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Sexplain It: My Girlfriend Has Been Refusing to Have Sex for Over a Year

I’m Zachary Zane, a sex writer and ethical manwhore (a fancy way of saying I sleep with a lot of people, and I’m very, very open about it). Over the years, I’ve had my fair share of sexual experiences, dating and sleeping with hundreds of people of all genders and orientations. In doing so, I’ve…

I’m Zachary Zane, a sex writer and ethical manwhore (a fancy way of saying I sleep with a lot of people, and I’m very, very open about it). Over the years, I’ve had my fair share of sexual experiences, dating and sleeping with hundreds of people of all genders and orientations. In doing so, I’ve learned a thing or two about navigating issues in the bedroom (and a bunch of other places, TBH). I’m here to answer your most pressing sex questions with thorough, actionable advice that isn’t just “communicate with your partner,” because you know that already. Ask me anything—literally, anything—and I will gladly Sexplain It.

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Dear Sexplain It,

My girlfriend and I are both 24. We have been dating for over 4 years and have lived together for almost 2 years. This week marks 1 year since the last time we have had sex. We used to have sex much more frequently throughout the first years of our relationship, but since we moved in together sex has become less frequent until it has gotten to the point of not having it at all. The sex has stopped because of my girlfriend’s lack of interest in sex, not mine.

I have done my best to be patient and communicate that I would like sex to continue to be part of our relationship, but nothing seems like it is going to change. I feel hurt, and I am tired of my feelings being ignored. I want to be in a relationship with someone who wants to have sex with me. Sex should help enhance our relationship not be a source of conflict. It has gotten to the point where I have built up some contempt towards my girlfriend and I don’t enjoy feeling this way. I understand we aren’t going to have in-sync sex drives for the rest of our lives. Part of a relationship is compromise. I am sick of feeling stuck in this situation. I want to have sex, but I don’t want it to feel coerced. I don’t know how to fix this or and I am beginning to doubt if this problem can be fixed.

— Sexually frustrated

sexplain it graphic

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Dear Sexually Frustrated,

You mention that you haven’t had sex in a year. Do you know what else started (a little over) a year ago? Covid-19. That’s when the shutdowns began, and the social isolation, and the fear, and the depression, and everything else! It makes sense that your girlfriend might not be feeling overly sexual as the world slowly crumbles around her.

If the pandemic has put a damper on her sex drive, she wouldn’t be alone. A Kinsey Institute study that explored marital quality during the time of Covid found that 24% of married people reported having less frequent sex than they did before the pandemic. Additionally, 17% of women reported decreased sexual and emotional satisfaction since the pandemic began.

While Covid might be part of the issue, there’s clearly something else at play, too. After all, you moved in together and noticed a decrease in sexual frequency two years ago—well before the pandemic. It’s common for couples to notice changes in their sex lives after they move in together. “Living together can change so many things in a relationship,” says Kate Steinle, NP, Chief Clinical Officer at FOLX Health. “The routines of daily adult living can be monotonous and unexciting.”

You’re also all up in each other’s business all the time! There can be conflict that arises when one of you is super clean and the other’s being a slob, or you don’t prioritize special sexy nights the way you did when you weren’t living together. Or perhaps moving in together coincided with the end of your so-called “honeymoon phase”—i.e., the point in a new relationship when the novelty starts to wear off, and people stop being polite and start getting real. Or something else entirely! I bring this all up to say that what’s happening to you is incredibly standard.

high angle view of a displeased couple in bed

BraunSGetty Images

Still, that doesn’t solve the issue at hand: You want sex and your girlfriend does not. How do we fix this? You’re correct that coercion is very much the wrong answer. Whereas communication is the right answer, but it’s all about how you communicate.

I can tell you’re really frustrated, angry, and resentful. I get it. I can’t go without sex for more than a week; an entire year sounds completely bonkers. While your feelings are valid, I’d make sure not to come off as frustrated with your girlfriend. Because do you know what’s not going to get her in the mood? You saying that you’re mad you haven’t had sex in a year.

Even though everyone says relationships are all about compromise and blah, blah, blah, I don’t think compromise is your answer here. This may seem counterintuitive, but Steinle notes, “Asking about compromises makes it seem like you’re setting up these rules of: you want, she withholds, you’re frustrated, and you ask her what you can do to get what you want.” You don’t want this antagonistic push-pull relationship.

“Starting from a place of curiosity instead of this standstill can shift the energy in incredible ways,” Steinle says. So the next time you have a conversation with your girlfriend, ask what’s going on with her—not even sexually. First, start by talking about how she’s been feeling. Ask if she’s excited to have more of a social life now that vaccines are becoming more widespread. Ask how she’s doing with work. If she’s stressed out from all these things you had no idea were happening, this partially explains why she hasn’t wanted to have sex. See what you can do to help her with any life stressors.

Then guide the conversation to sex. Is she fine without having sex, or is she actually frustrated too? (Yes, she may actually be sexually frustrated even though she’s the one who doesn’t want to have sex!) “Perhaps she doesn’t want to have the kind of sex they used to have and doesn’t know how to communicate that to him,” Steinle says. “Is she experiencing anything physical that is leading to not wanting to have sex—pain or inability to orgasm?”

Then see if there’s something you can do to help her achieve sexual pleasure. (Maybe it’s time to purchase some vibrators!) From there, you can articulate what you love and appreciate about her (instead of just talking about the ways you’re feeling frustrated and let down).

See how this is all about your communication approach? Your girlfriend won’t want to have sex with you simply because you’re frustrated and horny. She may, however, want to if she feels like her needs are getting met both inside and outside the bedroom.

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