Why Sexual Rejection in Relationships Is Not a Joke

Just because sex is involved doesn’t make it ridiculous, primitive or dirty.

We all have a particular picture in our heads of what kind of relationship we want to have with a romantic partner. We imagine that we enjoy the same kinds of activities so we can have lots of fun together or set similar goals for our lives so we can support each other in achieving them. Whatever your criteria, there is one thing almost all of us value and want: a good sex life. And yet, it is the main cause of relationship conflict and breakdown.

In the early stages of a relationship, both partners are usually excited by the newness of the other person and the experiences they have together. Desire is effortlessly present and sex comes naturally. It is something that is welcomed, valued, and prioritized.

Many couples find that by the end of their first year together their sex life looks dramatically different from how it did when they first got together. This is in itself not an issue if it is not an issue for either of the partners.

Unfortunately, though, it often is for one of them: the one who craves more physical and sexual closeness and intimacy. This role is stereotypically reserved for the male partner in a heterosexual relationship.

There are thousands of jokes about the stereotypical scenario in which the man begs for sex from his female partner who feels too tired or too ill to engage in sex with him. The jokes always end with him being rejected. But nothing tells us about how he feels.

Does he just accept it, roll over and sleep? Does he see it as rejection and consequently feels angry or sad? Does he build up resentment for being told no one more than one occasion? Does he stay quiet because he knows he isn’t entitled to sex and can’t just demand it?

Or does he feel ashamed of his desire to be physically intimate with his partner? Does he feel that he shouldn’t feel the way he’s feeling? That he has no right to be disappointed or frustrated? That he shouldn’t want what he wants?

Or does he blame his partner and see her as the source of his distress? Does he try to punish her for taking his desires outside the relationship or resorting to porn? Does he feel like he has no other choice?

Does he wonder if he will ever get the love and relationship he craves? Is this his attempt to create closeness and connection but has been told that it is somehow a more basic and primitive way of connecting? Does he think about leaving and looking for someone else who desires him as much as he desires her?

Does he fear that he will never have the experiences with his partner that he wants to have? Does he fear that he is wasted on her? That they are just too incompatible to have a well-rounded, mutually satisfying and fulfilling relationship?

Does he fear that what he wants he simply cannot have with his partner?

We don’t know what goes on for any individual – it might be one of those things, all of those, or maybe even none of them. Maybe it’s something completely different. But it is, without any doubt whatsoever, the time we stop making jokes about being sexually rejected.

It is time we stop shaming and ridiculing human desires – whether they are sexual or not.

Desiring someone is not shameful. Having sexual feelings for someone is not shameful. It is not primitive either. It is human nature.

We live in an era of emotional vulnerability in which we are attempting to destigmatize our struggles with our insecurities and emotions and yet we still minimize a man’s feelings about being sexually rejected and frustrated within his mutually agreed upon relationship.

Most male clients who struggle with this suffer in silence. They don’t know how to solve this problem and how to approach their partner. They are considerate men who don’t want to be labeled as selfish or perverted. They are healthy adult men who want to express themselves emotionally and sexually within their relationship.

They are understanding towards their partners and do not want to burden them but they cannot deny their own desires and frustrations. They also do not want to be the butt of a joke or admit that the fear that their partner does not desire them. It is a sensitive issue and it is time we all begin to respect it.

Because the men I work with are suffering. They are good guys who are genuinely distressed. Just because sex is involved doesn’t make it ridiculous, primitive, or dirty. It doesn’t make it something they should just get over.

It makes it something we all need to begin to acknowledge and validate.

Because it means something. It is a bid for connection. It is what we are asking our men to do and yet, we reject it and even joke about it.

A bid for connection is no less valuable just because it is sexual in nature and just like any other bid for connection it needs to be responded to in loving and considerate ways.

This does not mean that we have to have sex whenever our partner wants it. It means that we need to find additional ways of connecting. It means we need to take the time to make space for connection, whatever that may look like for you.

It is not an issue one partner has to solve in solitude. It is a joint venture that both partners can benefit from if they see it as a valuable opportunity to grow together and strengthen their bond. It allows us to get curious, explore and find new solutions together.

Because minimizing, ridiculing, and shaming someone’s sexual desire for us is not a solution. It does not make it just go away. What it does do is to communicate to our partner that we are not interested in solving a problem that really concerns both of us.

We push our responsibility as a partner away and make it the sole problem of the other person instead of caring about them and our relationship. Tackling this challenge does not mean having to give in or engaging in obligation sex.

It means responding to each other in respectful and loving ways so we can connect emotionally in a way that feels soothing and reassuring. That alone usually results in more intimacy, which makes us feel closer to each other and often helps us want to engage in consensual sex.

But it is not the end goal. The end goal is always a connection, whether we are aware of it or not.

The opposite of connection is a shame, so when your partner comes to you in an attempt to connect – whether that’s sexual or not – don’t shame them for it. Connect with them how you want to but don’t ridicule them. Don’t reject them in shaming ways.

Because the pain of sexual rejection is real. It is as valid as any pain and therefore needs to be seen and validated.

The emotional vulnerability we seek from our men is often presented to us in ways we don’t anticipate. That doesn’t mean it isn’t valid. If we really want to have happy relationships and the emotional connection we say we want to have, we need to attune and respond in loving ways, not shaming ones.

And then we need to seek mutually beneficial solutions together. Because they do exist and make jokes redundant.


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