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My girlfriend has a low libido and I get angry when rejected

Ask Roe: A hug or kiss seems like a chore for her and sex is rejected 80% of the time

Dear Roe,

My girlfriend of almost four years just sent me one of your previous columns. The question was about a man in a heterosexual relationship who sulks when his partner says no to sex. I’m the man in this heterosexual relationship and the one who sulks and begs sometimes when I get rejected.

Sometimes I get angry, but have been working on that and there has been improvement. She does not initiate sex, there are no compliments on her part if she ever finds me attractive. She is not an affectionate person. I am. A hug or kiss seems like a chore for her to accept. Sex is pretty rare, I'm rejected probably 80 per cent of the time.

We are in isolation because of Covid-19, barely communicating. How do we compromise and work this out if it's still possible?

Our sex life seemed great the first couple of years. She has cheated on me once, having sex a few times with the same guy, lying until I found proof and caught her. She was also forced to tell me about the cheating because she caught an STD; one that doesn't ever fully go away, unfortunately. That incident was about 2½ years ago.


I've tried many times to come up with solutions to my high libido and her disappearing one. I've shared many an article from professionals with proven recommendations. She dismissed them all. Nothing changes. We are in isolation because of Covid-19, barely communicating, and she shared that article by you. How do we compromise and work this out if it's still possible?

You don’t give specifics of why you and your girlfriend aren’t speaking right now, but if she shared an article about a partner sulking because a woman said no to sex, I’m presuming that was the reason for the conflict.

To reiterate what I wrote in that original article, pressuring a person to have sex with you or punishing a partner for not having sex with you by being disrespectful, emotionally distant or angry is a form of coercion. It creates a dynamic where saying no to sex becomes imbued with anxiety or even fear of emotional retaliation. Consent is enthusiastic. Agreeing to sex only to avoid punishment is not consent.

You don’t only admit to sulking when your partner refuses sex, you say that you “get angry”, but also state “there has been improvement”. I understand that to you, you have been working on your emotional regulation and this improvement is noteworthy, and indeed, becoming self-aware about your emotions and working on how you express yourself is a very important, commendable step. I hope you are noticing the growth and continuing to work on it, preferably with a therapist or anger management specialist.

However, your individual emotional journey and how you treat your girlfriend are separate issues with different measurements.

Your increasing ability to regulate your emotions can be a positive step on a personal level – and still not enough for a relationship. When it comes to consent, “improvement” is not enough. If you have frequently become angry and still sometimes do when your partner says no to sex, the fear of your anger will always be there. If your girlfriend doesn’t know when saying no is safe and when it is not, it is never safe. As long as you continue to “sometimes” get angry and to sulk when your sexual partner says no to sex, you are not a safe person to have sex with.

It's highly likely that sometimes even when she agrees to sex, she's doing so just to avoid a backlash

You say you get rejected about 80 per cent of the time you initiate sex. Being the partner with the higher libido in a relationship can be frustrating. However, one of the fundamental misunderstandings around sex is assuming that a rejection of the act of sex is a rejection of you as a person. If your relationship as a whole feels affectionate, appreciative, communicative, respectful and loving, this distinction becomes clearer, as partners can turn down sex but reassure each other they still love each other, find each other attractive, enjoy each other’s company, and so on.

You say your girlfriend isn’t particularly affectionate or complimentary, which could undoubtedly heighten your sense of being personally rejected. However, you also need to acknowledge your girlfriend’s experience of the relationship as a whole. Eight out of 10 times that you initiate sex, your girlfriend has to fear and/or experience your anger, pressuring and emotional backlash.

Under these circumstances, it’s highly likely that sometimes even when she agrees to sex, she’s doing so just to avoid that backlash. The sense of disrespect, coercion and fear that your behaviour has caused will of course lead to emotional distance, and could also explain why she’s not physically demonstrative – if you respond to physical affection by trying to initiate sex, which could result in your anger, it’s understandable why she would avoid it.

I’m struggling to understand exactly why you mention your girlfriend’s past infidelity within the context of your current situation. Is it because you feel the breach of trust wasn’t adequately dealt with at the time and is at the heart of some of the emotional distance between you? Or is it because when she refuses sex, your anger is heightened by your enduring resentment that she willingly had sex with someone else?

Libido issues alone can be deal-breakers for people, and are a perfectly valid reason to end a relationship

The way your relationship is currently operating is not healthy or sustainable. There are serious issue here – of consent, respect, communication, anger, entitlement, affection. You need to ask yourself if you would accept less sex if your relationship as a whole was better, or in your mind is the only acceptable compromise that your girlfriend have more sex with you?

If it’s the latter, end the relationship. Libido issues alone can be deal-breakers for people, and are a perfectly valid reason to end a relationship. But remember that in any relationship, your partner will need to feel safe and comfortable saying no to sex, and so your behaviour needs to change, regardless.

If it’s the former, start a calm, open, respectful conversation with your girlfriend. I wonder what reading the article she shared was like for you. Did you apologise? Acknowledge how your anger could make her feel? Think about the tone it sets for your sex life and relationship as a whole? You complain that your girlfriend dismisses articles you share with her – could your lack of communication indicate to her that you have done the exact same?

Start there. Talk about how you both feel about your relationship as a whole, your individual needs around affection and communication and how you envision handling your differing libidos. Given the severity of the situation, I’d suggest a couple’s counsellor as well as your anger management – online sessions are available. Either way, continue working on your anger management.

Roe McDermott is a writer and Fulbright scholar with an MA in sexuality studies from San Francisco State University. She is researching a PhD in gendered and sexual citizenship at the Open University and Oxford

If you have a problem or query you would like her to answer, you can submit it anonymously at