toward you, or dissatisfaction with some aspect of physical intimacy? Or, is the issue about something else, like body image issues, depression, stress, or fatigue? The answers to these questions can provide guidance for meaningful next steps in solving the problem.

“If your partner refuses to talk about it, you might want to re-evaluate how you’re approaching the situation. Try to make the conversation as accepting and non-threatening as possible by using I-statements, expressing care, and a desire to address the issue by actively listening and validating your partner’s feelings. When in doubt, if your partner seems to be shutting down, a request for feedback on whether there is anything you can do to make this a little easier to talk about is an option that might help.

“If your partner refuses to go to therapy for help, this does not mean that you can’t go and receive guidance on how to handle this situation and receive support, You and your new therapist may even be able to convince your partner to come in for a one-time session with no expectation to return. This can sometimes make therapy more approachable.”

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About Bobbie Morgan (1247 Articles)
Bobbie Morgan is the beditor-in-chief of A Good Woman's Dirty Mind. When she's not blogging or having the best sex ever, she's putting out writing and social media services for adult businesses. Use the contact link to reach her by email.

6 Comments on Ask the Sexpert: When Desire Isn’t Important to Your Partner

  1. Excellent advice. I love her acknowledgement that we are sexual beings.

  2. I like the advice of how to approach the issue. This can be a highly charged situation and needs to be handled carefully.

  3. This is slightly off-topic, but I wonder what she’d say about people who identify as asexual. Not sure that everyone is inherently a sexual being, although most of us are.

    • Erica, my experience is limited with asexual people but the few I know are very open about their orientation and won’t entertain relationships with others who are sexual.

  4. “They don’t want it, they don’t need it, and it’s not a problem for them that needs to be fixed.
    But where does that leave the other partner who is craving sex and intimacy in any way, shape or form?”

    I believe someone who just shrugs off their partner’s need for sex and intimacy should be divorced or left. It is one thing to have a lagging libido. It is another to refuse to explore medical or psychological conditions which could be the root cause. Forcing monogamy on someone who has desire when you don’t is holding your partner hostage. It’s perhaps abusive and selfish to ignore your partner’s needs.

    I victimized–yes he was a victim–my husband with this. I wasn’t interested in sex most of my 30’s. It was a chore for me. Finally, after we divorced I got help for my problem and it was an underlying depression and body image issues. That poor man, he was faithful to me and deserved much better. Fast forward I have been in two sexless relationships and in both cases my partners really didn’t care what my needs were because they weren’t their needs and couldn’t be bothered. The first time I stuck it out for three years thinking something would change. The second time, I left immediately.

    If your partner doesn’t want you or anyone and won’t get help. Get the Hell out. Life is too short for that kind of existence.

    • Bobbie Morgan // September 26, 2014 at 6:01 am // Reply

      Frankly, I’m not sure what asexuality is, but I’m sure it’s psychologically rooted for most people. For example, my sister says she doesn’t like sex because it’s messy. I can see how she gets squicked out by messiness from my mom’s behaviors and attitudes about cleanliness. Plus, my mother is extremely puritanical about sex. Meanwhile, my brother-in-law is always joking about not getting any sex. Otherwise, they have a great relationship. They are two of the most genuinely nicest and fun-loving people I know.

      That’s only my sister’s issue, but people have also told me about partners who are shut down in their sexuality for lots of other suspected reasons — past bad relationships, abuse, rape, cultural conditioning, etc. It’s hard to identify a “problem” if the person who has a “problem” doesn’t acknowledge it, especially if that person is holding the relationship hostage by refusing sex and intimacy but still insists on fidelity.

      All I can say is that I didn’t really understand, accept and embrace my sexuality until I was 31. I always enjoyed sex and intimacy but really didn’t open my mind to it until then. I was really held back by a lot of sex-negative messages and conditioning.

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