7 Tips for When You’re Too Tired for Sex and Don’t Feel Happy About It

Photo: Getty Images/ 10’000 Hours
Listen, we get it. After a long, stressful day of work, life, and all the random life admin needed to simply exist in today’s world, it can sometimes be hard to choose between sex and connecting with your partner and the ultra-tempting option of crawling into bed and just going to sleep. Being simply too tired for sex is very real, and you shouldn’t feel guilty for feeling that way.

As sex educator Searah Deysach, owner of Early to Bed says, “There are a number of emotional, mental, physical, and circumstantial reasons why someone might be too tired for sex.” These reasons can range from situational things like work-life balance issues or occupational burnout, tiredness from being a new parent, to longer-term things, like fatigue from other health conditions, Deysach explains.

“There are a number of emotional, mental, physical, and circumstantial reasons why someone might be too tired for sex.” —Searah Deysach, sex educator, owner of Early to Bed

The first thing to keep in mind, Deysach adds, is that you shouldn’t worry if being too tired for sex is a once-in-a-while thing: it won’t be the end of your relationship. “Many relationships go through periods where the people involved have less sex because they’re sleep deprived,” says Deysach. And in a loving, healthy relationship, your partner should understand if you’re too tired for sex due to things like work stress or life stress. The best relationships can experience intimacy even without sex, Deysach adds.

Experts In This Article

Below, read on for more expert advice on reasons you or your partner might be too tired for sex, how to handle being too tired for sex, and things to keep in mind if you or your partner are too tired for sex.

Reasons someone might be too tired for sex

Besides situational issues like work stress, new parent stress, major life events outside of your control, or simply not getting enough sleep and being in a sleep deficit, there are many other reasons and factors as to why someone might be too tired for sex. Here are some common reasons people might be too tired for sex regularly, as explained by the experts.

1. Mental health

One common reason people might be too tired for sex could be due to mental health, explains somatic sex educator Kiana Reeves, chief education officer at Foria. “If a person is experiencing a bout of anxiety, their nervous system is in overdrive, which can often leave them feeling exhausted and drained, but unable to ‘turn off’ their brains to get sufficient rest.” Reeves notes, adding that people with depression can also feel fatigued and an overwhelming sense of apathy that can make sex seem really overwhelming.

“These mental health disorders can make it hard to lean into the pleasure and vulnerability of sex, and low libido can be a side effect of medications used to treat mental health disorders,” Reeves also adds.

2. Hormones

“Similarly, our energy levels and libido can be impacted by hormonal shifts,” Reeves says, explaining that “for women, this can shift during your monthly menstrual cycle, during pregnancy or postpartum, or during menopause.” For men, Reeves explains that “this can happen as they age or as a result of a separate medical condition.”

The impact of hormonal imbalance and or shifts can’t be understated: “Our hormones are incredibly powerful, and can affect mood, energy, and desire,” Reeves explains, and “any major shift in your hormones can leave you feeling exhausted or uninterested in sex,” she adds.

3. Self-esteem

Another reason someone could be too tired for sex could be due to low self-esteem, explains R. Inez Salcido-Kasteiner, MS, LMFT, at Soultenders Inc. “If we don’t like the way our body looks, moves, smells, feels, we may very well avoid sex,” says Salcido-Kasteiner. This makes a ton of sense considering how when you feel crummy, it does seem like you’re more likely to feel tired, exhausted, and overwhelmed.

4. Self-image

Self-esteem and self-image can sometimes be used interchangeably, but Salcido-Kasteiner explains that these are actually two different things. “The reality is that our self-image is made up of our view of our abilities as well as how other people see us,” Therefore, “if we see ourselves as lacking sexual skills [or] lacking the ability to give our partner pleasure, we may be more likely to avoid sex,” Salcido-Kasteiner says.

What is intimacy? Why do we need intimacy?

Intimacy is simply feeling close to your partner. This can mean sexually, spiritually, or emotionally, or a combination of all three. The good news: while you don’t need to always be sexually intimate with your partner (AKA don’t feel too guilty if you’re feeling too tired for sex), emotional intimacy is something most healthy relationships need to have to survive.

“People can survive without sex, but people cannot survive without intimacy. Intimacy comes in many forms but at its root is feeling a connection to someone else,” says sexologist Trina Read, author of The Sex Course

As for what happens when you stop having sex, physically, the answers are a bit different, but emotionally, if you stop having sex in a relationship but prioritize emotional connection and intimacy, you don’t need to stress too much.

How to prioritize emotional intimacy

While sex itself can be very intimate and vulnerable, so too can many other non-sexual things that you can focus on if you or your partner are feeling too tired for sex. “Emotional intimacy is the glue that holds a couple together through thick and thin,” says Read. “It doesn’t have to take a lot of effort, but emotional and sexual intimacy cannot survive if they’re ignored. It’s like putting a houseplant in a shadowy corner and forgetting to water it. Eventually, it will die from neglect,” Read says.

There are many ways of remaining intimate with your partner without sex. You can prioritize emotional intimacy by focusing on each other’s love languages (none of which require sex: including physical touch), focus on non-sexual touching or cuddling, quality time, or simply having deep conversation that foster emotional intimacy and vulnerability. Read suggests focusing on small, daily habits, like intentional touch.

Why is my body rejecting sex?

“When you’re feeling tired, it’s usually a signal from your body that you need to prioritize rest to replenish your energy and give your body a chance to recover,” says Reeves. “When you’re feeling fatigued, your body is going to prioritize rest and recover over other needs, including your desire for sex,” she adds.

Think of it like when you’re feeling hungry. “Your body is signaling to your brain to prioritize food over your other needs,” at that moment. However, once you get some food in you and that need is met, your body will readjust, Reeves says. It’s like playing The Sims. When your Sim’s bladder is about to burst: it’s almost like nothing else in the world matters. However, as soon as they go to the bathroom: everything else comes into focus again once that need is met and you’ve got to suddenly rush to get some food in them before they spin into their work clothes.

How long is too long to wait for sex?

“There is no such thing as ‘too long’ without sex,” Reeves says. “Everyone’s desires and ideal frequency are different,” so there’s no one-size-fits-all prescription.” Instead, Reeves explains that “the best thing you can do is align with yourself and your partner about what your ideal frequency is, and how you can meet one another’s needs.”

Things to keep in mind if you find you’re regularly too tired for sex

1. Let go of the belief that you have to have sex often

“There is no predetermined number of times that someone is supposed to have sex each week or month for a happy relationship,” says Rachel Rubin, MD, a board-certified urologist and sex-medicine specialist with sexual-pleasure retailer Promescent. More essential than how often you have sex is communicating about your sex life, she says.

“You can have sex as much or as little as you and your partner would like,” she says. And it's a healthy practice so long as you’re on a similar page about your wants and needs getting met. For example, some duos are made up of two asexual folks or two people with low(er) libidos who are mutually disinterested in sex. Other couples are made up of people who have learned through trial-and-error that having sex twice per week helps them feel most connected.

Remembering that there is no "normal" sexual frequency can also help alleviate any pressures, says Deysach.

2. Prioritize quality over quantity

How the sex feels is a superior measure of sexual satisfaction than how frequently you do it. “Quality is more important when it comes to sex, because when it's quality, it's more memorable and satisfying,” says queer sex educator Marla Renee Stewart, MA, sexpert for sexual-wellness brand Lovers. “Ask a group of people if they prefer mutually pleasurable sex one time or bad sex seven times, and more will pick the quality sex.”

3. Talk to your partner

Maybe you want to be having more sex. Maybe you think your partner wants to be having more sex. Maybe you’re feeling guilty about how tired you are. In any of these cases, Dr. Rubin suggests communication is the best path forward.

“Using 'I' statements is a great way to have the conversation,” says Deysach. “Assigning blame never helps with open communication, so just speak from your heart about how you are feeling, and ask your partner to share their feelings, as well." If you’re having a tough time initiating this convo, Dr. Rubin suggests working with a sex therapist or couples therapist for help.

4. Schedule a sex date

No, a verbal agreement won’t do it; actually input the date into your Google or fridge calendar. “This may sound a little mechanical,” says Dr. Rubin. “But many couples report that the practice of scheduling sex has increased their intimacy and closeness with their partner.” Opt for something that works for both your schedules, like midweek sex or morning sex if you’re both morning people.

To be very clear, scheduling sex doesn’t mean that you have to have sex during that blocked-off time. After all, you should only have sex when everyone involved is giving their enthusiastic yes. Rather, the time frame can be understood as a time block to prioritize intimacy. If you don’t want to have sex, but do give one another a massage, talk honestly about your fears, or dance in the living room, those also mark a successful sex date, Deysach says. And if you’re looking for more tips for having sex when you’re tired, you’ve got lots of options.

Reeves agrees, adding that while the idea of scheduling sex might seem unsexy, “it can take the pressure off trying to find ‘the right time’ and give you and your partner a chance to spend time connecting (whether it leads to sex or not).”

5. Masturbate

“Masturbation can be a great option if you and your partner(s) routinely find yourselves with no extra time or energy for partnered play,” says Dr. Rubin. Not only does masturbating feel good, she says, it also boasts a handful of mental and physical benefits.

You could also try mutual masturbation, says Deysach, which is the act of touching yourself while your partner touches themselves right beside you. “Mutual masturbation can be a fun experience to share that can be quicker than going all-in for full-on sex,” she says.

6. Think of sex beyond penetration

When you’re zonked, the distance between zero and sex can feel insurmountable… even if you really want to have sex! Instead, "try to remember that sex doesn’t have to always mean intercourse,” says Deysach. There is a whole menu of sexual activities out there that you can share when you want to enjoy physical intimacy but don't have enough time or energy in tank intercourse .

“Making out, oral sex, and hand stuff are all great ways to connect with your partner and engage in sex play, and these activities may be easier to fit into your lifestyle or achieve when you are very busy, stressed or don’t have time for a whole meal,” she says.

7. Talk to a healthcare provider

If you’re really tired, talk to your provider. “If you suspect your lack of desire might be a result of a larger issue, consult your healthcare provider for help,” Reeves says, adding that “you can also reach out to a sex therapist for additional insight, especially if you’re in a relationship.

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