There are plenty of perfectly normal reasons for not wanting to have sex when your partner initiates: you're exhausted, you're distracted, you have other things you need to do, you're just not in the mood. Unfortunately, most of us aren't very skillful at turning our partners down.
Photo illustration by Elena Scotti/Lifehacker/GMG, photos via Shutterstock.
Even in the best of circumstances, getting turned down for sex stings. In a long-term relationship, getting turned down repeatedly can eventually lead to resentment. In some relationships, the resentment can grow to the point where it starts to destroy the relationship. The stakes are high. So it's important for us to get it right.
A while back, I wrote an article about how to initiate sex in a way that will make your partner want to say yes. Today I'm sharing tips for turning your partner down for sex in a way that will actually bring you closer together, not tear you apart.
Acknowledge Their Initiation
Initiating sex always makes one feel vulnerable. You're putting yourself out there and asking for what you want. You're also putting yourself in the position of being turned down.
When your partner initiates, take a moment to acknowledge the invitation. The initiation may feel bothersome to you in that moment if you're not in the mood, but it's important to appreciate their vulnerability. Don't ignore their invitation or pretend you didn't hear them. Just say something simple like, "I appreciate you asking" or "I'm flattered that you want me right now." Then proceed to some of the other steps I've outlined below.
Don't Mock Their Desire
Your partner is occasionally going to initiate sex at times when you can't possibly imagine anyone being interested in sex. Maybe you just put the baby to bed and you have vomit in your hair and poo on your hands. Or maybe you just got back from a hard run and are sweating in places you didn't even know you could sweat.
Try your hardest not to blurt, "You want to have sex NOW? Are you kidding?" Not only will your partner feel rejected, they will also get a nice side serving of humiliation.
Actually Consider Their Invitation
Even the most sexually compatible couples rarely want sex at the exact same time. There is an extremely high likelihood that you're not going to be interested in sex the moment that your partner initiates. For that reason, it's important to give yourself some time to consider whether or not you'd like to be intimate.
Here are a few ways to do that:
- Ask yourself, "Am I open to seeing if I get turned on?" Or, "Am I open to connecting with my partner right now?" These questions make it clear that you don't need to be turned on right in that moment. You just have to be open to the possibility of it.
- Give yourself more time. Say, "Give me ten minutes to finish up this email. Once I've got this off my mind, I'll be able to see if I'm up for it."
If you're not sure, that's not a problem. You can always tell your partner, "I'm not sure how I'm feeling. I'm down to start making out and see where it goes." If you don't end up getting turned on, you don't have to keep going.
See If You Want to Do Something Else
Most couples get into routines (read: ruts) when it comes to sex. They do the same things over and over again. If your partner initiates with you, you probably think of the same old boring routine you always fall into, and it probably doesn't sound particularly enticing. (This is a great reason to shake things up in the bedroom, but that's another article.)
When your partner initiates, it's an opportunity to see if there's something different you might be interested in at the moment. Let's say you and your partner typically default to intercourse. In that particular moment, maybe you don't want to have intercourse, but you wouldn't mind talking dirty while your partner masturbates. Suggest that instead! Even if you don't want to do anything sexual, you can still spend some quality time being intimate together.
Give a Reason
To be clear, you're allowed to say "no" to sex for no reason in particular. It's your body — you get to decide what you want to do with it. But hearing a specific reason why you're not up for it in that moment can soften the blow for your partner. If they understand that you're stressed out about your upcoming presentation, or worried about your mum's health, they will be more understanding and less likely to get their feelings hurt.
Giving a specific reason also helps you start to develop a better understanding of when you are and aren't open to sex. I'll talk about this more in a moment.
Turn Down Sex, Not Your Partner
Giving a reason also helps your partner recognise that you're turning down sex, in that particular moment, for that particular reason. You're not turning down your partner. Like I said, getting turned down for sex is always going to sting, but it's nice to feel that distinction.
If your partner seems bummed, you can even make the distinction clear. Say, "I"m turning down sex right now, but I'm not turning down you." You can also frame it in terms of your ability to be present for your partner. Try something like, "I'd really love to connect with you right now, but my head is swimming after this bad review at work, and I know I wouldn't be able to stay present. I don't want you to feel like you're trying to have sex with someone who isn't there."
Set Your Partner up for Success
If you can get into the habit of giving specific reasons why you're not interested in sex, you may start to notice patterns. Share that insight with your partner. Say something like, "I've noticed that I'm much more open to sex when we're just getting up in the morning on the weekends." Or, "I've realised that energy plays a big role for me. By the time we get to the end of the night, I'm just too tired for sex. But if you were to initiate with me when we first get home from work, I'm not as tired then and might be more game."
Address the Imbalance
In almost every relationship, one partner has a higher sex drive than the other. That partner usually winds up doing the majority of the initiating. It can be really helpful for the two of you to acknowledge that imbalance. Say something like, "I realise that you're the one who usually does the initiating. I imagine that can be pretty challenging for you." That simple sentence can go a long way.
If you don't tend to initiate very often, try to challenge yourself to initiate more frequently. Being in the position of being turned down gives you more empathy for what the experience is like.
There's no getting around it: this is hard work. Sexual initiation has a way of stirring up our oldest and deepest fears and vulnerabilities, and magnifying even minor discrepancies in sex drives. You're not always going to get it right, but the point is to keep trying. This is the kind of effort that truly defines a relationship.