Sometimes we get stuck into patterns and habits around sex that are hard to see, and even harder to break.

An incredibly common one is what Jessa Zimmerman calls the “sexual avoidance cycle”.

This is how desire is impacted in the longer term by the quality of the sex that we are (or were) having. So, more information on the cycle below…. do you recognise it?

The Sexual Avoidance Cycle:

1. Sex feels uncomfortable, painful, disappointing, stressful

There are many many reasons why sex might not feel that great. This could be linked to anxiety– e.g. where a struggle to become aroused means sex feels pressured or stressful, or about body image and we’re so worried about how we look it’s hard to focus on what feels good.

It could be based on past experiences where sex has hurt or felt uncomfortable, or just worries about how it will feel in the future (e.g. after a bout of cystitis or giving birth). 

It could be tied to how you feel about being close to your partner, or your expectations about sex and feeling let down- e.g. thinking sex should always be spontaneous and it’s all about orgasm.

Whatever the reason, if sex has been leaving you feeling worse off afterwards, it may have become associated with a negative experience in your mind.

2. We start to avoid it

Zimmerman states that it’s human nature to avoid what makes us feel bad. And if the quality of sex that we’re having just isn’t doing it for us, why would we seek it out?

At this point you might begin avoiding each other (including touches or expressions of affection, going to bed at different times), and you might not talk about what is going on….

3. The pressure builds

Sex has become the elephant in the room, and could be causing tension. At this stage, Zimmer states:

“Some of the pressure comes from the idea that you “should” be having sex. Some of it comes from knowing that your partner is unhappy. There is also much more pressure on any sex you do have since it’s happening less frequently; it feels like there is much more at stake each time the two of you are intimate. Of course, all this pressure makes it harder for sex to seem to go well, thereby perpetuating the cycle. This pressure can also manifest itself in other ways, like sexual dysfunction. It’s not surprising that it’s difficult to get aroused in such a state, much less reach an orgasm. So you end up with disappointment, avoidance, and pressure. Rinse and repeat”.

So the cycle starts again, and the loss of desire is causing issues in the relationship as well as potentially being caused by them.

Want to know how to break this cycle? Of course you do!