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Understanding Intimacy: Stuck without Sex 

When it's been so long that approaching sex starts to be awkward

Editor's note: This is the second in a new monthly column from Dr. Jane Guyn, inviting locals to ask questions about intimacy and sex. Look for the column the second week of each month.

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Dear Dr. Jane,

How would you approach the matter of a couple who have gone an extended period without sex, and then when initiated, it's just awkward because nobody knows what to do? More specifically, the lower libido partner may be waiting for the higher libido partner to make a move, while the higher libido partner is hesitant for fear of another rejection.

—Feeling Stuck

Dear Stuck, 

As I mentioned last month, sexual concerns between loving couples are very common. A recent study found that 50% of American couples have sex one or fewer times per month. Many of my clients have gone years and years without any physical intimacy at all, not even hand holding, hugging, touching or kissing.

When you're in this situation, it's tough to get naked together again. I really understand that. If you're the higher libido person, you probably feel rejected. If you're the lower libido person, you probably feel inadequate. This isn't a winning combo. Because of this, lots of higher libido partners decide to "wait it out." They want to see how long it takes before their partner makes a move. This seems like a good idea, but it usually makes things worse. As time passes, the lower libido partner (who may feel relieved at the beginning) will feel more and more pressure, and therefore less and less interest in sex. There are lots of good reasons for this that we'll talk about in the coming months, but for now, you're wondering how to get things moving again. I recommend one of two plans.

Plan A: Ice Breaker Sex

Use Plan A if it's been a hot minute since you had sex—maybe 6 - 8 weeks, but in general you're OK in the bedroom—just less frequency and passion than you'd like. You're both super busy with the kids or work and stress is running high. Overall, your sex life isn't completely DOA. 

Ice Breaker Sex is sex that both of you consent to (and even desire) because you want to feel close again and to get things to a better place. You're feeling awkward since it's been so long. But last time you had sex, even though it wasn't mind blowing, it could have been a lot worse.

The key to Ice Breaker Sex (and any sex) is to talk about it openly. Tell your partner that you want to feel close. That you know the sex isn't going to be amazing this time but that you want to reconnect. Take it slow. Check in with each other. Lower your expectations. The goal here is to get started. No pressure. You're looking for nothing more than good enough.  Laugh about it and make a plan for a better experience ASAP. 

Plan B: Stalemate Sex

Use Plan B if it's been more than two months since you had sex—or if your partner has had sexual trauma, pain or is nervous about sex. Discuss your desire to feel closer; that your interest in sex is an interest in them—not just sexual gratification or "getting it." 

With Stalemate Sex, your goal is to remove any expectation of penetrative or invasive sex from the conversation. Start with long walks, maybe holding hands. Listen to them talk about how they're feeling. Tell them you love them and how attractive they are to you—and not just the sexual parts. Start kissing—slowly without pressure. Maybe rub your partner's head and touch their hair. Spoon with your clothes on. Watch Netflix and really chill. Slow down completely but keep touching and being together in loving ways. Don't "power through" or "get it done." That'll make your partner shut down even more. 

Unless you've been on a crazy long work trip, sex is going to feel awkward after a hiatus. It's kind of like going back to the yoga studio after all the crazy COVID stuff. Just like in yoga, be mindful of the situation and make a plan that'll help you get better without getting hurt. This is going to take time. Figure out which plan to use, take a deep breath and start talking. You got this. 

xoxo

Dr. Jane 

PS: Get help from a professional. 

—Dr. Jane Guyn (she/her) is a well-known relationship coach who received her Ph.D. in Human Sexuality and is trained as a Professional Sex Coach and Core Energy Course. She works to help women and their partners release shame and increase confidence in themselves. Her work is in the area of intimacy and sex, as well as fears and/or abuse issues related to sex, plus a variety of other issues that may arise from any relationship. She's the author of the Amazon #1 Bestseller, "Too Busy to Get Busy" and has been passionately married to her best friend for over 30 years. You can find her at howtofixmysexlife.com.

Send her your questions at thesource@drjaneguyn.com.

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