Sometimes I’m tired or my anxiety is consuming eighty percent of my energy, and sometimes it’s the week before my period and my body hurts and I feel bloated like a inflatable raft. Sometimes I’m just not feeling it. Sometimes I’ll be feeling it and then my partner will say something well intentioned but that makes the whole thing seem like a lot of effort for my tired soul that just wanted to have sex and an intimate moment before bed and I’ll flip over, not into it anymore. There are nights that I want to wrap myself up like a burrito and pretend the world doesn’t exist. Sometimes I wonder if my sex drive is just particularly low and if actually there are people all over the city ready to go at any moment. I sometimes wonder if I’m just a weirdo with an extra sensitive vagina that gets sore often.
It’s hard to shake the feeling that saying no to someone is going to make them angry. I’ve always felt guilty for not wanting to, over apologizing and freaking out that my partner, who I’ve been in a committed relationship with for over a year, will be mad or hold it against me, even though he has never done either of those things.
I never see people turn down sex in the movies. Usually when people would offer reasons for why I wouldn’t want to have sex with them, they were along the lines of ‘you’re scared you’ll get attached,” or “you don’t want to make it awkward later.” It was rarely just, oh, you might not want to and that’s totally okay and we’ll just cuddle and eat noodles. If I didn’t want to, I would compensate by apologizing, promising sex later at a different time, worried that the person would be offended or lose interest or the very worst, kick me out of their apartment in anger. I was terrified that my perceived rejection would result in an even larger rejection. I was scared that the other person would go into a rage and just go out and find someone else.
Eventually, I realized that having sex when I wasn’t in the mood wasn’t worth it, just to avoid judgement. There were exceptions, when it felt like I wanted to do it out of love for someone else and their need at that moment, but generally, I started to back away from having sex on nights when I didn’t feel like it, especially when I was doing it out of worry that the other person would be angry. Please, I would whisper to myself, let me tell you this without you judging me. I’m so tired and just want to cuddle. I wanted to be the cool girl, the fun and sexy girl, always up for it, but not as much as I wanted to be the girl who did what she wanted, who could say no and mean it and not eat herself alive with guilt.
The key is communicating to a partner the why behind the decision. As someone who has initiated sex before only to have the other person say they’re not in the mood, it’s easy to feel that it’s a reflection of how the person feels about you. Taking ego out of it is hard, but clearly explaining the emotions and thought process behind it can help the other person understand what’s going on in your body and soul.
I like to either set expectations at the beginning of the night, if I know what kind of a mood I’m in, or take the time to walk the other person through what’s on my mind. For example, the other day I was in the mood for something quick before work; my boyfriend was interested in a longer and more focused interaction. I had suggested it and had mentioned that we were short on time, so I thought we were on the same page, and when he asked me if we could focus on me for fifteen minutes, I felt immediately stressed. Instead of feeling thankful that he wanted to focus on me, I felt pressure to enjoy it and validate him; I felt stressed for time and as though he hadn’t heard me when I had suggested having sex quickly to start the day off. I was frustrated that his perception of what would make me happy wasn’t matching up with mine. I felt like it was more about him wanting to do something for me that was actually for himself, and his vision of what I wanted, than it was me asking him to do something for me because it was what I wanted. It’s a very fine line but is different. I felt like I would have to spent those fifteen minutes enjoying myself when in reality, I had too much on my mind to really be in the moment for more than a few minutes.
Eventually, the situation deflated and it was clear that I didn’t feel like it anymore. Later, when I was explaining it to him, I tried to communicate that I didn’t want to experiment in a moment when I had expressed stress. I had felt like I was already making an effort to find time for us to have the experience, and that nothing I did would be good enough, that I would never enjoy myself enough or make enough time. Explaining to him the subtleties of what I read from the situation versus what he did allowed us to openly communicate about why I went from being interested in sex to not being interested in sex.
It’s okay to not always be in the mood. Saying I don’t feel like it is a completely valid reason. And people who make you feel like you’re being judged for not being in the mood, because they’ve somehow never seen a person not want to have sex, are taking it as a rejection of them, rather than a move for you and your body. Sometimes sex just isn’t what’s on the table for the night. And that’s okay.