Sexy to sexless: What to do when the intimacy stops in a relationship

Molly Frances|2022.01.05

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Maybe physical intimacy was easy when you first met. Perhaps the new relationship energized you and super-charged your libido. You might have spent every available moment with your partner(s) entangled in an erotic heap. But now, you never seem to be in sync. Even the casual nudity of getting undressed in front of each other has stopped. So, what do you do when the intimacy stops in a relationship?

Every long-term relationship goes through periods of high and low sexual desire. Sometimes the sexual relationship nose-dives quickly, and other times it's like a feather falling in the breeze. Many factors influence these cycles, but when you find yourself in a sexless relationship, it’s natural to focus all of your energy on fixing it.

When the intimacy stops in a relationship, you may worry if you can save the relationship and if rekindling your intimate relationship is necessary for the success of your partnership. Read on for guidance on what to do.

When is a relationship considered sexless?

Sex is an integral part of many healthy relationships since it deepens emotional intimacy and strengthens your bonds. Most folks consider it essential for their overall well-being. That's not to say everyone needs to have tons of sex to have a healthy relationship—but the amount and quality of sex should be satisfying for everyone involved.

The right amount of sex for any relationship depends on the couple. As long as everyone is satisfied with the frequency and quality of sexual experiences, there isn't a reason to make changes. Some couples enjoy sex once a month, and others would consider that infrequent enough to be a sexless relationship. Only you and your partner can determine when the intimacy stops in a relationship.

Why do couples stop having sex?

There are several common reasons intimacy stops in romantic relationships. It's helpful to think of you and your partner as separate beings and your relationship as another living entity with needs: Sometimes the problem is related to something going on with one partner, and sometimes something is amiss in the relationship itself.

Life changes

When intimacy stops in a relationship, life changes or and other stressors might be the culprits. When you or your partner experience life changes such as chronic illness, becoming a parent, a career change, or graduating from school, you can experience extra stress. Your body responds to the pressure of these situations by lowering your sex drive, even when the change is a positive one, such as starting a new career.

Changes in your body may cause sexual intimacy to stop in a relationship. Weight gain or loss, changes in disability status, and childbirth can all cause self-esteem issues or concerns about performance that make maintaining your sex life difficult.

Health conditions

Many health conditions can cause intimacy problems, which are often difficult to discuss. Suppose your partner is suddenly uninterested in sex. In that case, they may suffer from sexual dysfunction such as erectile dysfunction, pain during vaginal penetration, or pelvic floor discomfort that they aren't sure how to manage. Your partner may not even know when the trouble started. If you or your partner have a health condition impacting your sex life, talking to a doctor will be vital to addressing the issue.

Mental health

Believe it or not, your brain is your largest erogenous zone, so if you struggle with mental health, it can be difficult for you to become aroused. Depression can cause low levels of pleasure hormones which means the brain can't increase blood flow in response to sexual stimuli. Mental health issues can also affect sensation during sex, lowering your body's response to your partner's touch.

Medications used to treat mental health conditions can also affect sex drive. Talking to your doctor or therapist about adjusting medications may help.

Uneven sex drives

Sometimes when the intimacy stops in a relationship, it's not caused by one person but by the relationship’s dynamic. The problem might simply be mismatched libidos. It's common for one partner to want physical intimacy more regularly than another.

Uneven sex drives can cause a higher-desire partner to feel rejected and a lower-desire partner to feel pressured, and intimacy issues may result. Couples in this situation have the challenge of creating a sex life that meets everyone's sexual needs without the low-desire partner feeling pressured.

Problems with emotional intimacy

Emotional connection isn’t always necessary for great sexual relationships, but if you're in a long-term relationship that suddenly loses physical intimacy, your emotional connection could be the problem. Emotional intimacy is the ability to be vulnerable with each other and know your partner sees and accepts all of you—even the parts you don't show others.

If emotional intimacy is a problem, it can be difficult to even have a conversation about the state of your intimate relationship.

Can you fix sexual intimacy issues?

When intimacy stops in a relationship, you may worry that the relationship issues are too big to fix, even with a licensed marriage and family therapist. But know, even if relationship problems seem overwhelming, it is possible to fix sexual intimacy issues and reconnect with your partner. The path to a renewed sex life is different depending on the cause. Here are some tips to get you started.

Take stock of your sex life

The first step is for you and your partner to have an honest conversation about your level of satisfaction with physical intimacy. You and your partner may find the cause of the lack of sexual intimacy in your relationship on your own.

This can be a difficult conversation, especially if emotional connection is part of the trouble. You may find it helpful to reach out to a relationship or sex therapist to find ways to communicate more effectively about sex.

Address underlying health conditions

If there's a sudden decrease in physical intimacy in your relationship, it's a good idea to fix underlying health conditions first. A trip to the doctor may be in order to address issues with hormone levels and mental health conditions. You may need to adjust medications to fix sexual dysfunction, or try physical therapy to alleviate painful pelvic floor symptoms.

When the intimacy stops in a relationship, reconnection takes time

Initiating a conversation about a lack of intimacy in a relationship is often tricky. You and your partner may feel sensitive or even embarrassed about the lack of sex. Those feelings are expected as your relationship changes and evolves. If you and your partner(s) can move through the discomfort, a stronger relationship with satisfying physical intimacy could be on the other side.

When intimacy stops in a relationship, it can be challenging to find a starting place for reconnecting. If you need help discussing your sex life, try listening to Dipsea's 36 Question series with your partner. Grab your favorite beverage and a cozy blanket and cuddle up to listen as our narrator guides you through a series of questions about your sex life to foster emotional intimacy and spark an honest discussion about the state of physical intimacy in your relationship.

Listen, light yourself up.

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