When Your Partner Has A Sexual Issue
When your partner is not interested in sex or is struggling with sexual confidence issues, it can have a significant impact on your sexual desire as well. In fact, it is incredibly common for a partner of an individual struggling with a sexual issue to experience a significant decline in their sexual desire or libido as well.
I see this dynamic a lot among couples that I work with in my sex therapy practice- partners of men experiencing erectile dysfunction or premature ejaculation and partners of people experiencing low sexual desire often find that they are beginning to lose interest in sex as well.
Since most of the attention and energy of the couple is devoted to the partner with a true sexual dysfunction, this loss of interest in sex in the other partner develops gradually and at times goes unnoticed. At times, this is the underlying issue for couples who enter a dry spell that never ends and the couple finds themselves in a sexless relationship or marriage.
Here are some reasons for the gradual loss of sexual desire in partners of people struggling with sex:
When your partner is struggling with a sexual issue- whether it is the loss of desire or loss of confidence- they often say no to sex more than they say yes. Many times, partners of people struggling with a sexual issue, continue to try and initiate sex or come on to their partner only to be turned down time after time.
The recurring cycle of one partner initiating and the other turning the idea of sex down leads to the initiating partner to feel rejected. The person with the sexual issue has no intention of rejecting their partner but that is what their partner ends up feeling after several unsuccessful initiation attempts. This chronic feeling of rejection leads to a decline in the rejected partner’s sexual desire.
Fear of failure-
This factor is very relevant in instances of performance anxiety, erectile dysfunction, and premature ejaculation. When one partner is struggling with low sexual confidence, sex becomes a stage on which the partner with the low confidence feels like a "performer", whose "performance" is being judged as pass or fail.
The anxiety stemming from past failed “performances” only makes it more likely that the next “performance” will not be a hit. The “performer” partner feels devastated and depressed which in turn has an impact on their partner’s emotional well-being. In many instances, the partner begins to actively avoid similar situations in the future to protect their “performer” partner from failing again. This active avoidance, now engaged in by both partners, leads to a decline in libido in the partner who did not have a sexual issue, to begin with.
When one partner is struggling with a sexual issue and the couple is very focused on penetration as the goal, that is a recipe for disaster. The mindset that if there is no penetration involved, sexual satisfaction or pleasure cannot be achieved, places a lot of debilitating pressure on the partner struggling with a sexual issue.
This pressure almost guarantees that the couple will find themselves getting frustrated because it is highly likely that the goal of penetration won’t be met because of overriding anxiety. Having repeated frustrating experiences while trying to connect sexually can easily put a damper on the sexual desire of the partner without any underlying sexual issues.
Taking on all of the blame-
Partners of people with sexual issues often take on more than their share of blame for the lack or decline in sexual connection in the relationship. They also hold themselves responsible for not being able to help their partner who is struggling and start to wonder if they are the problem and not a host of other factors.
When it comes to a couple struggling with any relational issue- whether it’s sexual or emotional- both partners have contributed to it in some way and it takes both partners to resolve it as well. However, when one partner voluntarily takes on or is expected to take on a big chunk of the blame, it can cause that partner to lose interest in sex altogether.
If your partner is struggling with a sexual issue and you find your own libido declining, it might be helpful to seek support in the form of sex therapy. It might also be helpful to realize that your partner is not trying to reject you, but reject the idea of sex because it’s too anxiety producing for them. A trained sex therapist can help you and your partner uncover what’s causing your partner’s sexual issue, how you both can come together and course-correct and prevent it from reoccurring in the future.
About the author: Nagma V. Clark, Ph.D., L.P.C.C., C.S.T. is an AASECT Certified Sex Therapist and PACT Level I Certified Couples Therapist. She specializes in working with couples & individuals struggling with low or mismatched libido, weak or absent orgasms, performance anxiety, erectile dysfunction, sexual pain, sexuality & aging, general sexual dissatisfaction etc. She also works with people interested in exploring sexual orientation, gender identity, kink, BDSM & polyamory.