What to Do When You’re Not in the Mood

By: Rallie McAllister, MD

Should you be intimate to please your partner even when you're not in the mood for it? This is the million-dollar question, and the right answer may depend on the intensity of your feelings, your partner's feelings, and the situation at hand. Whether you reluctantly choose to be intimate with your partner or decide to abstain, one of you will undoubtedly end up being unhappy about your decision.

The question of whether or not to be intimate when you're not feeling up to it is one that has perplexed me since I began my career as a physician. As part of my medical training, I worked in rural health clinic for women in a remote part of southwestern Virginia. One of my first patients was a young woman, accompanied by her three small children. When I asked her how I could help her, she told me that her husband had brought her to the clinic to find out what was wrong with her. When I asked her what sort of problem she was having, she replied, "I don't want to be intimate no more." She went on to say that if she didn't start satisfying her husband's needs, she feared that he would "get it somewhere else."

In trying to better understand the situation, I gently asked, "Are you still sexually active, even though you don't feel like it?" The young lady immediately replied, "Oh no, I ain't active. I just lay there." In my youth and inexperience, I was dumbfounded that the act of lovemaking between married adults could be reduced to something as tragically base as "just lying there." Now that I have a few years of experience as a physician under my belt, I'm no longer surprised when I hear people describe their feelings and actions in similar ways. Even though they may not use the same terminology as the young woman from Virginia, it is often just a variation of the theme. Not infrequently, I hear phrases like, "I just go through the motions," or "I only do it because I feel like I have to," or "I just grit my teeth and wait for it to be over."

The question of whether or not to have sex with your partner in a committed relationship, even when you don't feel like it is one that just doesn't have a "right" answer. To engage in sexual activity against your wishes seems like a violation of your human rights. After all, it's your body, and you should be able to decide what you will do or have done to it. On the other hand, when you're involved in a monogamous relationship, it becomes a game of Tag! You're it. Your partner has nowhere else to turn. If your partner truly wants and needs sexual contact to feel fulfilled as a human being, remaining unwillingly abstinent for long periods of time seems like a violation of his or her human rights.

If you're struggling with the question of whether or not to make love to your partner even when you don't feel like it, your best bet may be to simply change the question. Ask yourself this: What would it take to put me in the mood to make love? You may not know the answer at this point, but the good news is that there is definitely a right answer—or even several right answers—to this question.

Rallie McAllister, MD, the author of The Busy Couples Guide to Great Sex: The Medically Proven Program to Boost Low Libido (LifeLine Press, September 2003), and Healthy Lunchbox: The Working Mom's Guide to Keeping You and Your Kids Trim (LifeLine Press, September 2003), runs a family practice specializing in nutrition, wellness, and weight loss called Healthy Solutions, in Kingsport, Tennessee. Dr. McAllister is the creator and popular host of Rallie On Health, a health magazine TV show with over 1 million viewers in the five-state area of eastern Tennessee. Millions across the country also know her for her weekly nationally syndicated column called "Your Health by Dr. Rallie McAllister." Dr. McAllister lives with her husband and three children in Kingsport, Tennessee. Visit Rallie at www.rallieonhealth.com.

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