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Why Women Say "No" to Sex

In the journey of any relationship, there are moments when saying "no" to sex becomes a reality. As women, we often find ourselves facing intimacy issues that can leave us feeling misunderstood or disconnected from our partners. Understanding why we say "no" is crucial to fostering empathy and building stronger relationships. In this blog, we explore the biology, context, and internal factors that contribute to this phenomenon. We'll also discuss practical ways to cultivate a supportive environment for intimacy and find the sexual voice we deserve.

The Biology of Stress and Fatigue

Woman suffering of fatigue on the bed

Stress plays a significant role in why women say "no" - when cortisol goes up, our sex hormones go down, leading to a lack of desire and arousal. Our level of desire can also fluctuate with the fluctuations of our hormones.

Women tend to be more affected by stress and fatigue due to the strong hormonal component in our bodies. It's essential to recognize that our biological makeup influences our desire and arousal. However, it's important to note that biology alone does not determine our sexual experiences.

Emily Nagoski, a renowned sex educator, emphasizes the significance of context in accessing desire and arousal. According to research, the ideal context for most people includes low stress, high affection, and high trust.

The Power of Context

Black couple washing dishes together

Nagoski explains in her Ted talk, in order to experience pleasure and desire, we need a space where we can "view the world as pleasurable, safe, and sexy." Context encompasses both external circumstances and our internal state. Understanding our own confidence and joy becomes crucial in this regard.

  • Confidence entails knowing what is true about our bodies, sexuality, and internal experiences.

  • Joy involves loving what is true and understanding what type of sex is worth having.

The ability to experience arousal is more complex than a simple 'touch me here, don't touch me there' approach. It requires creating a space where you can perceive the world as pleasurable, safe, and inherently sexy. Low desire may stem from a lack of desire for the type of sex we are currently having. It's essential to recognize that each individual has unique desires and preferences when it comes to sexual experiences, and a lack of desire may indicate a misalignment between our current sexual activities and what truly ignites our passion.

Exploring and understanding our specific needs and interests in the realm of intimacy allows us to actively participate in shaping a sexual narrative that resonates with our desires, ultimately fostering a more fulfilling and satisfying sexual connection.

The Freedom to Say No


We can only feel comfortable saying "yes" to sex if we also have the opportunity to say "no." It is essential to have the power to make choices within our sexual experiences. Women need to feel a sense of freedom, knowing there is variability and flexibility within the sexual encounter. The anticipation of pressure or the expectation of intercourse can lead to negative associations and a pattern of rejecting physical touch. Finding our sexual voice and understanding the importance of stopping the experience if discomfort occurs are essential steps in empowering ourselves.

“Unless you have the power to say NO to sex, you don’t have the freedom to say yes to sex.” - Barry McCarthy

Women also require a sense of variability and flexibility within their sexual experiences, where there isn't just one predetermined outcome of touch or intimacy, such as intercourse. The anticipation of pressure or the expectation of intercourse often leads women to reject or avoid engaging in physical touch altogether, creating negative associations.

Barry McCarthy highlights this issue by sharing statistics that reveal an alarming reality - 1 in 3 women experience inhibited sexual desire due to a lack of options and choices in how the sexual experience unfolds. It is crucial for women to have the ability to pause or stop the experience if any discomfort arises.

Arousal and Appropriateness

Woman with long hair looking out of the window

Women often struggle with the perception of whether arousal is appropriate, particularly in terms of timing and setting. To understand this further, let's explore the concept of brakes and accelerators. Brakes are factors that inhibit our sexual response, while accelerators are factors that enhance it. Women may have more sensitive brakes that can be influenced by external factors, such as the presence of parents or children nearby, time constraints, or other responsibilities.

By recognizing and challenging these beliefs, we can cultivate awareness of our physiological and psychological arousal. It's crucial to reframe our perspective and acknowledge that our bodies deserve pleasure and joy, regardless of societal expectations.

Mindfulness and Reconnecting with Our Bodies

Woman with tattoos practicing mindfulness

Mindfulness plays a vital role in overcoming intimacy issues and reconnecting with our bodies. By relaxing into the experience and aligning our brains and bodies, we can cultivate a more present and fulfilling sexual encounter. Stress and overwhelm often disconnect us from our desires, making it essential to prioritize self-care and relaxation techniques that work best for us.

Moreover, internal factors significantly influence our sexual encounters. While men tend to have a more external focus, like being attracted to their partners, women often have a greater internal focus, where they tend to consider how they feel about themselves and their bodies more so than external factors. Women frequently struggle with the concept of viewing their bodies as a means to bring joy to others rather than finding joy within themselves.

This struggle is often linked to societal expectations, where women are socialized to prioritize caring for others rather than caring for themselves. Because society does not focus on, or even encourage, the importance of our own well-being, it is our responsibility to prioritize self-care. It becomes crucial to cultivate mindfulness and relaxation techniques to reconnect with our bodies and foster a healthier sense of self.

The Importance of Communication

White couple sitting on a bench having a conversation

In relationships, assumptions often replace active listening. We assume we already know what our partners need, leading to misunderstandings and miscommunications. Simply saying "no" without further explanation can leave our partners in the dark, taking it personally. Effective communication is key to addressing intimacy issues.

By gaining awareness and understanding ourselves, we can communicate our needs and preferences to our partners. Negotiating and cultivating the context we require for a comfortable and open sexual experience can lead to a more satisfying relationship.

It's OK to say "NO"

Black couple being intimate

Intimacy issues are a common aspect of relationships, and understanding why women say "no" to sex is crucial for fostering empathy and promoting healthier interactions. By acknowledging the biology, context, and internal factors at play, we can begin to address these issues and cultivate a more comfortable and fulfilling sexual experience. Mindfulness, open communication, and self-awareness are powerful tools that empower us to create the context we need and nurture deeper connections with our partners.

Remember, you have the right to express your desires and establish the sexual voice that resonates with you. Embrace the journey of self-discovery and the exploration of pleasure, knowing that you deserve a happy and fulfilling sex life.


Supporting Resources:


Rachel Smith, Certifies Sex Therapist & Intimacy Coach

Rachel Smith

Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist

Board Certified Sex Therapist

You deserve to feel safe within your intimacy, and I'm specially trained to do that.

As a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and a Certified Sex Therapist, my main mission is to help you foster true intimacy within yourself by guiding you through the therapeutic healing journey.

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