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When It’s Better to Say No to Sex With Your Partner

And why it strengthens your relationship in the long-term

What’s worse: Never having any sex at all OR begrudgingly having sex when you don’t want to just to avoid conflict?

It’s a trick question — they both send your relationship into a demoralizing doom spiral from which you may never recover. But new research brings good news! There’s a lesser of these two evils, and it’s a third option altogether: Turning down a partner’s sexual advances may not be a big deal if — and this is a big if — you do it right. What’s more, it may be better in the long term than grinning and bearing it. This flies in the face of most relationship advice in this arena, which typically tells people to suck it up and put out to keep the missus or mister happy.

The study, published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships from University of Toronto researchers James Kim, Amy Muise and Emily Impett, operates on a simple premise: People in relationships don’t always want sex at the same time, and not wanting sex at the same time is a major source of relationship conflict. Making matters worse, it’s also the type of relationship conflict that’s hardest to resolve. What, then, is the best way for couples to deal with mismatched libidos?

Should you:

  1. Fuck anyway, doing your best to enjoy it.
  2. Roll your eyes and turn your attention back to the television.
  3. Say no in a really, really nice way.

Existing advice would have them do it anyway or schedule a time to have sex and stick with it, typically arguing that the closeness it brings will be worth it, or that if you just get the sex going, you’ll get into it, like warming up a car on a snowy winter morning.

But let’s go with option 3, in light of this new research. You say no to sex, but in a really nice way, and without causing any harm to the relationship. In the survey, participants preferred this to sex the other person was having begrudgingly.

The idea here, called “positive rejection,” sounds like a contradiction in terms. “Positive” in this case means reassuringly, as in, reminding someone you still find them attractive, love them and will fuck them later, as opposed to the shitty kind of rejection where you’re curt, frustrated or critical toward your partner.

What people really want is to be enthusiastically fucked, but if they cannot be fucked enthusiastically, they would rather not be fucked at all. People preferred being nicely rejected than to be fucked begrudgingly (women, far less used to sexual rejection, especially didn’t want to be fucked begrudgingly). When this practice was used in an otherwise good relationship, there was no damage done to occasionally sitting out sex.

Worth noting: After the nice rejection, you do have to fuck them later. You can’t just never have sex but always be super nice about it and expect that to last over the long haul. Research the authors cite on sexual refusal in married or cohabiting couples found that while sexual rejection is very common in relationships, the more sexual refusal there was, the less happy people were in the relationship.

This makes sense. Constant rejection, even the nice kind, is still a total boner killer.