When Your Partner Rejects You Sexually

The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast with Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

What to Do When Your Partner Rejects You Sexually

“Dr. Lisa — My sexless marriage is killing me! When my partner rejects me sexually, what can I do?”

As an experienced marriage counselor and online couples therapist, I’ve heard this more times than I can count. I know being out of synch sexually with your partner can lead to a lot of hurt feelings and conflict in your relationship – all the things that make it (paradoxically) more difficult to create the emotional intimacy and feelings of connection that allow mutual pleasure in sexuality to flourish. 

It can feel really hurtful when you want to have sex with your partner, but they don’t want to have sex with you. Feeling like you’re being rejected sexually can be painful because sex can be so tied up in our minds with love, body image, gender expectations, and some deep insecurities about being “good lovers.” 

For all these reasons, feelings of rejection can curdle into a ball of toxic resentment for your relationship — if you haven’t yet learned to navigate these conversations with vulnerability, empathy, and compassion. On the flip side, if you can use this experience to create a deeper connection, your relationship and your sex life will improve dramatically. I hope this article shows you the way!

I’ve also recorded an episode of the Love, Happiness and Success podcast on why you might be experiencing sexual rejection, and what you can do if your partner is rejecting you sexually and it’s becoming a problem in your relationship. My guest is Dori B. (M.S., SAS, MACA), a sex therapist and couples counselor here at Growing Self. Dori has helped countless couples navigate differences in sexual desire, reignite their sexual “spark” and keep things spicy for years to come. Now she’s sharing her insight about why people experience “sexual rejection” in their relationships so that you can navigate this tricky terrain like a pro. You can tune in on this page, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen. 

When Your Partner Rejects You Sexually

Sexual “misfires” happen in every long-term relationship, but feeling rejected can damage the emotional bond in your relationship if they’re not attended to with care. 

If one partner feels rejected frequently, it’s easy for them to begin feeling hurt, frustrated, and resentful about it. The partner who has a lower sex drive in the relationship is likely to feel defensive, and they may even begin to avoid physical affection with their partner out of anxiety that it will turn into a sexual advance and then a fight. This defensive response to affection is sometimes called the bristle reaction, and it can really hurt your feelings!

Nothing kills the mood like simmering in a stew of frustration, hurt feelings, resentment, anxiety, and avoidance. If you want more sex (and a better relationship), navigating differences in desire with thought and care is important! 

Feeling Rejected vs. Being Rejected

If you’re the partner who’s feeling turned down, keep in mind that there’s a difference between feeling rejected and being rejected. When your partner doesn’t want to have sex, that reflects their feelings about having a sexual encounter with you at that moment — not their feelings about you in general. 

Even if your partner rejects you sexually or turns you down repeatedly over a long period of time (which happens, and is super frustrating), that isn’t a statement about their feelings for you, only their feelings about sex during that phase of your relationship. To work through it together, you’ll both need to be able to communicate about your sex life in an open and emotionally-safe way, which will be easier if you can resist taking the rejection personally. 

Pay attention to the story you’re telling yourself about sexual rejection. If you’re feeling like it’s about more than sex, communicate those feelings with your partner. 

Gender and Sexual Rejection

While many women in heterosexual relationships find themselves in the “pursuer” role, it is often the case that men initiate sex more often. Men tend to have stronger libidos and to experience more “spontaneous desire,” meaning that they could be moved from having a sexy thought to having sex without a lot of buildup in between. 

On the other hand, women are more likely to experience “responsive desire,” which means their interest in having sex is more likely to grow gradually in response to sexy stimuli. For most women, getting in the mood is a process, and a lot can stand in the way of that process unfolding. Being tired, stressed, or preoccupied with other things can all put the kibosh on the gradual ramp-up of desire that female libido usually requires, which can leave the more sex-ready partner feeling rejected — even when their partner not wanting to have sex right then truly has nothing to do with them. 

Of course, men are not the only people who feel rejected in heterosexual relationships. For many couples, the dynamic cuts in the other direction, with the female partner wanting more sex than the male partner. This desire discrepancy can be more challenging because cultural attitudes about how sex between men and women is “supposed” to work and about how men are “supposed” to feel about sex (ready and willing at a moment’s notice) can leave both partners feeling like there’s something wrong with them, or with the relationship, if it’s not playing out that way.  

The woman may be quicker to take it personally when her partner shoots her propositions down. The man may feel pressure to perform sexual desire he doesn’t feel to avoid hurting her feelings or stirring up conflict

In reality, men do not want sex all of the time. Male libido can fluctuate for various reasons, from age-related hormonal changes, to stress, to no discernible reason whatsoever. A man not wanting sex as often as his female partner does not necessarily mean there’s anything wrong. 

Navigating “Sex Rejection” in a Relationship

The “sex rejection” conversation is like so many things: less about what you say, and more about how you say it. 

Your partner may feel “rejected” by you — even if you love them to pieces and enjoy being intimate with them. It’s important to let them into how you’re feeling when you’re not in the mood. Otherwise, they can personalize your not wanting to have sex in ways that feel hurtful.

When you don’t feel like having sex at that moment and need to communicate that to your partner, remember the meaning that we can make around “sexual rejection,” and how tender our feelings about it can be. Do what you can to help your partner feel loved, accepted, and desired by you, even if you aren’t in the mood for sex. Reassure them that they can still get you all hot and bothered — just not at the moment. 

This is also a great time to open up a conversation about what you are in the mood for. Many couples get into an all-or-nothing routine when it comes to sex, but many alternatives meet many of the same needs, especially if your partner’s love language is physical touch. Maybe you could cuddle or go for a massage. Maybe a few sex acts are on the menu for you, even if you don’t want to commit to a full five-course meal. Communicating openly about what you want when connecting with your partner will only strengthen your relationship, and your sexual connection. 

If you’re declining opportunities for sexual intimacy with your partner, make sure you’re still prioritizing emotional intimacy. Continue to share your feelings — including your feelings about your sex life — so you can stay close and connected, even through “dry spells.” 

When you’re the partner who doesn’t want to have sex, it can sometimes be tempting to “give in” and do it anyway, especially if not having sex has become a point of conflict. But this is a bad idea. No one should have sex they don’t want to, and doing so can create problems in your relationship and your sex life. It’s always better to be honest with yourself and your partner about how you’re feeling when you’re not in the mood, and then work through that together. This allows you to understand each other more deeply and strengthen your relationship. 

Creating Rituals of Connection

There are few things less sexy than a spreadsheet, yet sometimes that’s the best way for couples to navigate desire discrepancy and have a healthy, fulfilling sex life. When you have routines in your life that intentionally support your emotional and physical connection with your partner, it’s easier for your desires to align. 

If you schedule some mutually agreed upon time for intimacy with your partner — whether that means having sex or not — you might find that you have more sex with each other and experience less “rejection.” With your rituals of connection in place, neither of you will have to battle the nagging sense that you should be doing something else during your dedicated time together. There will also be more time for the excitement to build, helping both of you feel ready to go when the time arrives. 

It’s true that you lose some of the spontaneous fun of sex when you have to send your partner a G-cal invite a week in advance, but if rejection has become a problem in your relationship, it’s probably been a while since you pounced on each other in the kitchen anyway. For most long-term committed couples (especially with kids!) the expectation that “sex should be spontaneous” is a myth, and one that hurts their relationship.

Getting Help for Sexual Rejection in a Relationship

Just about every committed relationship involves some differences in sexual desire. Still, when couples go through long periods of time where sex isn’t happening (especially when one partner is more disappointed about that than the other), it can be hard on the relationship. 

The partner who wishes they were having more sex can feel rejected, creating fertile soil for hurt feelings and resentment to grow. And when you start associating sex with conflict, restoring a positive sexual rhythm only becomes more difficult. 

Working with a good sex therapist can help you and your partner build your understanding of each other, deepen your emotional and sexual intimacy, and find new ways of approaching sex in your relationship that feels more satisfying for you both. 

I wish you all the luck along the way. And if you’d like support from a marriage and family therapist at Growing Self, I invite you to schedule a free consultation.

With love,

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

P.S. — I have more free articles and podcasts for you in my “emotional and sexual intimacy” collection. I hope you’ll take advantage — It’s all there for you! xoxo

Music in this episode is by La Femme with their song “Francoise.” You can support them and their work by visiting their Bandcamp page here: https://lafemmeressort.bandcamp.com/. Under the circumstance of use of music, each portion of used music within this current episode fits under Section 107 of the Copyright Act, i.e., Fair Use. Please refer to copyright.gov if further questions are prompted.

Listen & Subscribe to the Podcast

When Your Partner Rejects You Sexually

The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast with Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

Free, Expert Advice — For You.

Subscribe To The Love, Happiness, and Success Podcast

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby: This is   Lisa Marie Bobby, and you’re listening to the Love, Happiness and Success podcast. Any kind of rejection stings, but when you’re feeling rejected in the bedroom, it’s especially hard. How to handle feeling sexually rejected by your partner, that’s what we’re talking about on today’s show.

I have chosen this La Femme song for us today, it’s called Françoise. I think it kinda sets the mood, sets the tone for that weird combination of loneliness and longing when you are wanting to be with your partner, but feeling like it’s just never the right time. You’re not sure what to do or how to connect. I think La Femme understands you. I think La Femme knows how you feel. 

So, you can get more La Femme in your life, they’re on tour currently. So, you can learn more about that, buy your tickets, check out their music on their Bandcamp page, lafemme.bandcamp.com. On today’s episode of the podcast, we are covering a very important topic one, though, that is really under discussed and that is how to deal with perceived sexual rejection in your relationship. 

Now, something that everybody has dealt with in a long term relationship, sooner or later, is feeling like you and your partner are a little bit out of sync sexually, right? Of course, you have a lot in common with your partner. You love them. But, it would actually be weird if you are always perfectly aligned all the time, around your interest or sexuality, and maybe even, you might have some differences and things that you enjoy in the bedroom and just energy levels, differences in desire. 

There can be so many things that go into this. So even though at the beginning of a relationship, there might be high interest on both sides, and you might be intimate frequently. Life tends to, over time, kind of get in the way, right? Most couples go through phases of having more sex, having less sex and sometimes even having no sex at all, depending on your life circumstances at that moment, so all definitely within the range of normal. 

But even though sexual rejection, so one person making advances that are not bought into by the other, it can be really difficult to cope with when it happens. It can be difficult emotionally. Sometimes, it can feel like your partner isn’t just declining sex, but they’re making a broader statement about how they feel about you and it can be hard not to take that personally, right? 

So today, we’re going to unpack this and talk about why perceptions of sexual rejection or experiences of sexual rejection can feel so hurtful, the meaning that we make from these experiences, and how you can navigate this as a couple in a way that keeps your relationship healthy, and your intimate connection strong. So, with me today to discuss this important topic is my colleague, Dori. 

Dori is a therapist on the team here at Growing Self who specializes in sex therapy. She is a true expert in the realm of sexual intimacy and relationships. If you’ve listened to this podcast before, you’ll know that Dori has joined me on a number of episodes to share her wisdom on this topic and she’s back again to talk about this difficult facet of sexuality and relationships. So Dori, thank you so much for joining me today.

Dori: Thank you so much for having me. This is definitely a very important topic that I think most people can relate to on one side or the other.

Lisa: Yeah. Well, let’s start right there. I mean, it’s normal, right? 

Dori: Absolutely. Even though it’s normal, it’s very difficult. I think it’s difficult to feel rejected, but it’s also difficult to say no to your partner when they really want to have that connection with you. But, feeling rejected, it’s a very hard feeling. You can bring up a lot of other related feelings.

Lisa: Yeah, well, I think especially with this, in particular, I mean, it can be vulnerable to kind of reach out to your partner like initiate physical intimacy anyway. I mean, I know that you work with so many couples and individuals around this issue. Have you experienced that people feel, I don’t know if nervous or apprehensive is the right way to say it, but even just going into this? Is that a thing?

Dori: Definitely. It’s almost like, you’re putting yourself out there. You make effort, whatever that means. Sometimes, you make yourself look a little better or sound a little better and you put yourself out there in the hopes that connection or that reach for connection will be reciprocated. And when it’s not, that can feel extremely personal, like something about you is being rejected, when often case, it’s not true. 

It’s something else that’s happening in the background as well for the partner who’s saying no at the time, but it’s so hard. It’s such a difficult feeling to manage. 

Lisa: Absolutely. Do you find that that experience of rejection happens more often when, I mean, in heterosexual relationships – I guess I’m talking about right now – when men initiate and sort of feel shut down by their female partner, or when women initiate and their male partners aren’t into it? Is it about the same in your experience?

Dori: Well, that’s a tricky question. Because couples who come to me, I find that it’s about same. I know that, statistically speaking, typically men find it more of their experience to initiate and be rejected. But, I think because in media and society that’s kind of normalized that men have a higher sex drive, that they know how to deal with it, or they talk to their buddies about it, but it’s the other way around. That becomes a little bit more of a question. 

I have had couples come to me where women feel like, they initiate and are rejected, and then, they say, like, something’s wrong with my partner. This is not how it’s supposed to be,  because we have this preconceived notion that it’s not supposed to be like that. But, it’s actually quite normal for both people to have different levels of desire or desire for sexual intimacy. 

Lisa: Yeah. But, that’s interesting that you’re saying that, like women, when happens to them, take it harder, in some ways, like they struggle with it more because there’s this mythology in our culture that men should be ready and willing at a moment’s notice, and that is not true. But, also that women don’t sometimes know how to handle it, if the partner isn’t in the mood. Very interesting.

Dori: Yes, like, there’s a lot that comes with women and how they feel about themselves, already. We have a lot of messages of how you’re supposed to look like and feel like, and act like and if there is some form of rejection in an intimate or romantic relationship that adds other levels of pressure. But, it’s a hard feeling for sure.

Lisa: Well, I was so I was struck by something you said in our previous conversation on this topic. You said, feeling rejected is not the same thing as being rejected, right? I was wondering if you could say a little bit more about that, where somebody could feel rejected, even though they’re not necessarily being rejected. What did you mean by that?

Dori: Yeah. So, I think it is important to clarify really what rejection means for each partner. Often what I find with my couples is that whoever initiates in whatever way, and then is rejected. They feel like they are rejected because their partner is saying, no, but really, there can be a lot going on for the partner that doesn’t involve them at all. So, you can feel like rejection is coming, because they’re saying no, and you internalize that, as you know, it must be that I’m not attractive enough, or I didn’t do the right thing, or I didn’t do it the right way, or didn’t do it the way that is most exciting for my partner. 

But oftentimes, your partner is dealing with something perhaps they are not feeling so great in their bodies, or they’re really stressed or they have a lot of housework to do or a lot of other things on their mind, so saying like, I love you and you’re super hot, and I find you very attractive, but not today. It’s a really, really important thing to actually hear those things that they love me and they find me attractive, but not today, and it’s totally okay. 

It doesn’t mean you are being rejected. It’s the act of sexual encounter that’s being rejected or not necessarily rejected, you know, brain can’t.

Lisa: Right. Right. I love the way you said that it’s not you that is being rejected, it is the sexual encounter that is being rejected. I’m hearing you say that and I want to talk about this more like how couples can handle those moments so that people know that they’re loved, even though their partner doesn’t feel like being with them at that moment. But, I love the way you’re talking too, that, like, there are so many variables attached to sexuality, that have nothing to do with your partner’s feeling about you, or like, general attraction to you. 

Like, people can be stressed. They could be thinking about other things. They could just be tired, I mean, but the tendency is to personalize it, right? And to turn it into something about you. 

Dori: It’s natural to feel like it’s about you, but that’s when communication comes in. It’s super important how you say no to your partner can make a difference, how you word your rejection, per se, because it can leave them feeling different versus like, oh, no, not today. That’s kind of shutting someone down. But addressing like, “Oh, I love that you are so attracted to me, and I love that you would want to do things, but right now, I’m not really up for it.”

Or we can talk about some other strategies that you can do later in the piece. But, it’s important to address how rejection is done. 

Lisa: Well, and I’m sure that probably on the other side, how it’s initiated too can probably make a difference, so much to unpack, Dori, so much. But, can we talk a little bit more about what rejection means for different people, because I’m imagining it probably is interpreted in different ways, right?

Dori: So for a lot of people, it can activate feelings of shame or embarrassment, or big feelings that are quite difficult to handle in the moment, especially when you put yourself out there and no one wants that connection. So, it’s those feelings that are very, very hard to navigate.

Lisa: Especially like embarrassment. That’s a bad one.

Dori: Yeah, it is, like sexuality is so personal, and when you put yourself out there in that context, and then someone says, No, that can feel quite embarrassing, perhaps. Is it something to do with my body? Is it the way I did it? Am I not sure how to, you know, in wide desire in my partner days? There’s a lot of things that go on.

Lisa: Definitely. I appreciate you saying that too, about the body image piece. I’m sure that it is very real, sometimes for men as well. But, I know a lot of women feel a lot of vulnerability around the way that their bodies look just because we internalize all these messages from the culture, right, around these unattainable standards of beauty. I mean, for like, 99.999% of women, but that’s what we see. 

I think it’s getting better now in the last few years, but like, movies and online, I mean, they’re so beautiful, and it’s like, basically, no real humans look like that. But, I think that it can turn into this anxiety, like if I did look more like that standard, then my partner would be more attracted to me. So, it’s kind of like a message of worthiness, I think or can be.

Dori: Sometimes, women especially, they just tend to avoid any kind of circumstance where they have to be naked or their partner has to see all of them. I mean, that’s really sad because honestly, I have never heard of male partners say like, oh, my wife is a little bit more chubby these days. Never the case even when we have individual sessions. All I ever hear is, no, my wife is so amazing and she still looks absolutely beautiful and sexy, different, looks different.

But you know, we met in our 20s and now, we are in our 40s and, of course, I look different. But women for some reason, just can’t hear that, and they just internalize messages. It’s also important how men express their views or how often. Because sometimes I asked like, when was the last time you described your wife to her this way. “You know, I usually, just…you know…”

Lisa: “Oh, in 2014.”

Dori: Like, okay, well, maybe she would love to hear that, right? She needs to hear that. 

Lisa: Definitely. Oh, that’s a good point. Because I agree with you, I think that women can internalize these messages. You know what, I don’t know how often you see younger women, like younger couples in your practice, or if it tends to be more mature couples. But, I have noticed that even like, over the last 10 years or so, not everywhere, but in some contexts, or things that I see online, there is just this hyper sexualization of women, right? 

And so many of these messages of like power and worth, not that it’s being said out loud, but kind of that message is that power and worth is based on an ability to have a man feel overwhelmed with sexual desire for them, right? Does that kind of come into sort of an internalization of what should happen, like, going back to those assumptions that maybe people make about what should happen when they initiate sex?

Dori: Definitely, yeah. That’s why sometimes we really focus on the initiation piece as well, like how it’s done and what do you do when you initiate and ask the partner like, how would you like if your partner initiated. Sometimes, they both have these assumptions, as you said that he has to go down certain way, but in reality, it doesn’t. Really elaborate sexy initiations are fine, but how realistic is that? It’s not. It’s not at all, so you don’t have to be extremely elaborate.

Lisa: So, you’re saying take down the pole in the living room? Door? Is that what you’re saying? Okay.

Dori: It’s really great. People enjoy it, but they can’t be that every day expectation not every day. I mean, nobody has sex eveyday, really, sorry. I know some people do and good for them. But realistically, that’s not the norm. 

Lisa: Yeah. Well, what else do you think is important to help people kind of talk through in there with you about assumptions that they might be holding on to or things to clarify with each other?

Dori: So, I think one that’s important is the difference between desire discrepancy and rejection. So in most relationships, there is some level of desire discrepancy. Not all, but obviously, those couples don’t really seek out therapy. But, desire discrepancies is really common, meaning that one person has a higher sex drive or higher libido than the other and that’s usually the makeup of most couples. But, that doesn’t mean that’s rejection. 

That just means that one person naturally would like to have sex on some level more often than the other. That’s really important to address in the relationship. That it’s not that I don’t find you attractive, or that I don’t like the sex that we’re having. It’s that I don’t want it as often as you. I don’t have a drive or desire to participate as often as you but it’s not about rejecting you. It’s just that like some other things, you can give me a massage or maybe it’s clean the kitchen. That turns me on.

Lisa: I’d really like to watch you clean the kitchen. That would actually be wonderful for me. I love it.

Dori: Yeah, I hear that so often, especially from women, especially of mothers of young kids, that you know what, at the end of the day, I just have nothing left in the tank. It’s not that I don’t find my partner sexy or attractive. It’s just that all I think about is the dishes in the sink, or that lunch for my child for the next day, or all these lists that we have to go through, and there is no space for shutting it off and just joining a sexual encounter.

Lisa: Right? Yeah, and there’s so much energy going out. I mean, I can’t tell you how many women I’ve talked to that it’s just like that, 30 minutes or 60 minutes, they get at the very end of the day to watch a show that they want to watch or read a book or do whatever. It’s like now I have to focus on somebody else again, and it’s not personal. Yeah. 

Dori: We need to take care of ourselves as well.

Lisa: Definitely. Okay. So, but then it’s so important for couples to be talking about these differences, really openly, because the risk to relationships is that when people are telling themselves that they’re being rejected, or everything else is more important to my partner. She doesn’t care about me, or he doesn’t care about me. Those things may not be true. Without that kind of self awareness and acknowledgement, those are the thoughts and inner stories that may be creating the bad feelings inside of you. 

Dori: Yeah, that’s really important that, yes, exactly how you said that it’s often not about you, it’s what’s going on for your partner. Another important piece that I just wanted to add to this is when you get to that 8pm, we finally have some time. Let’s have sex. Let’s do something. Probably, you’re already too late with setting that up. I know that planning is not very sexy, and I’m not saying you have to plan or you have to schedule. 

But, if you start structuring your day with the thought in mind that you might want to have some sexual encounters or some intimate time with your partner, perhaps try and set up your day in that way, or make sure that you have alone time, perhaps another day, or you have help with the chores and taking care of the kids is setting up your day with the thought in mind that you might want to be intimate later on a time can be very helpful. 

Because sometimes, especially as we just said, moms and working or stay at home moms, like so tired that when their partner comes like, hey, let’s do something. It’s like, honestly, nothing.

Lisa: These sweatpants, they are not coming off.

Dori: Don’t come near me.

Lisa: Totally. But so okay, now, you’re starting to talk about initiating intimacy in a very different way that people might think about it. You’re saying, do not wait until 8pm, and then be like, “Hi, what are you doing?” That if this is something like, if you were to design something for a couple, maybe that partner who does have a higher libido, right? Are there ways that that person could be talking about this interest or expressing this interest with their partner in a way that is more likely to be either responded to positively in the sense that, I’m like, oh, no, okay. 

Or it is easier to turn into a, like, healthy positive interaction, even if their partner does not feel like being with them. I mean, like, should people be talking about it? Should they be cleaning the kitchen silently, feeling very hopeful? I mean, because I’ve even and I’m sure that you have, right, like, encountered couples where one partner would initiate sex by just coming up and like trying to hug and kiss their partner, which had the unintended consequence of a partner sort of avoiding non sexual physical intimacy, because of this worry that it would always turn into sexuality, and it created an enormous amount of distance in the relationship because I think as partially as a response of the way that it was initiated, right? What are your sort of best practices here for initiation?

Dori: All of those things that you have said are very important and let’s go through them. So the first one, which is I think the most important is cooperation and how much you communicate about your desire, or what really helps you get in the mood versus not. A lot of the times I find, especially with women, that their sexual response is more of a responsive desire. 

So, what that means is one sex is already happening or the intimate encounter is already happening. They love it. It’s fun. It’s great. We’re having a good time. I feel close to you. But what leads up to that, here’s the tricky part, being tired or having lots to do or feeling touched out, or there’s a lot that happens before that. So as I kind of touched on it before, making plans in a way, or structuring your day, or structuring your encounters or communications throughout the day, or throughout the week, in a way that allows all people involved to feel ready for counters. 

So if there has to be cleaning done, do it together with some music on. Do together that could be fun, or help out more, or focus on emotional intimacy, because emotional intimacy and sexual intimacy are very closely connected. How often do you talk to each other, and have those deep conversations or hear each other out about what’s going on for you lately? How is work? Not just, what kind of meetings you had today? But, what’s going on? 

Like, where are you at? Those moments and those emotional connections, definitely, are intimate connections as well. If you have no connection left in a romantic way, then it’s really tricky and quite difficult to get into the frame of mind where you want to be sexually intimate.

Lisa: Yeah, I see that like, if there is no emotional intimacy, if you’re not talking about meaningful things, it’s like that has to be the foundation a lot of times for sexuality in a relationship. I think it’s interesting to the point you made that receptive sexuality for women, many times that they don’t feel sexually interested until they’re sort of in that space, which is exactly the opposite thing that men and boys are taught by mainstream pornography, isn’t it?

Where there’s a scantily clad woman waiting to pounce on the mailman as soon as he gets close enough to that, right? I mean, it’s like, there are these ideas about like, what desire is, and then when a partner doesn’t behave that way that can even be interpreted as meaningful and rejecting because she’s not pouncing on me, and I’m wearing my mailman costume. So, what could possibly be wrong?

Dori: They can be like, I want her to want it, or I want my partner to want to, like, they do want to. It’s just how they express that prior is different than how you would hope or you have seen it in porn or media, doesn’t it?

Lisa: Yeah. I love this idea that was really initiating. It’s like, making plans in advance. It’s like, what are you doing on Wednesday? Like, is it like that kind of thing? Or is it like day out? Like, Hey, what are you doing later?

Dori: Whatever works for you, like you can see what works for you. Definitely takes away the spontaneity, but it doesn’t mean that there’s no room for that. Because you will find that once you have a better rhythm and a better norm in how you have sex or how often, then definitely, there is room for the spontaneous sexual encounters or to novelty, because that’s fun. But, it’s also a little bit unrealistic to be the typical type of sex you’re having, if you’re running a household and you have a lot of things on your plate.

Lisa: This is great advice. I mean, so like if somebody’s listening to this podcast, and routinely feeling rejected by their partner, it might be a really good opportunity to look at how those advances are being made. The other side of this, can you like scrolling back through your mind, are there one or two things that you have found to pretty reliably result in rejection when people tried to do them as ways of initiating sex?

Dori: Yeah, so as you said earlier, that pouncing on your partner and a quick how you doing? smack on the butt, that’s often… 

Lisa: Going to write that down, okay, don’t do that. 

Dori: But after a while, it’s sort of like, okay, what do you want now? Right? So, you brought up the nonsexual physical affection, and that’s so important. So, often when my couples come with issues of rejection or desire discrepancy, or just differing views on how sexually they should be in their relationship, I always ask about non sexual physical affection, like how often team how often hug or how often do you kiss? 

That doesn’t have the connotation that it is sexual and often, it’s not often at all, like they don’t actually hug. They don’t kiss. When was the last time you made out? Maybe, on our wedding day, perhaps or we do the quick peck on the cheek, but that’s it. So, hug each other, connect. You can watch a movie with holding each other. That’s nice. Giving each other hugs and just little moments in the kitchen while you’re cleaning up.

Lisa: But like uncouple that from it being a sexual advance, like when you go and hug your partner and kiss them, and that stops being like, invitation.

Dori: Yeah, often I hear, especially men, that I can’t even hug my wife anymore, like she just pulls away. Like, yes, because every time you hug her, you want to have sex, and they may not be in the same place. So, just let them come to you with a hug and not slide your hands down. I mean, you can, that can be fun, too. But, just leave it as a hug. That’s really nice. 

That feels good. Give them a kiss and ask how their day is or how you’re feeling, and that’s it. That fosters emotional intimacy, as well as physical, but not necessarily sexual. But, all of that lead to sexual intimacy.

Lisa: Yeah, like it’s safe to be close to me is the message. Yeah. That’s really good. So then on the other side of this, I mean, I’ve heard you say too that body autonomy is a very important thing, and that nobody should have sex when they don’t feel like having sex. Can you say a little bit more about that idea?

Dori: Yeah, so I think it’s really important that everybody knows and understands that it’s totally okay to not want to have sex, and body autonomy is really important. So if you don’t want to have sex, you can say with the language that is still loving and caring, that look, I love you very much and I do find you very attractive but right now, I don’t want to have sex, like we can talk about it another time, or we can plan for it better next time. 

But right now, I’m not really feeling it, and that should be totally okay. Nobody shouldn’t be feeling like them having bad body autonomy, or them having a decision about their body is going to create negative feelings in their partner or it’s going to create a negative reaction. That’s not a great feeling. I want to be in charge of my body and what happens to it. I don’t want that to be upsetting anyone else.

Lisa: That is such a good point. Do you find that that’s hard sometimes for women to do and like take ownership of like, I love you and now, I don’t feel like it without feeling I hate to use the word guilt. But like, I mean, I’ve talked to partners sometimes who are like, it just feels like pressure. This is how people I think can experience it. I’m wondering, if is that hard for women?

Dori: It is hard because often they get a reaction that makes them feel worse, so they already not feeling so great because they don’t want to have sex and they have to reject or not reject, but they have to explain to their partner why not. That can be tricky on its own and then being worried that their partner’s reaction is going to be negative, like they can be angry or upset or have a lot of negative thoughts, and then we have to manage that, too. 

So, it’s quite, quite challenging. So, sometimes women feel, not just women, but sometimes women feel that it’s just easier for everyone if you do it. Sometimes, they have fun, but sometimes it’s more of a ‘I just do it to do it.’ I’m not talking about coercion here. 

Lisa: No, no, it’s just like, okay, yeah, fine. 

Dori: Yeah. Okay, fine, whatever, let’s get it sorted down with. I mean, not really, nobody has fun in that moment. So, it’s a lot nicer if we can respect each other’s body autonomy. When they’re ready, and they really want to be sexually intimate, then you can and it’s much better time for everyone.

Lisa: Yeah. When I’m also thinking too, about, like, the weird dynamics that this can create in a relationship. I’m thinking, right now, of couples where I think that, again, we’re talking about heterosexual relationships and the same dynamics can certainly occur in same sex relationships, but where maybe the partner who is less interested or whatever, almost start, like doing avoidant things like falling asleep in the kid’s bedroom, or going to sleep at different times to kind of avoid being in the bedroom with their partner or getting headaches.

It’s like, I have to be sick in order to have a reason to not want to be with you. My allergies are acting up. They’re not talking about sexuality. They’re just kind of like creating obstacles in their lives to kind of protect themselves from that pressure, I think, of intimacy. You have so much more insight into this with your specialization than I do.

Dori: Well, yeah, that is a really good point that happens a lot more than it should. That people have to sort of think two steps ahead of what is going to be a reasonable excuse today. But the thing is, your partner knows what’s happening. Everybody knows what’s happening, and it just becomes this emotionally draining dynamic that’s hard to come back from because in order to do that, someone has to speak up, like, look, this is what’s happening. 

This is what I’m doing and this is why I’m doing it. Or on the other side, like I see that this is what you’re doing. You’re avoiding even being in the same space with me, because you think what I’m going to do is try and have sex with you. But, this is where communication comes in. Not just communicating about where you’re at, as far as yes or no, it’s also about perhaps there is some things that I would be up for, but not everything. 

Sometimes that I find that is a really good compromise almost, for couples where there is a desire discrepancy or where there are other things in play where one person doesn’t want to have a full on elaborate sexual encountermight be okay, we’d having some other. So if we want to be explicit, I’m not going to be too explicit. 

Lisa: You can be explicit. You’re not gonna embarrass me.

Dori: So, here it comes, listeners. When you think of sex, everybody thinks of the whole five course meal, ideally, some foreplay, and then there’s definitely penetration involved. That can feel like a lot for whoever is not really up for it. So, let’s be okay with communicating about what you’re into, like look, that is a bit out of my comfort zone today. I don’t want to be penetrated, or I don’t want to do that. That’s a lot. Let’s do something else. 

Let’s do some hand stuff or oral or cuddle or let’s participate in self pleasuring next to each other and that’s really intimate, or none of it at all. But, it’s totally okay to be in tune with your body to know that I’m okay with this but perhaps not need that, because something is better than nothing in a lot of cases.

Lisa: That is such a great point that there can be shades of gray, right? It doesn’t have to be like an all or nothing thing and that it’s also okay and healthy to talk openly about what you’re kind of feeling like that day and what you’re not. See if there’s something, a space in the middle sometimes. Yeah.

Dori: You’d find that there is something that if you know that your partner is going to be fine and respectful and not make you feel bad, then you are a lot more likely to say like, “Look, I’m not really into your original idea, but how about that we try this instead.” You know that your partner is going to be like, Ah, okay, well, I was expecting this, or I was hoping for this, but this is all sounds really exciting. So, let’s do this. But, it’s how you respond to each other. It does make a difference.

Lisa: Wow, that’s a really good message. I think a big takeaway that I’m hearing from this conversation too, going back to that idea about, like, planning. These are such, I think, like laden words, in some ways, when we use words like “planning” or to have a routine or to have a, I can hardly bring myself to say, schedule. Well, I think there are a lot of connotations of like negativity for couples, like, it’s sort of the antithesis of what passion should be, right, when we start throwing those words around. 

But at the same time, like to have intentional space in your life and in your relationship that you kind of reserved for each other, and that you can kind of plan around and expect so that everybody’s kind of mentally, emotionally, physically ready for the encounter. As opposed to these, like spontaneous passes that may or may not end well, depending on how people feel. Like in mature relationships, this concept of sort of having dedicated time for each other, really, I think, is the way to go.

Dori: I think it’s the way to go, and there is room for novelty there. But, you’re going to have a lot more healthy sexual relationship, if you communicate and also structure your life really, around making space for for the time, right?

Lisa: Even then, one partner might arrive to the Wednesday evening that was supposed to be the date night and are just not feeling it. They had a crazy day. Maybe, they do have a low grade headache or whatever. What would you recommend somebody like any tips on how to communicate in a way that expresses all of those good intentions that you mentioned previously? Love, care, but also no.

Dori: It can be just as simple as you said, because if you have a dynamic in the relationship where communication is okay, and not just okay, but welcomed, because I want to know where you stand and I also want you to know where I stand. So if Wednesday comes and it’s supposed to be the night, and you’re not into it, you can say like, look, I was really looking forward to today, because I want to have this moment with you. 

One moment, I want to have this time with you but I’m really not feeling great or I’m stressed, whatever. Describe what’s going on for yourself so your partner understands what’s happening for you and really describing it definitely will help the partner understand that I’m not rejecting you, and intimate time with you. It’s about me and how I’m feeling in this moment. 

We can talk about another time where perhaps we can be intimate, but for tonight, how about we do this? How about we watch a movie? How about I go and take a bath and we don’t talk to each other all night? Sometimes, we just need to take care of ourselves and that should also be totally okay. 

Lisa: Definitely. I love that. 

Dori: But, communicate, that’s really the key. What’s going on for you and where are you at? Because if your partner knows, then they’re not going to assume. I think assumptions definitely are a big barrier to intimacy because we assume that this is what’s going on for a partner or this is what they think and oftentimes we’re wrong.

Lisa: Yeah. Such great advice. You know what I have one other kind of question in my head but I think I already know what the answer is and that’s around for the person listening to this who’s thinking but my partner never wants intimacy with me. They’re always shutting me down. They’re always saying no. They’re always reason why. I think probably what the answer is, is that that is the subject of a different podcast. 

That is like a different thing to tackle. Would you agree that if it’s like really consistently like never happening that that’s a different conversation?

Dori: I think it is a different conversation, and also if you have tried to talk about it and you’re unable to figure it out on your own, it’s definitely helpful to ask an expert of what we’re dealing with and we just can’t figure it out ourselves. We have read the books and everything, and it’s still not really where we would want to be. It’s really helpful to talk to someone. But again, that’s a different conversation.

Lisa: Right. Well, and thank you for bringing up that point too. Just to normalize the fact that it can be really hard to talk about sex and sexuality really openly, and it is easy for people to either shut down in those moments and not want to talk about things or kind of get triggered. So, it feels very difficult to just have healthy conversations around this. I love your advice to take it to a professional. 

I think the weird paradox is that these conversations feel so like frauds and sort of threatening to have sometimes is that they’re actually easier to have in the company of a trained professional who’s heard it all before 19 times. Then, it can be with just you and your partner.

Dori: How often in our 30 minute consults, I hear a couple say like, oh, you know, this is so hard. I’m really not comfortable talking about sex. But, I always try to make everybody feel comfortable. Believe it or not, by the time we get to the second part of our first session, everybody’s talking relatively free, because we’re modeling how to be totally comfortable talking about sexuality. It shouldn’t be taboo. It shouldn’t be something uncomfortable. 

But if it is, it’s also totally normal. But, it’s really helpful to have someone who talks about sex quite often openly, and they have a lot of knowledge around all the things that might impact sexual relationships. That is really helpful because they lead you in this journey. So, it’s definitely worth reaching out to a professional.

Lisa: Such great advice, Dori. Thank you so much for taking this time with me today. Once again, oh, so generous with your advice, and I know that people listening like really got a lot out of this today. So, I really appreciate that. For our listeners, if you want to hear more of Dori’s wonderful advice around healthy sexuality, you can scroll back through the podcast feed to find other episodes featuring her. 

She has also written a number of excellent articles on our website growingself.com. One of my favorites was the one that you wrote around, what was it called, What To Do When You Just Don’t Want To Be Touched, I think, was something that a lot of people really resonated with. So, you can go to growingself.com to check out those articles and also learn more about Dori. 

Dori: Thank you for having me. 

Lisa: Yeah. Well, it’s always a pleasure. We’ll have to do this again sometime soon. Thank you. What a fantastic conversation. I always love talking to Dori. She is such an expert and has so much great advice. If you have like more of Dori’s advice, you can scroll back through my podcast feed. She’s visited with me a couple of other times to talk about differences and desire. I think we call that when you’re hot and they’re not. 

So, you might want to check that out. She’s also written a number of wonderful and just info packed articles on our website growingself.com So, you can go there to check those out or learn more about Dori and, of course, go to lafemme.bandcamp.com to learn more about La Femme. Thanks all and I’ll see you next time.

Marriage Counseling Questions | Couples Therapy Questions

If you’re considering getting involved in marriage counseling, couples therapy, or relationship coaching you probably have questions! Get your marriage counseling questions answered, right here.


  1. When a real person (as opposed to academics who are studying it) is in the middle of it, I don’t think they are are influenced by knowledge of the societal assumptions about whether men are expected to initiate but aren’t emotionally affected by sexual rejection, or whether it’s a subconscious thing that allows women to think their male partner isn’t hurt by it. Or for the man: I feel hurt but this is what society tells women, so that explains it, so I’m OK. But I know this: it didn’t help when it was happening to me. I didn’t even think about that. Long term sexual rejection (well over 10 years) is devastating to a loving, caring, affectionate sensitive man who is otherwise very self confident. It damages how you feel about the woman you love, and it for sure damages you. It erodes your trust in your partner. It crushes the self confidence you need to be able to initiate intimacy and sex. It’s like a shock collar on a dog: DON’T DO THAT! And if you don’t get therapy, it builds and builds until one day you realize the damage it has done, drip by drip, when you fall off the emotional cliff. You want to be with someone who not only loves you but DESIRES you. You may still love the woman you committed to all those years ago, but you sure as hell don’t want to get naked with her because it hurts too much. Death by a million paper cuts.

    Please please please, if you truly love your partner and want your relationship/marriage to survive, DO NOT do this to them!

    1. Paul, I’m so sorry you went through this. I know you’re not alone in experiencing this kind of pain. And what you are sharing highlights the importance of reaching out to an expert for help and education, either individually or as a couple, so as to avoid dragging this excruciating dynamic out for years, even decades. Thank you for sharing so that others might reach out for help.

  2. My boyfriend is rejection any sexual desires from me but will go watch videos of women(xxx) so its confusing to me to understand why you rejection me. There no communication because he doesn’t want to talk about him self personally. He’s really about keeping everything separate. He keeps things that about himself to himself. I need to understand is that ok to just watch video of other women but not love on me .

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *