Q&A with J: Does Going Without Sex Make You Cranky?

Today’s question is a great one. Here’s what the querying wife asks:

We’ve been married 15 years and have very fulfilling sex…I’m just in awe of this beautiful gift God gave us and how through our years of marriage the sex just keeps getting better. My question….I have found that if we go too many days between sexual intimacy I get very moody and cranky. Is this normal? I haven’t checked my calendar to see the relation this is to where I am in my cycle. I’ve just noticed many times that if we get to 5 or 6 days without (due to husband’s travel, time of month or busy schedule) I start to feel irritable. It’s like I can feel my need to be intimate. I just wondered if others ever feel this way.

Q&A with J: Does Going Without Sex Make You Cranky?

Oh, my young Padawan, you have learned much (in awe of this beautiful gift God gave us”). Let me add to your great wisdom by affirming that oh yeah, one can get seriously cranky during a dry spell.

I could tell you so many stories couples have shared with me. I’ll come up with a composite one that goes like this:

We were feeling annoyed, just uptight and even arguing over little things. I felt this edginess and couldn’t figure out what was going on. And then suddenly we looked at each other and said, “Wait, how long has it been since we had sex?” Lo and behold, it had somehow stretched to eight days. We cleared our schedule for an immediate rendezvous, and afterward we felt so much better. Relieved. Happy. Satisfied. Equilibrium had been reachieved.

Why do we get grumpy when we have a dry spell? I think there are several reasons:

Sex relieves stress. We build up stress in numerous ways throughout our days and lives. And sexual intimacy is a proven stress-reliever. Sex lowers blood pressure, improves sleep, and produces feel-good chemicals in our bodies. It even boosts your immune system. (See 10 Surprising Health Benefits of Sex.) If we’re used to sex being one of the ways we ease stress, our bodies will notice when that help is gone.

Sex bonds us together. We experience relational connection with our husbands when we make love. Our bodies even respond through the release of dopamine (a pleasure and reward system) and oxytocin, the same body chemical released when a mother nurses her baby. We feel emotionally and physiologically connected through the act of sexual intimacy. Not surprising, therefore, if it’s been a while, we can feel disconnected. Even at odds with each other.

Sex expresses intimacy. Although there are many alternatives for expressing love to one another, sex is a rather special one. With other people, we can chat, spend time, do activities, hug and peck cheeks, etc. But there’s only one person in the world we should be making love to — our spouse. Because of its unique character, we can miss that special connection when it’s gone. Of course, not every couple feels this way, but those who “have very fulfilling sex” likely will.

Your hormones can also play into this feeling of crankiness. Not only do we ladies deal with what’s commonly called Premenstrual Syndrome, we can experience a spike in sexual interest around the time of ovulation. Feeling more randy than average, it can feel like a real letdown not to act on that increased libido. Hello, grumpiness.

So the bad news is that yes, a lack of sex can make feel grumpy. And the good news is that once you know that, you can adjust: by either having sex, or ignoring it until the feeling goes away. One way or another, it won’t last forever.

And in the meantime, you can do what I do and just recite positive scriptures in my head, reminding myself that my crankiness does not give me license to be frustrating to others. Rather, I just have to pray and work harder to keep my happy in place.

Until I can get with hubby, that is . . .

24 thoughts on “Q&A with J: Does Going Without Sex Make You Cranky?

  1. IntimacySeeker

    I have noticed increased sense of connection overall with my husband as I’ve worked on sexual intimacy over the past few years. But I don’t get this “connection” experience others talk about with orgasm. I heard someone recently say that research shows that women who have multiple sexual partners (which I did before settling down 37 years ago) show decreased levels of oxytocin release. He spoke of a solid correlation–the more partners and break-ups, the greater the decrease in oxytocin release. I wonder if this could be true for me, especially since I don’t remember feeling any strong connection with my children when breastfeeding. This may also explain why I tend to sleep fitfully when we have sex. I am making progress. There have been a few times when I felt warm and cozy afterward and generally speaking, I feel less troubled afterward than I used to. I also wonder if over time with a strong marriage and psychological healing, the release of oxytocin may increase.

    Reply
    1. J Post author

      It may be that other ways are more conducive to oxytocin release for you. For instance, hugs longer than 20 seconds have been shown to involve an oxytocin release. So maybe affection works better.

      Reply
  2. Michelle

    This article makes me cranky, as it brings to the surface all the crankiness that I am constantly holding inside, due to going without sex for….all my life (?), despite being married to coming up to 5 years now, as it’s been one thing after another, be it mental, emotional, or physical sickness, injury, or just plain mass chaos, and my husband withholding sex for any or all aforementioned reasons, and he’s never given me an orgasm….I’m just so glad I was a good Christian girl all those years! Look where I am today!!

    Reply
    1. J Post author

      Oh, my heart goes out to you! Please work on the situation. I have several articles about addressing problems.

      Reply
  3. B

    Yes, I am a woman and yes, going without makes me cranky. Very cranky. I figured this was due in huge part to my own bad attitude, dwelling on the fact that my husband isn’t as attracted to me as most men are to their wives, and my negative emotions of worthlessness and ugliness.

    I think that’s a big part of it, because when I try not to dwell on it, and I turn my focus to spending more time with God, and focusing on how much worth I have in Christ, I don’t feel so ugly inside.

    On the other hand, I really do miss the connection, the intimacy, and I’ve never experienced what it’s like to be a woman desired by her husband, and I long to experience that one day. My husband seems to honestly get down about the fact that I have these feelings. But I understand he can’t force himself to be attracted to me, and it just is what it is, I don’t hold it against him – it’s just a longing I have – to be desireable to and pursued by the man who claims to love me. But alas, if I didn’t come on to him we would hardly ever even have sex. Except for the occasional “pity sex” which I really do not like. No one wants to be pitied.

    The crazy thing is, my husband won’t be interested in me for like days and days and days, and then I start to get cranky, and then I just give up, and then that’s when he decides – okay – we can do it now. Argh!

    I wish I could help my husband understand that sex is good for stress relief. He is stressed all the time, I mean almost every day, and he would much rather sleep than have sex. I figure I’m not attractive enough to him to make him desire sex, and so sleep seems more inviting.

    But yeah, it makes me super cranky. I wonder about all these men who claim they want more sex than their wives will give them. What are their wives doing so right that I’m doing so wrong? I don’t think I’ll ever know.

    Reply
    1. e2

      “I wish I could help my husband understand that sex is good for stress relief. He is stressed all the time, I mean almost every day, and he would much rather sleep than have sex.”

      Your husband is in a catch-22 that has nothing to do with your attractiveness. I can relate because that is where I was in my mid-30s. I was completely stressed out and sex was the furthest thing from my mind, not because I found my wife unattractive.

      The problem is that sex requires energy, and when you’re stressed and exhausted, you don’t have any. Yes, sex relieves stress, but when you’re so exhausted, you don’t have the energy to pursue the very thing that will relieve your exhaustion.

      My wife had to learn what we men often need to learn. Rather than being obviously seductive, she would patiently give me backrubs and nonsexual affection and cuddling. Sometimes (not always) that would relax me just enough that I could then enjoy sex.

      Fortunately, after my stress levels subsided, my libido returned, just in time for hers to tank after menopause. So, now I’m the one trying to learn backrubs and nonsexual affection.

      *sigh*

      Reply
    2. a. nony

      You know, if you actually do want some ideas about that — look up the “Dual Control Model” of sexuality. It might really help you understand your husband’s stress levels and how they interact with his libido. For some people, stress causes their libido to flatline. They might know, factually, that sex is a stress-reliever, and there might be every reason and opportunity to step on the gas, but their stress is pushing too hard on their brakes for them to get going!

      And oh man, the way you talk about yourself is so hateful and awful, it hurts MY heart. I can’t imagine the kind of hurt you must be feeling to speak about yourself in a way I’m certain you’d never DREAM of speaking of someone else. It’s absolutely heartbreaking to read.

      Reply
  4. e2

    Not only do I get cranky, but I become more self-absorbed and more prone to misread my wife’s communications. She may say or do something with sincere love, but in my self-pitying suspicion, I perceive something totally different. I am much more clear headed in the first 24 hours after sex. After that, it’s all downhill.

    Reply
    1. a. nony

      Whoa, that’s a great observation about yourself. I do notice that sometimes my husband is much more likely to respond to me with a negative assumption and I wonder if it has anything to do with the times we have gone a couple days more than we’d like.

      Reply
      1. e2

        I’m also finding that it is more the lack of physical affection than the lack of orgasms that is making me irritable. I think I would gladly trade 5 orgasms for the promise of a daily heartfelt passionate kiss.

        Reply
  5. Amy

    A definite yes! And not only does it make me cranky when it’s been a week without, but I start feeling a disconnect with my hubby. That then can make it hard to just fall into his arms after a week, because I feel like I need some time to reconnect outside of the bedroom first. And it’s doubly difficult when my hubby doesn’t seem affected by the long time without sex, he doesn’t seem to desire it like I do and I often don’t feel pursued or desired as I’d like. So that on top of an infrequency of sex makes me doubly cranky. LOL

    Reply
  6. Anonymous

    The short answer is no. I have learned to divert my serial energy to other things, eg hobbies.

    Reply
  7. Keelie Reason

    There is definitely tension between my husband and I when we haven’t had sex in a few days. It’s not like we mean to, but it does happen. My patience is shorter for sure. I know it affects him, and he struggles to focus. It is hard.

    Reply
  8. Deb

    Personally, I can go a long time without sex and feel just fine.
    I’m post menopausal though so I’m no longer under the influence of sexual hormones.
    My husband, on the other hand, gets a little short tempered if it’s been a while.

    I’ve never looked at sex as a drug before, but your description sure makes it sound like one.
    I guess I could say that sex is my husbands drug of choice.

    Reply
    1. J Post author

      Perhaps it depends on what you mean by “sex as a drug.” If you’re thinking about a chemical your body needs (like penicillin or insulin to a diabetic), yeah, sure. But if someone said to me that sex in marriage is like cocaine, I’d highly disagree. Cocaine doesn’t give a flip about you, but your mate should be an intimate partner in this God-given experience.

      I feel for you, Deb, since your libidos are now so different. I suggest talking to your doctor about your post-menopausal drop in sex drive. Sexual intimacy doesn’t need to cease after you pass that milestone. Many blessings to you and your husband!

      Reply
      1. Deb

        I guess I was looking at “sex as a drug” in a biochemical sense in how it releases dopamine and oxytocin (the feel good and bonding neurotransmitters) as well as how it reduces blood pressure and stress and improves sleep. Perhaps I’ve had one too many science classes.

        Thank you for your blessings! I will say, menopause has been challenging. I am under the care of a great gyn. You are right, menopause does not mean the end of intimacy. Though it has required some creative readjustments 🙂

        Reply
        1. J Post author

          Ah yes, then I definitely see what you mean. Thanks for clarifying! Indeed, we have body chemicals released when we make love. (Maybe I had too many psychology classes. 😉 )

          Reply
  9. Morgan

    Wish I could convince my husband. We haven’t had sex in over four years and he absolutely doesn’t care. Has no desire (for me at least) and blows off ANY attempts I make to get help or when I try to initiate anything.

    Reply
    1. J Post author

      Oh my goodness, Morgan. I’m so sad that is happening to you. Clearly, his actions are not okay. Given the length of time without and your husband’s responses, you may need to step up and go further with your actions. Rather than detail that here, let me suggest reading this post from Sheila Gregoire of To Love Honor & Vacuum: Reader Question: Do I Have To Live with a Sexless Marriage?

      Reply
  10. W

    Yeah, I’m in the cranky group. I HATE postpartum….hate, hate, hate it! It’s the worst part about being pregnant and having a baby. No sex all the way for weeks….so dicouraging. I can’t. wait. to have hubby back 100%! Other forms of sex are okay….but it sure takes away from the thrill when you can’t finish the way you want. Every day or at least 3-4 times a week down to….weeks and weeks without due to complications. I really feel for people in sexleas marriages. I’m so very sorry!!

    Reply

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