The Pain of Sexual Rejection

Sexual Rejection

Most adults are fully connected to their sexual needs, which is something healthy and natural. When we choose to be in a monogamous relationship with someone, we usually want to express ourselves sexually with our loved one. In the beginning of relationship our desire to sexually explore each other is high and despite cultural acceptance it is not a given that sexual desire has to decline as the relationship progresses. Research confirms that many couples report higher levels of sexual satisfaction and fulfilment in long-term relationships than those in new relationships.


Be honest with yourself, your experience, your feelings, your needs. We cannot experience a more intimate connection with someone else than we are willing to have with ourselves.” Marlena Tillhon


A strong sexual connection is based on a strong emotional connection between two people, who respect and love themselves and each other. It requires honesty, openness, vulnerability, trust, curiosity, openness, flexibility and non-judgement. A strong connection between two partners depends on their connection to themselves. Fluctuations in sexual desire are natural too as health issues and life stressors such as a new baby or unemployment for example can impact our libido. Natural fluctuations are usually managed well by attuned couples.   

Problems arise when one partner craves more sexual contact than the other is comfortable giving, which is discussed in my article ‘The Desire Discrepancy’. This article focuses on the possible impact of the partner, who craves more intimacy or sexual expression within the relationship. These are different ways in which we try to protect ourselves from experiencing the discomfort of sexual rejection: 


‘Why Don’t You Want Me?’ – The Distress of Insecurity

While most of us know that it is natural to want a sexual connection with our partners, a constant ‘No’ impacts even the most resilient amongst us. It is easy to drop into insecure thinking that creates a lot of emotional distress for us. We usually start with feelings of frustration but as the ‘No’ increases we often turn on ourselves and question our needs, worth or attractiveness. Some of us also start to blame and devalue their partners increasing relationship tension and thereby decreasing relationship safety and a loving environment required for sexual contact.

Many of us see sex as adult fun and play. So when sexual contact is decreased, it can often feel like our partner removes fun from our life. When we are fully committed to our partners, this can impact on our overall wellbeing as we are faced with a dilemma: on one hand we experience human needs that we seek to fulfill but we cannot fulfill them within the relationship when the other person is not available to us in that way. Usually we then tend to lean heavily on our values, while attempting to deal with the discomfort of unmet sexual needs.

In this situation it often helps to look after our own emotional connection so we stay available while our partner is going through a difficult time. By doing so we are open to exploring what this situation brings up for us and which lies of the mind may entrap us causing this particular kind of suffering.


‘I Must Not Feel.’ – A Denial of Needs

At one point the pain of wanting and not getting becomes so uncomfortable that we start to deny our sexual needs. We stop pursuing our partner and initiating sex because we want to avoid the feelings of disappointment and frustration. We begin to close down, numb and disconnect from our sexual desire.

We may start to wonder if our needs are too excessive or demanding. We may make ourselves wrong for wanting to be sexually close to our partner. We may start to feel embarrassed or even ashamed for our sexual desires and needs and so a ‘No’ from our partner can feel like stone-cold rejection, which activates the same areas of the brain as when we experience physical pain.  

Eventually openness, trust, intimacy and sexual contact decrease while frustration, numbness, loneliness, disconnection and resentment increase. Many people experience symptoms of depression as they work and defend hard at suppressing their human needs, feelings and experience. They may become disinterested, lethargic and unmotivated. Life feels like one big chore without anything to counterbalance it. This is the high price we pay for disconnecting from ourselves and our feelings in an attempt to evade our desires and needs.


“Denying our experience does not make it less real, but it does make it less likely to create positive change.” Marlena Tillhon


Reacting in this way is a shame-based reaction to thoughts related to sex, wants and desires such as ‘I shouldn’t want this’ for example.


‘What Is Wrong With Me?’ – The Pain of Shame

It is easy to tell ourselves that our partner does not want to have sex with us because they are too tired or too stressed. We rationalise to defend against experiencing uncomfortable feelings. But there comes a point when minimising and rationalising no longer works.

When we feel desired, it takes little courage to initiate sex. When we have been rejected a few times, it can  start to take enormous amounts of courage to open up and pursue our partners. While we think we fear their reaction, we actually fear the thoughts this situation brings up for us. 

It is easy to feel good about ourselves when we feel wanted and desired by our partner. It is easy to express ourselves when we do not fear negative responses. It is easy to ask for what we want when it’s likely that we’ll get it.

But once our advances are shut down, our expressed wishes are declined, and negative responses come our way, we begin to feel more inhibited. Self-doubt creeps in. Insecurities arise. We begin to feel worse about ourselves. Not necessarily because of our partner’s reaction but because insecure thinking has been stirred up that makes us question our attractiveness or even our worth.

When we take our partner’s reaction personally, we usually begin to feel negative. When we begin to feel low about ourselves, we feel and act less desirable. When we feel less attractive, we become less attractive. When we try to hide our needs, we become needier.

Instead of being in full-blown denial of our needs, we are suffering while stuck in a cycle of self-depreciation, disconnection, worthlessness and hopelessness. When in this cycle, we are not open for connection – emotional or sexual. Sexual connection with our partner requires a healthy connection with ourselves. We cannot enjoy giving ourselves to someone we love when we feel worthless.


‘What Is Wrong With You?!’ – Attack, the Narcissistic Defense

While some of us may eventually switch from self-blame to blame, others may start here by attacking their partners. They may make them wrong for their lower sex drive, thereby creating conditions, which make it even less likely for the partner to open up and feel in the mood to connect sexually.

Sexual entitlement in relationships is a definite barrier to any kind of intimacy. Healthy adults are aware of their desires and needs and know how to express themselves appropriately with the best chance of having their needs met. They also know how to handle disappointment and deal with conflict.

Attacking our partner for not giving us what we want when we want it, is disrespectful and devalues them as a human being. Instead of seeing them as someone separate, they are now seen as someone there to serve and provide. This is not the basis of a loving, equal, healthy adult relationship. It will not increase sexual contact – not the kind anyway that is given freely and enjoyed by both.

When we become aware that we are perceiving our partner in a negative light, we must take time to check in with our perceptions. Instead of blaming and attacking them, we must explore and question the stories we make up about them. Humans often disconnect from their partners in an attempt to protect themselves from their uncomfortable feelings.


‘I Can’t Go Without.’ – Seeking A Different Outlet

While some suppress their needs and become depressed, others go against their values and meet their sexual needs outside their relationship. They may feel justified in doing so by perceiving their partner as withholding. Others may not see any other way to meet their sexual needs and do so whilst feeling wrong, guilty and ashamed.

However we justify going against our monogamous agreement, we lose. We may lose our sense of integrity by doing something that goes against our values. We may lose self-respect by lying to someone we love. We may feel more ashamed of ourselves because of our behaviours.

We may feel less loving towards our partner, because we blame them for our behaviour instead of taking personal responsibility for our actions. We may behave in less respectful ways because we have devalued our partner in our mind. We may feel less and less connected to someone we love, because staying connected would result in strong (self-correcting)  feelings of guilt and shame, which we try to avoid.

Either way, finding a different outlet to meeting our sexua needs is not an effective, long-term solution either as one need might get met at the expense of many others.


“It is human nature for our degree of satisfaction to be tied to the extent of our involvement. Commitment prepares the mind for full investment and guards against distractions. Putting your whole heart into your relationship is the only way to get maximum value from it. Commitment to a relationship enables you to experience its full potential.” Dr. George Pranksy


‘I have no choice.’ – The Lie of Forced ‘Compromise’

In an attempt to stay in control or in a relationship some of us may agree to an open relationship even if this goes against our wishes or values. It seems easier to lie to ourselves and pretend to be okay with an open relationship than to address a desire discrepancy issue that could result in the end of a valued relationship.

Forced ‘compromise’ is only possible when we deny ourselves, when we make ourselves wrong, when we give up on what we truly want in an attempt to maintain an attachment. It will inevitable result in disconnection, anger, hurt and resentment – and even less sexual intimacy due to the lack of emotional honesty, safety and connection.

Forced ‘compromise’ is never a solution – it is a giving up on ourselves. And giving up on ourselves will harm the relationship so it’s lose-lose for everyone.


“Be true to yourself. We cannot make wise choices for ourselves if we are not true to ourselves.” Marlena Tillhon


‘So What Do I Do?’ – Some Helpful Suggestions

When we experience difficult emotions, we feel compelled to jump into action in an attempt to fix our feeling state. Feelings don’t need fixing – they need understanding. To understand them, we have to learn to get to a place of inner calm so we can fully connect to ourselves and be guided by our innate wisdom in taking action accordingly.

Despite of what it may look like, the overall issue is not the lack of sex, it is the perceived lack of connection – to ourselves and our partner. We cannot place responsibility for our distress on our partners. We can however ask for their support while addressing our internal turmoil and in doing so increasing our emotional connection, which usually impacts positively in other areas of the relationship too.


Here are a few responses to painful thoughts that might come up for you:

  • Don’t make yourself wrong for wanting sexual intimacy with the one you love. It is normal, natural and human.
  • Your attractiveness or worth as a human being is not tied to one person’s sexual response to you. However, it is human to have moments of insecurity.
  • Don’t make your partner wrong for wanting less sexual intimacy. Their lower sex drive is not a reflection on your worth or theirs.
  • Our sexual desires are not measures of our human worth.
  • There is nothing shameful about experiencing pain associated with sexual rejection. Nurture yourself and be kind to yourself.
  • Be honest with yourself, your experience, your feelings, your needs. We cannot experience a more intimate connection with someone else than we are willing to have with ourselves.
  • Our bodies are gifts. They give us pain. They give us pleasure. Neither is shameful.


To conclude I would like to validate the pain that comes from the perceived rejection to our sexual advances. It is natural to want to be close to someone we desire, love and long for. When we reach out to them and they don’t reciprocate, it can be very confusing and hurtful. We also often feel that we should not have the emotional reactions we experience, that we should be ‘above it’. And yet, we’re not and that’s ok.

When we feel that our loved one rejects us, the last thing we need is to reject ourselves. We cannot make ourselves wrong for wanting closeness, intimacy or sex. We cannot shame our desires or experience. We cannot deny our longings or emotional reactions. We cannot deny our insecurities or our pain. To do so would be unloving and unkind. And because we love our partner, we cannot do any of those things to them either.

When we are fully connected to ourselves, we come from a place of love and clarity. We do not deny or shame. We understand. We act. We change. We love with clarity – ourselves and our partner.


Marlena Tillhon

Marlena is a progressive psychotherapist and relationship coach and passionate about helping people connect with their innate wellbeing.

Blog Comments

I would like to start by saying thank you for your article. It helped me look at things differently and question myself, giving me a different insight and approach on the matter. Not an easy feeling and situation to deal with and especially to talk about as we men tend to overlook this situation with a macho attitude and treat them without the care they require.

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