Here’s How To Be Intimate With Your Partner When You Can’t Have Sex

Let’s talk about sex, baby.

And, yes, this article will discuss sex, but not in the way you’re thinking of.

We’re discussing what to do when sex is rarely – or not at all – an option in your relationship. Can there be intimacy without sex?

It’s a taboo subject. No one wants to mention that they’re struggling with sex in their relationship. The stigma (and shame) surrounds them, leaving them to question whether or not something is “wrong” with them and/or their partner.

I’m here to tell you right now: there’s nothing “wrong” with your sex life. And even better: you’re not alone in this — there can be intimacy without sex!


Reasons Why Sex Is A Struggle

There are many reasons sex can be a struggle, many of which stem from psychological and medical issues.

Men and women face various issues at all ages, such as a low libido. Men may also struggle with premature ejaculation, or the complete opposite: delayed/inhibited ejaculation. And women may experience vaginismus, where the muscles around their vagina spasm, stopping penetration.

The problems can continue as you get older.

For example, erectile dysfunction affects around 30 million men, with men aged 40+ three times more likely to deal with ED than those who are younger. And it’s not just men: menopause is a real thing, with hormones all over the place. A drop in estrogen can lead to vaginal dryness and thinner vaginal walls, which can cause pain.

So, physically, there are many reasons why sexual intimacy is harder for some. But it’s not just the physical part – psychological issues can also affect sexual performance.

Many can feel pressure about their performance. “Am I taking too long to orgasm?” or “Am I good at sex?” are common questions that can seep into a romp session and ruin the mood. Stress in general can cause less-than-stellar sex – you should be enjoying this intimacy, but that to-do list you have to conquer is taking over every single thought.

Mental health also plays a large part in diminished sexual activity. Depression and guilt can put an end to sex; past sexual trauma can arise at any second, instantly destroying any intimacy created.

Basically, everyone will experience problems with their sex lives eventually, and you’re not alone. But there are ways to work around a lack of intercourse while still maintaining a sense of sexual intimacy with your partner.

Redefine Sex 

When you think of sex, you probably think of penetration that ends in climax. But that doesn’t have to be the case, and sex doesn’t have to be the main event!

Remember when you were a teenager, making out fully-clothed in your bedroom while your parents were out? It could be time to bring that back. There’s a nostalgic sense of secrecy, but it also can foster intimacy without sex with your partner, even if neither of you orgasms. It’s a way to get close without the pressure of getting it up or lubricating.

If you want to act a little more grown-up, there’s always the option of touching intimate areas. But again, this isn’t always the point!

Not expecting sex to begin with penetration and end in loud orgasms can be relieving for both you and your partner, because let’s be real: expectation ruins the mood more than anything.

Use Assistance

There are plenty of outside sources that can aid your sex life. Think: toys, erotic audio, or visual porn. Discuss what you and your partner are comfortable with, then consider incorporating these stimulants into your sex life.

There are many sex toys out there for solo use – vibrators, dildos, anal beads, oh my! – and not every toy will work for you. But part of the fun of sex toys is experimentation, and seeing which toys affect your libido (and watching toys affect your partner, as well). You don’t know what will work for you unless you try it, and you either don’t like it, or you really, really do. Of course, never cross one another’s boundaries, and don’t be afraid to laugh.

Audio erotica and visual porn are controversial sex aids, but if one (or both) works for you, try it! Of course, it may be an issue if the only time you can feel even slightly turned on is when you’re watching an entire porn narrative, but it can be a good jump start for pleasurable activities, like mutual masturbation.

Communicate, Communicate, Communicate

You can do a million things to try and “fix” your sex life, but nothing will solve your problems quite like open, honest conversation. This is your partner, someone you should trust with your innermost thoughts and emotions.

One of the common reactions to a less-than-stellar sex life is having a ton of questions – and not good ones. Your partner may worry they’re not attractive to you anymore, or that you’ve lost romantic feelings for them.

Spoiler: this usually isn’t the case.

If your partner comes to you with these questions, reassure them. Tell them they’re sexy, that they turn you on, that you still are romantically attached to them. Voicing insecurities can leave your partner extremely vulnerable – they’re basically allowing you to tell them “I’m not into this anymore.” So put their worries to rest the second they voice them. Insecurities can sink an entire relationship – don’t let it happen with yours.

You also need to reassure each other that you’re meeting each other’s needs in ways outside of sex. Make sure you’re vocal about this, regularly pointing out ways they make you happy. Show gratitude for the everyday tasks they perform, like taking out the trash or doing the laundry; tell them you love when they massage your feet after a long day; tell them you could never look elsewhere, because you’re happy with where you are and who you’re with.

If you struggle to reach this level of vulnerability with your partner, there are therapists who specialize in couples’ therapy, specifically surrounding sex. They can help to guide discussion and facilitate conversation between you and your partner, as well as offer gentle insight into any possible miscommunications between you and your partner.

See A Doctor

Of course, there are specific times when you should see a doctor. If you’re still taking hormone therapy post-menopause, you may experience light bleeding during the first six months. If it continues, definitely call your doc.

One problem men face as they age is an enlarged prostate. While this doesn’t always affect sex, if left untreated, it can cause a reduced sex drive and trouble with erectile dysfunction. Just as you should regularly receive pap smears, men should regularly receive a prostate exam.

Overall, there’s nothing wrong with changing around your sex life. As long as it works for you and your partner, that’s all that matters. See a doctor regularly, communicate, and have fun in the bedroom – however you want to.


Have you and your partner struggled with sexual intimacy? How have you worked through it? Share with us in the comments.

For More Relationship Advice, Read These:

If You’re Struggling With Intimacy, These Steps Can Help You Rebuild

Am I Having An Emotional Affair? How To Spot The Signs

Join the Conversation