Constantly Saying 'No' to Sex? You May Be 'Touched Out'

woman who doesn't want to be touched

Does this sound familiar? You have little people pawing at you all day long. And then, at the end of the day, your husband wants to get intimate, or maybe he just brushes your hand as he reaches for the salt. But you suddenly feel like screaming: I CAN'T! Stand. Being. Touched. By. Another. Single. Person! Goodbye, sex life. Nice knowin' ya. YIKES -- where is this coming from, and what does it mean for your marriage?


You're feeling "touched out," and it's a condition that hits countless moms. "The phrase 'touched out' is a catch-all term for feeling like 'I have nothing for me,'" says Roya L. Rezaee MD, Co-Director of the Program for Sexual Health and Vulvovaginal Disorders, MacDonald Women's Hospital, Dept of Ob/Gyn,University Hospitals Case Medical Center, and Assistant Professor in the Department of Reproductive Biology, Case Western University Medical Center. 

Some women definitely know when they're "touched out" while other women describe feelings of anxiety or fatigue, or they don't want to be around people at all. 

You can't feel desire and arousal if you don't have the time, energy, or privacy for it. But not letting your spouse touch you at all, ever, is not the solution -- not if you want to keep your connection with him. "The longer you go without intimacy with your partner, the harder it becomes for you to find each other again," says Rezaee.

There's no one perfect solution to this problem for everyone because we're all different. But there are some important steps everyone can take to figure out what your ideal solution is.

1. Figure out what you really need. Take a moment to close your eyes and notice how you're breathing. "Listen to what your energy is saying," Rezaee says. "Is it saying you have no energy, no privacy, no time to yourself, resentment toward your partner?" One way of thinking about it, she says, is to ask yourself, "If someone could see inside my head right now, what would they see?" (We're guessing it would say something like I NEED ALONE TIME.)

2. Think about how to meet that need. Depending on your circumstances, you could hire a sitter for an hour every day, or have your husband take your kids for 20 minutes when he comes home so you can take a walk, or reduce your cosleeping or babywearing time.

One client of Rezaee's has trained herself to notice when her heart rate goes up during the day. "She tells herself, 'I need five minutes.' And she takes her child off her lap and onto the floor, closes her eyes, and listens as her heart and mind quiet down." Five minutes seemed long at first, so she started with just one minute. Everyone is different, so there's no one perfect solution. Just what works for you.

3. Talk with your partner about your needs. "Bring him into the discussion and verbalize what your needs are because your partner is not a mind reader," Rezaee says. He can't help you if you don't tell him exactly what you want. If you have a hard time saying it out loud, try writing it down on paper. Or both of you can meet with a couples counselor, who can help facilitate a productive conversation.

4. Find different ways to be intimate. Connecting with your husband doesn't have to equal intercourse. Start smaller. "Be present, look at each other, make eye contact, listen to music, decompress," Rezaee suggests. "Laughing together can be a building block to an intimate moment." Remember what used to bring you together during your courtship phase, and try to do some of those things again. Keep in mind, what you're doing doesn't matter as much as what it represents to you. 

5. If you say "no" to sex, be kind about it. When you reject your husband's advances, it can feel like you're rejecting him -- even if that's not your intention. Tell him, in your own words, that you want to connect with him and feel intimate, but it would be easier if ... And say what you would like to do to feel closer, or what you need him to do to help you feel more relaxed.

More from The Stir: How to Say No to Sex Without Hurting Your Husband

6. Change the kind of sex you have. On the other hand, maybe it's just soft, nurturing touch you're fed up with, and you need something completely different from your husband. So after he's given you that alone time you need, you may need what sex and relationships expert Dana B. Myers recommends:

You want (and need!) to be taken with a different energy -- you want hunger, passion, urgency, and maybe even a dash of lusty aggression. It's hard to awaken your sensuality again if your lover gives you the same 'flavor of touch' that you experience with your children during the day. So, instead, prompt them to give you something different -- contact that shocks your system alive again, makes you feel like a desired woman, and allows you to truly step away from the all-consuming role of the Nurturing Mother.

7. How to tell if you're feeling touched out or if you're just not attracted to your husband. Well ... it's complicated. "Fatigue, work, and family obligations are very intertwined with sex and relationship issues, so it's really hard to tease out," Rezaee says. Do you have feelings of resentment toward your husband because of his lack of support? That can affect your desire for him. But to accurately answer that question, you may need to work with a professional. There's not a lot of research on the sexuality of moms (OMG!) right now, but Rezaee tells me this is changing.

8. Adjust your expectations. Even before you start your family (if possible), learn about this phenomenon so it won't be such a shock. Talk with your partner about how you'll deal with it. If you already have kids, think about the daily patterns for how you relate to your spouse physically and emotionally.

9. Pay attention to how long this lasts. There isn't much research on moms feeling touched out, but Rezaee and her colleagues see this phase most often in women with small children under the age of 6. Once your kids become older, if you're still feeling touched out, it could be a sign of a different issue, like a hormone-related low sex drive or serious problems in your relationship.

Have you ever felt touched out? How do you deal with it?


Image via VP Photo Studio/Shutterstock

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