Q&A: Is Withholding Sex Abuse?

Although it’s not the only reason we humans get together and marry each other, sex is an enormous part of all of our relationships – at least usually.

While you likely wouldn’t get with someone who didn’t have a similar sex drive to you, it can be very frustrating when your partner suddenly stops having sex as much as they used to. In fact, this can severely affect your emotional well being, and it’s not an issue to be taken lightly!

So, you may be wondering – is it considered abuse if your partner deliberately withholds sex or intimacy from you? Is it ever okay, and if so when? And more importantly, what should you do if your partner is withholding sex to ensure the both of you can be happy again?

In this article, we’ll be answering all of these questions and more!

Is Withholding Sex Or Intimacy A Form Of Abuse?

I think that we establish early on that both sex and intimacy are biological needs. We are hardwired to seek out people to become close and develop intimate relationships with, and of course are driven to have sex to continue the existence of our species.

Just because you won’t die if you don’t have an orgasm, doesn’t make it any less important. SO much of our behavior is driven by our sexual needs and when these needs aren’t being fulfilled, it can cause a lot of problems on a psychological and emotional level.

When you establish a relationship with someone, the two of you already have some sort of expectation on what level of intimacy and sex that you need from each other. But what if your partner betrays these expectations? What if you are used to having regular sex, and suddenly they are choosing to withhold it from you? Is this actually abusive?

I think it depends on the context of the situation.

I believe that we all have the right to say no to sex at any given time. If you’re feeling sick, you’re legitimately exhausted, you’re in pain, etc, you shouldn’t be expected to have sex. I do not consider this to be a form of abuse.

If however, your partner is deliberately withholding sex in order to get something from you – be it agree to a decision, give them something they want, or to punish you for something you did, then this can be a form of emotional abuse.

This is manipulative at best, and is a common tactic used by narcissistic people to control others. It is never okay, and can leave you feeling betrayed, abandoned, and it can erode your self-esteem.

Sex should never be used as a tool to get something you want. Period.

This is the same sort of manipulative behavior as controlling all of the finances, or refusing to get things in both of your names so one partner is reliant and can’t leave you. Or pinning kids against the other parent. Or preventing a partner from getting a job, furthering their education, controlling who they can see, and so on.

If a partner is preventing you from having a biological need for their own selfish gain, this is abuse and points to an even bigger underlying problem.

Is Cheating Okay In This Scenario?

If your partner is no longer fulfilling your sexual and intimate needs, it can lead you to wonder whether or not something like cheating would be justified.

I can’t tell you how to live your life, but I do believe that cheating can be a band-aid at best, but ultimately is likely to cause even more problems.

If sex is being withheld, there is some larger underlying issue that needs to be addressed. It could be manipulation. It could be some sort of power dynamic, or the only way they feel they have leverage over you. It could be because the other person legitimately has no sex drive anymore – which can be caused by anything from new medications, to work stress, to depression. It could be caused by something else entirely.

If you really feel like you need to cheat, then it’s probably worth reevaluating whether or not the two of you are actually still compatible with each other. Sometimes relationships just run their course, and there’s nothing wrong with ending a partnership that is no longer right for the two of you. It’s hard, but sometimes it’s the right option.

Before making any drastic decisions either way, I’d love for you to get in touch with me to see if there’s any insight or advice that may help!

What To Do If Your Spouse Is Withholding Sex

Rebuilding the intimacy when one partner is withholding it can be difficult, and your approach depends heavily on why exactly it’s being done.

If you don’t already know the reason, it’s very important to sit down and have a direct, confrontational talk where you figure out what’s going on. Directly state why sex and intimacy are so important to you, and how their actions are hurting you. If you are someone that will turn to fill your needs elsewhere – like porn or with another person, make sure they know this ISN’T what you want – the goal is to continue having sex with each other.

Avoid allowing them to redirect the blame to you – this is an example of narcissistic behavior and won’t help overcome this problem.

If they are open about withholding sex to get something, let them know that this behavior is not acceptable and the two of you must find other, healthier ways to reach a compromise.

If the withholding of sex is due to something like depression or past trauma, it’s important that you show empathy, support and understanding for your partner as well. It can be useful to start with smaller activities, like holding hands while you go on a walk or watching a romance movie together before moving onto things like kissing and touching.

Note that just because you are perceiving your partner as withholding sex, doesn’t mean that they see it that way, or are doing it deliberately. They may not even realize that you’ve been having sex less frequently than usual – it may not be something that’s even crossed their mind. Or, there could be multiple reasons behind it that even they aren’t sure of. This is why communication is so important!

Ultimately, this can be a complex topic with a lot of underlying issues. It can be hard for the both of you to be vulnerable to each other and really get to the bottom of it. If you need help, I’d love to do a call with you that can help the both of you get back on the right track – and solve this issue for good!

Closing Thoughts

Sex is something that should always be done willingly by both partners. While it’s normal not to be up for it every single time the other person is ready to go, withholding sex can become abusive if it’s used as a tool to get something you want, to assert power over another person, or as a form of punishment.

Because sex and intimacy play such an important role in our lives, it’s important that the problem is addressed, and the two of you are able to work through it together if you want your marriage to last.

If your partner is withholding sex from you – or you’re doing it to your partner, I’d love to hear your story. Chances are, there are others in the same situation you’re in right now. Do us all a favor and leave a comment below, so we can all hear what you have to say!

Here’s hoping things get better soon, and don’t be afraid to reach out for further help!

~ Lexi

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