My partner has sex tantrums. What do I do?

Understanding sex tantrums in relationships

Does your partner have sex tantrums? They might exhibit signs of frustration, anger, or distance when they are not satisfied sexually? If so, you’re not alone. As a couple therapist, I often come across this phenomenon in couples seeking therapy. For men, this issue seems to often be significant enough to motivate them to seek couples therapy. In this post, I will delve into the concept of sex tantrums, explore what they may look like, examine the underlying emotions of both partners involved, and suggest ways to break free from this thoroughly unsatisfying sex pressure loop, for both parties


Listen to me chat about this on my podcast:

Episode 62 of the Relationship-smart women podcast

“Does your partner have sex tantrums?”

Listen here.

Check out my other podcasts here.

What are sex tantrums?

Sex tantrums occur when one partner expresses unhappiness with the frequency or quality of sex in the relationship. The ways they express their unhappiness, can sometimes be like a tantruming toddler and can take various forms, such as:
*guilt-inducing comments or pleading
*concerns about this being a bigger relationship problem
*complaining or making jokes about the lack of sex in social settings
*expressing insecurity through jealousy or constant reassurance seeking
*disengaging from emotional connection in other areas of the relationship.

Understanding the Tantrumer’s persepective

The partner exhibiting the tantrum behaviour is often the one with a higher level of desire for sex. Their actions are typically driven by a profound sense of distress and anxiety. The lack of sexual intimacy or desire from their partner may be perceived as rejection, leading to feelings of being unloved, unwanted, or unattractive.

Ultimately, they may fear that their partner no longer wants to be with them, posing a potential threat to the relationship’s stability. When their attempts to initiate sex fail, it reinforces their anxiety and further intensifies their feeling of disconnection. For the higher desire partner, sex has becomes a symbol of love and security within the relationship and the lack of it has come to signify the opposite.

The Gender Dynamics of sex tantrums

Research suggests that in heterosexual relationships, men are more likely to exhibit tantrum behaviors, although both men and women can engage in them. Heterosexual couples face added complexity due to differences in sexual tendencies, social conditioning, and expectations.

Men, in particular, may struggle to express nuanced emotions due to societal norms discouraging them from exploring and acknowledging their feelings. Consequently, sex may become the only percieved, available outlet for emotional vulnerability and connection that feels safe for them. This can explain why men often experience a profound emotional response to a lack of sex.

Differences in Sexual Tendencies

Traditional sexual models have perpetuated unrealistic expectations around sex and desire. We have been conditioned to believe that instant desire and simultaneous orgasms characterize a passionate encounter between two attracted individuals. However, this narrative primarily aligns with the male experience of sexuality.

Women, on the other hand, have evolved to be more discerning and cautious about initiating sex due to their biological investment in reproduction. The patriarchal sex narrative diminishes the complexity of female sexual desire and may lead women to feel misunderstood and inadequate for not matching the spontaneousness often associated with desire.

Understanding the Tantrumee’s Perspective

The partner on the receiving end of the tantrum often feels guilty and trapped. It is very common that they genuinely care about their partner’s needs and don’t wish to see them upset. However, engaging in sex as a result of obligation can create a sexual dynamic that feels pressured which has the result of diminished personal enjoyment and creates associations with sex as not being something they want to engage in. Over time, this can take a toll on their psychology and nervous system, transforming sex into an anxiety provoking act.

Women, in particular, have been socialized to prioritize others’ needs above their own, making it overwhelming when there is little time or space for their own desires. Further, obligation sex seldom satisfies the tantrumer’s need for connection, leaving them seeking further relief. Consistently engaging in undesired sexual encounters can lead to sexual anxiety and further disconnection from self and each other within the relationship.

Breaking the Pattern

To address the sex tantrum pattern and promote healthier sexual dynamics, here are some things to consider.

  1. Nurturing connection outside the bedroom:
    Strengthen your bond in other areas of the relationship, engaging in shared activities and spending quality time together.
  2. Effective communication:
    Create the environment for safe communication where you can openly discuss feelings of rejection, anxiety, and obligation. This will deepen mutual understanding and connection.
  3. Getting over the taboo around sex:
    It can be really hard to talk about sex as it is not something that has been encouraged or comfortable for most people. Be courageous and foster a relationship in which discussions about sex are encouraged, allowing both you to express your desires and concerns, your kinks and turn ons without judgment.
  4. Setting affection boundaries:
    In order to encourage more affection, more touch and more of the conditions in which desire can arise, there must be the possibility of non sexual affection and touch. The tantrumee can express their need for basic affection without promising sexual encounters, alleviating the pressure on both partners.
  5. Honouring No:
    Create a sexual environment in which either partner can say no or change their mind about sex at any point without consequence. This makes it easier to say maybe or yes.
  6. Personal responsibility for anxieties:
    Each partner should take ownership and responsibility for their own anxieties, finding alternative ways to address them, such as non-sexual touch, effective communication and personal therapy.
  7. Honoring individual desires:
    Emphasize the importance of sexual experiences that are satisfying for both partners, exploring personal eroticism, turn-ons, and kinks to create sex that is worth having.

Sex tantrums in relationships are emotionally distressing for both partners involved. Understanding the underlying fears and anxieties driving these behaviours is crucial for breaking the pattern of disconnection and dissatisfaction. Deep down, both partners are seeking connection. By fostering open communication, nurturing connection outside the bedroom, and prioritizing the fulfillment of individual desires, couples can navigate these challenges and cultivate a healthier and more satisfying sexual dynamic.

NB: The above article is responding to healthy relationship dynamics. If you are feeling bullied, undermined, or like you do not want to experience the consequences of not having sex, or feel like you cannot have reasonable communication around it, this could be sexual coercion and you may need help.

This is a definition of sexual coercion:
Sexual coercion is unwanted sexual activity that happens when you are pressured, tricked, threatened, or forced in a nonphysical way. Coercion can make you think you owe sex to someone. From the US Office on Women’s Health.
In Australia contact and check this page for what a healthy relationship looks like

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Nicole Mathieson

Hi, I'm Nicole Mathieson, a relationship and body image coach, couple therapist and author.

My relationships blog helps couples learn practical ways to cultivate a deeper understanding of one another, find safety and connection in relationships, navigate difficult conversations and repair after conflict.