It’s 11pm. Your home is finally quiet. This end-less day of work and various urgent tasks you had to do is finally over. This is your time to relax in your bed and you are nodding off on your book. Suddenly, your partner appears next to you, touching your arm and giving you sexual advances.

What’s next?

If you feel the same, that is great. But you might be already rolling your eyes and be thinking like “…Really?!”, “Again?” (sight).

Saying no can be delicate in such situation, as we want to satisfy our partner and avoid upsetting them. So we end up having sex with them because we want them to be happy. Being the one saying no is not pleasant either. You might be frustrated of your partner not being able to read the situation. In that case, a natural reaction could be to strictly say no and push them away… Which is not helpful.

You are not the only one experiencing that. In fact, differing preferences for desired frequency of sex is one of the most common challenges faced by couples.

But we have great news. A recent study from the University of Toronto Mississauga, published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships suggests that turning down your partner’s sexual advances in a positive way is actually beneficial to the relationship.

Having sex only to avoid conflict has detrimental consequences over time

Sometimes, we don’t feel like having sex, but we are afraid that turning our partner’s down will harm our relationship. Therefore we agree to have sex with our partner because we want to avoid any trouble. And without knowing it, we are actually making things worse. Here is why.

The study found that having sex to avoid relationship problems was particularly detrimental in longer relationships and in relationships where sex occurred less frequently. Unsurprisingly, the reason is that repetitive « avoidance-motivated sex » would lower relationship satisfaction over time.

Therefore, changing our behaviour when we do not want to have sex (instead of doing it to please our partner only) seems crucial in order to maintain a healthy relationship.

It is alright to say no – in a gentle way

On the contrary, declining your partner’s sexual advances won’t harm your relationship — if you do it in a positive way.

The study found that rejecting a partner for sex in positive ways represents a viable alternative to avoidance-motivated sex. Indeed, people indicated that they would rather have their partner reject their sexual advances in a reassuring way, than have their partner accept their advances only to avoid relationship troubles.

It was also found that people were less satisfied when they or their partner pursued sex for avoidance goals, suggesting that engaging in sex may not be good for relationships if the only reason for doing so are focused on avoiding conflict.

« This research suggests that a relationship-promoting alternative may exist when people are reassuring and express love and caring concern when declining their partner’s sexual advances. » (extract from the report)

We understand then that expressing our thoughts kindly can help our partner to not take it personally… It is time to take action!

3 tips to decline sex in a positive way

Say no calmly and explain to your partner why

The biggest challenge in a sexual rejection for the partner is to make it personal. Our partner might think that we do not want to have sex because we are no longer attracted to them; we no longer love them or have lost interest in them.

Naturally, we tend to think that sexual refuse is a sign of a deeper problem in the relationship. Which is not often the case! So if you are not in the mood because you are exhausted of your long day at work, phrase it clearly and gently to your partner.

By doing so, we help our partners understand that it is not because of them but because of external causes that it is not the right time for us. However, if you are not in the mood because a tension occurred between both of you, you should consider phrasing it as well to unlock the situation.


Say what you like about your partner

The same way participants of the study displayed a reassuring behaviour while rejecting their partner; let’s take the opportunity to remind our partner what we like about them in order for them to accept more easily rejection –and maintain a connection with them.

There are plenty of ways to experiencing intimacy other than sex: spending quality time together around dinner, cuddling, sharing our point of view on different subjects… These are ideas that you could suggest to fulfil your partner’s need to be loved.

Propose another time – and keep your promise!

The person rejected might fear that it will happen over and over again. The important is therefore to make our partner understand that it only means “not now”.

Explain that it’s only temporary and counterbalance frustration by suggesting another day in the following week during which you could do it. And keep your promise to make up for it!


This doesn’t ensure that there won’t be any conflict or that your partner won’t be disappointed you said no to sex. However, we always have the right to say no, and maintaining a healthy relationship with your partner is about trust. Remember that it’s not conflict itself that impact relationships, but it is the way couples manage conflict.


Kim, J., Muise, A. & Impett, E. A. (2018). “The relationship implications of rejecting a partner for sex kindly versus having sex reluctantly,” Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 35, 4, 485-508

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Like this article? You might also be interested in the other articles in this category of Mars v. Venus:

Mars v. Venus – on Appreciation & Respect

Mars v. Venus – on Giving & Receiving

Mars v. Venus – on Cave and Well