Women have different reasons for not being in the mood. Dr. Gunsaullus gives five possible translations of “not tonight, honey”
In my private practice with couples, I often translate female sex-speak to male sex-speak, particularly when a woman says, “I don’t want sex.” What does this mean to a man? And what are some possible reasons why the woman is saying that?
Despite the overlapping nature of our sexual needs and desires, men and women have different experiences of sex. Whether the differences are innate, socialized, or a combination of both, either way, ignoring these variations creates huge chasms in relationships. Women don’t mean to be vague or difficult, and they’re not trying to confuse men or set up for “failure.” Clear sexual communication is really hard for everyone and the vocabulary for it can feel like a foreign language. Below are five phrases many women often say, along with some interpretations. I offer one of many translations here to bridge this sexual gender gap.
1. “I’m just not in the mood.”
What Men Fear
She’s not attracted to me anymore. I’m not desirable. I feel powerless, and it isn’t fair that this keeps happening. I resent her for playing the role of gatekeeper.
As cliché as this “excuse” is, there are many reasons why a woman might say this. It might have something to do with you or it may not! Desire requires a balance of increasing excitement and reducing inhibitions. Resentment, hurt feelings, feeling overwhelmed, and even bad breath can all increase inhibitions. In long-term relationships, women’s physiological horniness may decline, so it’s easy to not want sex because her body doesn’t crave it.
Sex may also be less of a priority for her because her needs for intimacy and connection are now being met in other ways. Her mind and body don’t kick in like yours do with a deep need for sexual connection. Having less desire may put her in the gatekeeper role, but that’s a role most women play with guilt not power.
So what can you do? Prime her pump! This means finding out specifically what makes her shut off her multi-tasking brain, and feel present in her body to receive pleasure through touch. What makes her feel safe and nurtured by you? Priming the pump could be a day-long process, so be up for the challenge. It gets easier the more you learn the nuances of this dance.
2. “Stop. I’m not going to orgasm this time.”
What Men Fear
I’m not doing a good job turning you on and pleasing you. I’m a terrible lover. If you don’t orgasm, you can’t enjoy sex.
Sometimes, even the perfect alignment of the sun, moon, and stars can’t get a woman to orgasm. Sometimes she’s just tired and can’t concentrate enough to orgasm. Physical factors could also be at play, like where she is in her menstrual/ovulation cycle and whether she’s going through menopause, the amount of rest she’s getting and the time of day of the intimacy involved. Even poor nutrition can have an effect on her sex drive. Additionally, emotional components like her stress level, priority distractions, and sense of safety, whether she’s feeling pressure from you and whether there’s relationship distress—all of those things can kill orgasms.
A really important insight for men into women is that pleasure does not necessarily equal orgasm. Clearly orgasm is pleasurable, but there are so many aspects of sex that are pleasurable, like skin-to-skin contact, emotional closeness, playfulness, and giving pleasure.
3. “Sex just isn’t exciting anymore.”
What Men Fear
I’m not enough. She’s not interested in me anymore. She’s been with other men who were more exciting than me.
Women crave novelty. One of the biggest complaints I hear from women in long-term relationships who are unhappy with their sex life is that it is predictable. If it’s been boring for a while, she just wants to get the whole thing over with, which isn’t fun for anyone.
So make her feel special—but not in a cheesy way. Many women report that they want to feel cherished, something most men would never even consider important. This is not about technique, but about attention to making her feel good in her body in new ways. Slow down. Approach her body like she’s brand new to you. Pay attention to the details of her arousal. Wear a blindfold and explore the subtleties of her body as you express genuine affection for her and what she means to you.
4. “Don’t touch me like that!”
What Men Fear
Trying to please her is a moving target. She liked that last week, so why not now? We know where this whole thing’s going, so let’s just jump to the good stuff.
There are many factors at play here. She may not want to be touched in a sexual way so quickly. Her body might need time to warm up. If you reached for her nipples or vagina, it can feel jarring if her body and mind aren’t in sex-mode yet. Women also have varying arousal patterns and sensitivities based on their menstrual cycle. What brings pleasure one day can truly feel painful the next. Additionally, many women experience poor body-image, so touching certain areas could evoke self-consciousness. If you have young kids, she may feel like her body has been used up physically and energetically. To address this situation, ask her—What’s going on for you? Anything I can do to take care of you or to make the situation better? Either way, be slow, sensual, and nurturing when you approach her.
5. “You never show me/tell me you love me.”
What Men Fear
Seriously? You must be kidding. I just walked the dogs, drove our daughter to soccer practice, picked up dinner, and last night I stayed up late fixing our Internet connection so you can print from your phone. Why would I do those things if I didn’t love you?
If you’re familiar with the book The 5 Love Languages, by Gary Chapman, you know we all have different ways of giving and receiving love. If you show your love in a way that doesn’t match with what makes your partner feel loved, she can be in deficit and question your attachment. This makes her less likely to give to you too. If you feel loved and connected through physical touch and sex but she doesn’t, have a conversation about what feels loving to her, whether household chores, quality talk time, thoughtful gifts, verbal affection or appreciation. Take small steps towards giving love in new ways so you’re both fulfilled.
These five translations are certainly not true for all women all the time. However, most women don’t have the same relationship as men do between mind and body, or between desire and arousal, which may seem complicated to men at first. Don’t be scared away or judgmental just because a woman’s mind/body and desire/arousal relationships might be different than yours. Accept that it is different, appreciate that difference and start brushing up on your foreign language skills.
image credit: Flickr/Context Travel