Declining Intimacy Without Hurting Your Partner: 4 Items to Include in Your “No”

How to Say “No Thank You” to Intimacy

Almost anyone in a physically intimate relationship has been in a situation where their partner is in the mood, and they are not.  There are many reasons this occurs, from exhaustion (both physical and emotional) to logistical, and lack of emotional connection to feeling physically unattractive.  The bottom line is, when one partner initiates sex, with that invitation also comes a sense of vulnerability.  They are inviting their partner into a very personal realm to only which their partner is privy, and declining such can feel like a very harsh rejection.

Here’s the thing: in my experience, most partners who are turning down sex are not doing so with intent to hurt their partner.  Any sense of rejection felt is (usually) not the result that is being sought.  However, because that very often CAN be what occurs, I wanted to share what I usually tell my partners to consider including in their declination.

A well-intended decline for sex includes the following elements in some way, shape or form (be it overly verbally or through non-verbal/physical means):


  1. Acknowledge What Your Partner is Doing. Many partners report feeling the worst when given the “cold shoulder,” meaning they are attempting to initiate sex and their partner responds with indifference.  The act of initiation is often the most vulnerable part, so let your partner know you see them and that you appreciate their interest.


  1. Help Your Partner Understand Why. If you’re not in the mood, many partners are likely to personalize this.  They may feel the rejection is related to those extra few pounds that they put on, or that your lack of interest may indicate that you do not enjoy sex with them.  Take some time to dispel these potential fears.  Let them know you are tired or emotionally exhausted.  It’s okay to say that your dinner didn’t sit well with you!  Not only will this help your partner refrain from personalizing your declination, but it will also increase the closeness you share as a couple because you are communicating more about what is happening for each of you in the moment.


  1. Consider Offering an Appreciation or Affirmation. If you know your partner is likely to personalize being turned down, consider letting them know that you share their interest.  Offer them a compliment and let them know their initiation was appreciated.  Partners who receive this type of affirmation are more likely to want to initiate again after being turned down.


  1. Offer an Alternative Way of Connecting or an Alternate Date/Time. Your partner is ultimately looking to connect with you in an intimate way – this is something that the two of you share with each other that is unique to your relationship.  Consider suggesting an alternative that you would be willing/able to engage in at that time that could serve the same purpose (e.g., cuddling on the couch and talking, or other sexual activities that you would feel up for).  If you’re really not feeling it in any way, that’s okay – don’t fake it – consider, then, instead offering an alternative day or time that you’d like to “reschedule” to.  Letting your partner know that you are interested enough to reschedule can also squelch fears of being unwanted.
    1. Here’s the thing, though – if you “reschedule,” make sure you show up. Remember the day or time you told them, and YOU initiate.  Try to avoid making them initiate again, thereby potentially increasing personalized feelings of being unwanted or confirming that you are uninterested.


PS – for clarification purposes – these recommendations are regardless of gender or gender stereotypes.  Women initiate sex and are rejected just like men do, and men are just as likely to feel rejected as women are.  Consider it your own personal job (regardless of your gender) to make sure to communicate that your partner is desired, even if you are not in the mood.

It is unrealistic to assume that two partners will always be “on,” or that their interest in sex will always match at the exact same time ALL the time.  However, this mismatch does not need to cause unnecessary hurt or feelings of rejection. Remember, ultimately what your partner is searching for is connection – there are opportunities for such EVEN in a declination of sex.

With that, I will simply say, I sincerely hope that you all enjoy your weekend!