In an ideal scenario, sex is a manifestation of loving commitment. There’s no experience more intimate or more exclusive. We communicate our loving passion by serving one another in pleasure while opening ourselves up in vulnerability. “I am open to you, I will not hide, I risk being hurt by you and I will only love you.” Our bodies, minds and hormones respond by reforging the bonds of love, making the connection ever stronger.
But… there is also housework and children and work and miscarriages and emotional withdrawal and porn and all manner of trauma and day-to-day mundanity that keep us from being present enough or emotionally whole enough to able to celebrate sex as it can be. So men often become dominating and misogynistic in the bedroom or they become beggars asking for a sexual handout. And women often become manipulative and withholding of their sexuality or they become doormats. In your relationship these roles might very well be reversed, the point is, these are all expressions of the same two things: control and fear. Which are what most of us fall back to in order to protect ourselves from pain.
I don’t think any of us should be let off the hook by simply saying “I’m not the mood.” That’s a sentence that needs to be completed. I’m not in the mood for what?
I’m not in the mood to demonstrate my love for you with sexual pleasure.
I’m not in the mood to receive your love and pleasure.
I’m not in the mood to be vulnerable.
I’m not in the mood to allow your large, strong, imposing body to press atop mine and potentially hurt me.
I’m not in the mood to connect with my own heart in order to be present to your heart.
These are all things to be examined in our own hearts and in our relationship. Excusing real trauma and marital dysfunction there are, of course, simply times when sex isn’t practical or when we’re just not in the headspace to be able to connect with ourselves or with one another. In these situations, how can you turn your partner down for sex while avoiding the emotional backlash that often comes in response? Whatever your gender, my advice is the same.
How to Turn your Partner Down for Sex
For many men, sex is the primary means of communicating love. Turn a man down for sex and he hears that you don’t love him. But you do love him! Like most men (and plenty of women), he’s probably not very in-tune with his emotional state. That makes sex a higher-stakes exercise for him (or her) than it needs to be, because it may be the only way his heart knows to receive your love.
Your partner might present that sex is all about passion and carnality or even (boringly) about a “release.” Great sex will certainly include those things, but deep down we all know that sex is about connection and intimacy. The reason it hurts to be turned down for sex is because we fear we are being personally refused loving connection. If your partner has a history of looking at porn then there will almost certainly be some jumbled wires in this regard, but healing this is very possible (though not the subject of this piece).
To turn your partner down for sex, honour the connection.
I’m going to write this next section in gendered terms because it makes the writing easier. Feel free to replace yourself in either scenario whatever your gender.
Wives, you can communicate love and care to your husband even while turning him down. Tell him something like, “Husband, I can sense your desire for me. And I love it. I want you to take me. But right now I am feeling like crap / unsafe / emotionally depleted, which means I will not be able to connect with you while we make love. I would like to connect with you. Can we prioritize some time tomorrow / Saturday to be alone together? I would like to be alone with you.”
Husbands, you can communicate love and care to your wife even while turning her down. Tell her something like, “Wife, I can sense your desire for me. And I love it. I want to give you what you need. But right now I am feeling like crap / unsafe / distant, which means I will not be able to connect with you while we make love. I would like to connect with you. Can we prioritize some time tomorrow / Saturday to be alone together? I would like to be alone with you.”
To the partner who is being turned down, it is now your responsibility to own your response to this. Your spouse is not rejecting you so you need to own your emotional state and be responsible with your heart. Your partner wants you and is willing to put the work in to not be a sleepy sex-doll or a booty call. Be an emotionally mature person and delay your gratification / let your partner pursue you. Should you be honest about your disappointment? With yourself, sure. With your partner, only if you’re confident it won’t be perceived as emotional manipulation.
While you wait, use your spouse’s words of commitment and desire to encourage your own heart about the connection. This may make all the difference for you. I’ve recently adjusted my morning routine to include a period of helping my heart know that it’s loved. You might call it meditation or prayer; basically I remind myself of how loved I am. I let my mind drift back over memories of loving actions people have shown me and I talk to myself about how much I love myself. I own my love need. As I connect with my own heart and actually feel what it’s telling me, I feel God smiling over me. After a few minutes of quietly being present to myself I usually feel that my love need is significantly improved. After a month of doing this daily I feel an amazing sense of emotional cohesion which has reduced the sense that all my needs must be met through sex.
From this place of wholeness & inner stability I can make more generous love to my wife because I am an individual operating from a stable foundation, not a beggar looking for a handout. Does it still sting when I get turned down? Of course it does, I want the candy now, dammit. But working together we can maintain connection, build anticipation and grow as individuals.
The only thing better than candy now is the candy you’ve been waiting and working for.