Not in the Mood for Sex? Here’s What To Tell a Partner and How To Boost Libido

Photo: Getty Images/Lambert and Young
It’s a classic sitcom trope you’ve likely seen time and time again. One partner initiates sex, only for the other partner to say they have a headache or are otherwise not in the mood. While this is usually played for laughs, if you’re the partner who isn’t in the mood for sex, turning your partner down can be fraught with guilt and feelings of confusion.

“People can be not in the mood for sex for any number of reasons,” psychotherapist and sex therapist Madeline Lucas, LMSW points out. “Sometimes it’s an issue of low libido or low sex drive, which can be more of an ongoing issue and is impacted by a number of things (hormones, relationship issues, anxiety or sexual shame, stress),” she adds. And of course, sometimes, you’re just not in the mood — simple as that!

“People can be not in the mood for sex for any number of reasons.” —Madeline Lucas, LMSW, psychotherapist and sex therapist

To help you feel better about not being in the mood for sex (which, again, is totally normal!) we spoke to some experts to discover reasons you might not be in the mood for sex, how to get into the mood or address a lack of arousal, and what to tell your partner when you’re not feeling sexual. Read on to feel better.

Experts In This Article

What is it called when you’re not in the mood for sex?

“Not being in the mood for sex is also referred to as low libido, low desire, or more clinically, Hypoactive Sexual Desire Disorder, or HSDD” says therapist Domenique Harrison, MPH, LMFT, LPCC. She explains that this is “defined as one or more partners having no desire to have sex, being turned off by their partner or partner’s consensual sexual advances, losing interest before and during sex, or going extended periods without prioritizing, initiating, or responding to partner sex or self-pleasure.”

Do keep in mind though, that “we are not in the mood for sex 24/7,” therapist Laura Rhodes-Levin, MS, LMFT, author of The Missing Peace: Rewire Your Brain, Reduce Anxiety, and Recreate Your Life explains, nor are we supposed to be. Not being in the mood for sex, or having a low libido, can be due to so many things in life, such as your feelings towards your partner at that moment, external life events (hi, work stress, planning that family vacation), and even the food you eat, therapist Laura Rhodes-Levin explains.

It’s important to realize that not being in the mood for sex is extremely common and shouldn’t be judged with further harshness, Harrison adds.

What to say when you’re not in the mood for sex?

If you’re looking for some scripts of what to tell your partner when you’re not in the mood for sex, you’re at the right place. First things first, body language here matters. “My suggestion is always physically to turn towards your partner and, with supportive physical touch and intentional eye contact,” Harrison says. From there, try any of the following phrases as jumping-off points:

1. If you’d like the chance to reassess how you’re feeling in a little, you can try this script:

Partner 1 (You): “Thank you so much for making our intimacy and connection a priority. Right now, I’m feeling a bit low energy. Can we reconnect in 10/20/60 minutes to try again?”

Harrison says that this shows your partner that you care and are inviting yourself to explore self-care resources in the next 10-60 minutes that can help you prioritize putting sex back on your mind.

2. If you feel that your partner is guilting you, you can also try this script:

Partner 1 (You): “I’m sorry, I’m just not in the mood tonight.”

Partner 2: “But you’re never in the mood. I have needs.”

Partner 1: “I realize that. It seems that your physical needs and my emotional needs are both not being met. Maybe we should get some help in therapy?”

This script, as suggested by Rhodes-Levin, gives you room to show your partner how your emotional needs are just as important as their physical needs and gives you room to further discuss things in therapy.

Why don’t I have feelings for sex?

There are several reasons you might not be in the mood, ranging from everyday stress to hormonal imbalance to more. Here are some more reasons you might not be in the mood for sex.

1. You’re straight-up too tired

“I hear a LOT from clients about general exhaustion impacting sex drives,” says Lucas. “Whether it’s new parents or people with high-intensity jobs, feeling too tired for sex is a huge culprit,” Lucas notes. We all know lack of sleep can impact so much about health, that it only makes sense that being overtired and exhausted might also affect sex drive and not feeling like you’re in the mood for sex.

2. You might be stressed

First things first, libido is different from person to person and can shift with age, stress, and other factors of life. "There is no one 'normal' sex drive for women (or men)," says relationship psychotherapist Olivia Orley, LMSW. "Having a low sex drive is not an inherently negative thing. It is only problematic when you are unhappy about the ways in which it is affecting your life."

If you can't detach from certain external stress triggers—work, health, relationships—getting in the mood can be tough.

3. The sex is a bit boring and you're not seeing fireworks

"Another thing that can play a role, specifically for women experiencing a drop in their sex drive, is a sameness in their sex lives," Orley says. Meaning, variation in bed can stoke a fire of sexual interest. This doesn't necessarily mean a variety of partners, per se. In fact, Orley adds that many "have a better sexual experience with the same partners who know their body than having a lot of bad sex with a lot of different people,"

Rather, it's about exploring your fantasies with your partner and changing things up. A 2016 study1 even found that people in long-term relationships were more satisfied with their sex lives when they incorporated variety, like exploring shared fantasies with each other.

4. Your pleasure doesn’t get prioritized during penetrative sex

Another factor to consider is whether you can orgasm through partnered, penetrative sex. If not, your partner "might end up feeling like [your] pleasure is not an important part of the sexual experience," Orley says.

"I encourage women to try and recreate their masturbation routine during partnered sex," says sex therapist Nagma V. Clark, PhD. If this feels like "too much" to add into a penetrative-sex session, she recommends supplementing it at either the beginning or the end of partnered sex. "I ask partners to participate: caress, kiss, fondle, in a way that enhances their partner's pleasure," Dr. Clark adds. Positions that cater to penetration and simultaneous clitoral stimulation—such as woman on top or reverse cowgirl—can increase the likelihood of orgasm through penetrative sex, she says.

But what if you masturbate regularly but still aren't all that interested in partnered sex? There's a wide range of reasons why this might be the case, including a lacking sense of emotional safety in the relationship, not being able to articulate your desires, and feeling a pressure to orgasm from your partner, says Dr. Clark. "This could cause conflict and disconnect in a relationship," Clark says. In these cases, she recommends the couple seek therapy to work through their relational issues and rebuild their sexual connection.

5. Medication

A lowered sex drive can also be caused by certain medications—SSRIs are notorious for this2. "SSRIs (which are used to treat depressive and anxiety disorders) can negatively impact both male and female sex drives, often causing not just a psychological resistance but also making it difficult to achieve orgasm," Orley says, adding that essentially any medication has the potential to influence your libido—though the most commonly talked-about are SSRIs and birth control.

"It is very common for women to experience a reduced sex drive when using hormonal contraceptives," says OB/GYN Felice Gersh, MD, author of PCOS SOS. "They alter normal female hormones, and this has been found to affect sexual drive." Here's how that works: "They lower free (available) testosterone by increasing sex-hormone binding globulin. They eliminate the spike in estradiol, which normally precedes ovulation and which up-regulates testosterone receptors in cycling women, thereby peaking sex drive," she explains. (How ironic is it that something many women take so that they can have sex without worrying about getting pregnant can also cause a decreased desire in sex?) Basically, estradiol spikes in the middle of your cycle. This is the "primary estrogen of reproductive-aged women," and that surge of estrogen enhances the function of the receptors for testosterone—which increases your sex drive.

6. Hormones

Even if hormonal birth control isn't on the table, hormones can play a huge role in your sex drive. "Sex drive is a fundamental animal drive, and humans are no exception to this basic physiological urge and need. The problem these days is that our natural state of health has been dramatically altered by our diets, lifestyles, and the ubiquitous endocrine disruptors we are bathed in," Dr. Gersh says.

Testosterone is a key hormone for female sex drive. Fertility specialist Norbert Gleicher, MD, co-discovered in 2011 that dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), a natural hormone our body uses to make testosterone, can help with fertility in women3. But there was also something else: after women finished their treatment, they didn't want to stop taking DHEA, because it had improved their sex lives.

Dr. Gleicher suggests that in many cases, a low level of testosterone can explain a lower libido in women. However, this is not your sign to go stock up on DHEA supplements from Amazon in an attempt to boost your libido. "We do not recommend women self-medicate. Since it is a hormone, they should do it under some doctor guidance," Dr. Gleicher says.

7. Your priorities are elsewhere

Not being in the mood for sex can also be explained by changing priorities. "I think we're living in a time of constant self-improvement and exploration, where women put an incredible amount of pressure on themselves to have it all and do it all, because now more than ever we can," says Meika Hollender, co-founder and CEO of Sustain Natural. "I think it's not about not being in the mood necessarily, it's just about shifting focus and priorities,” Hollender says, explaining that for some women, that may mean that sex just isn’t as much of a focus for them as it was in the past.

How can I get into the mood for sex?

1. Offer yourself compassion and care

“Step away from judgment and step into mindfulness, kindness, and self-love,” Harrison says. Your day is stressful enough and you shouldn’t feel guilty for not feeling sexual at any given moment in time.

2. Talk to your partner about things that might impact vulnerability and intimacy

Doing so can help you overcome factors that disconnect you from your partner, increase relationship distance, and weigh you down, Harrison adds. By having conversations where you increase your vulnerability and intimacy together, you can foster a closer connection that may make sexual connection easier in the future.

3. Relax

“It’s hard to achieve arousal when we are stressed and navigating a fight or flight response,” therapist Mary Tate, LCSW, adds. Options for relaxation here can include masturbation, extended foreplay, or asking your partner for a massage, Tate suggests.

4. Work on feeling sexy throughout the day

Waiting until you’re suddenly inspired to get frisky leaves a lot up to fate. Instead, Lucas recommends actively working to feel sexy throughout the day. “When you’re getting dressed, see if you can sensually pull up your jeans or brush your hair,” Lucas says. You can also notice your partner unloading the groceries and see if their muscles pop out or notice their aftershave or perfume, she adds. You can also try listening to some audio erotica, reading some romantic books, or trying to dance around your apartment alone. “See what sparks some playful, erotic energy to build anticipation for future pleasurable experiences to come,” she says.

Well+Good articles reference scientific, reliable, recent, robust studies to back up the information we share. You can trust us along your wellness journey.
  1. Frederick, David A et al. “What Keeps Passion Alive? Sexual Satisfaction Is Associated With Sexual Communication, Mood Setting, Sexual Variety, Oral Sex, Orgasm, and Sex Frequency in a National U.S. Study.” Journal of sex research vol. 54,2 (2016): 186-201. doi:10.1080/00224499.2015.1137854
  2. Jing, Elizabeth, and Kristyn Straw-Wilson. “Sexual dysfunction in selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and potential solutions: A narrative literature review.” The mental health clinician vol. 6,4 191-196. 29 Jun. 2016, doi:10.9740/mhc.2016.07.191
  3. Gleicher, Norbert, and David H Barad. “Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) supplementation in diminished ovarian reserve (DOR).” Reproductive biology and endocrinology : RB&E vol. 9 67. 17 May. 2011, doi:10.1186/1477-7827-9-67

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