Sexually Frustrated? How To Deal, Whether You're Single Or In A Relationship

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Anyone can experience sexual frustration from time to time, but it's important to learn how to cope with the tension when sex is inaccessible, you're not having the kind you want, or otherwise. 

What is sexual frustration?

"Sexual frustration is dissatisfaction with one's sex life and can be due to quantity or quality issues," board-certified sexologist Jessica Cline, MSW, Ph.D., tells mbg. You could have frequent sex and still be sexually frustrated, or the tension arises because you feel you don't have enough of it or your needs don't get met. 

While sexual frustration and horniness can intersect and share some similarities, they're not the same. "Horny is the desire or arousal for sexual activity and can have more of a positive tone, as culturally we use the term to imply we are turned on," Cline explains. You can be horny but not sexually frustrated, though being horny with unmet sexual needs can easily cause frustration. 

Sexual frustration isn't a medical diagnosis. Anyone can experience this common sensation, so no one's alone in the struggle. 

Signs you're sexually frustrated.

If you're in a funk and being short with your partner when you communicate, it might not be because of a bad day at work—you could be sexually frustrated. 

Below are some potential indicators of sexual frustration. While none of these behaviors definitively mean someone is sexually frustrated, they can be common behaviors for someone who's dealing with sexual frustration. 

  1. Checking out mentally
  2. Constant arguing in a relationship 
  3. Living vicariously through friends' sex life
  4. Engaging in unhealthy coping skills (i.e., binge eating or drinking)
  5. Frequently asking a partner about or for sex
  6. Increased display of physical touch and bids for connection
  7. Impatience
  8. Increased consumption of porn
  9. Irritability
  10. Leading any topic or argument back to sex
  11. Restlessness and trouble sleeping 
  12. Frequently fantasizing about sex
  13. Seeing only the negative in your partner
  14. Starting fights for no reason or magnifying minor issues

What causes the frustration?

People typically experience sexual frustration because of lackluster sexual connections, low libido, or dissatisfaction with the quality of their sex life. Still, there are myriad reasons that create the building blocks of this natural feeling. 

Lack of partners 

The most obvious cause of sexual frustration is simply not having anyone to have sex with. You may be ready and available for sex, but finding a sex partner can be a lengthy and frustrating process. "Many people feel very awkward and uncomfortable with online dating and are unsure how to meet people IRL," Sweet notes. Because of that, she says loneliness can cause sexual frustration.

Poor communication 

"While negotiating sex is an important part of relationships, people don't always know how to communicate what they need, which can be very frustrating," explains sex-positive psychotherapist Ashley D. Sweet, M.A., LPC, LMHC, CCRC

Sweet believes that because American society doesn't teach young adults how to negotiate and talk about sex and desire comfortably, "Those young folks grow into old folks who find themselves older and more experienced but still without the skills to effectively communicate about sex."

Without communication, sexual needs can go ignored or unmet. "At some point, one may stop initiating and give up, which often results in a sexless relationship," shares Cline, "and those people can often end up in my office."

Our physical wiring

The benefits of sex and a healthy sex drive extend way beyond pleasure and mind-blowing orgasms. Sex is also great for our physical health, says Cline, and it's a great stress-reducer. Plus, "Sex can lower blood pressure, reduce pain, improve sleep, and improve heart health."

Without this rejuvenating and restorative physical experience—whether because of a dry spell, discontentment with your partner, or poor health—it makes sense for your body to feel out of tune and tense as pent-up energy continues to build.

Our emotional wiring  

We're sexual beings, which means pleasure and desire are our birthrights, says Sweet. In Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, sex is in the same category as food and water, showing that many people experience sex as a vital and baseline need. "When we can't get our sexual needs met, this can be frustrating," she says, especially because of the importance of connection to the human experience.

According to Cline, people crave connection emotionally and psychologically, even if they're bad at it. "To be without connection in our lives goes against our wiring."

Commoditizing sex 

Unhealthy perspectives on sex also contribute to sexual frustration "Thoughts like 'I should be having more sex,' or 'someone should give me more sex,'" for example, are a big culprit, says urologist and life coach Kelly Casperson, M.D. 

"I think sometimes people believe they deserve to have their sexual desires met by a partner," shares Sweet. Often, this belief stems from their upbringing, society, gender roles, religion, past partners, "or straight-up selfishness." 

There are other ways that commoditizing sex leads to sexual frustration, too. In fact, Casperson says some people use sex as a vehicle for self-esteem. "Someone may become reliant on sex as an external reward—i.e., boosting self-image—and may never feel satisfied due to the internal work that needs to be done."

Medical barriers

Many medical issues can lead to a lowered sex drive and impede your ability to have sex or orgasm, which can naturally make a person feel sexually frustrated. 

Some conditions that can decrease libido include:

  • Anxiety
  • Chronic pain and diseases
  • Depression
  • Genital discomfort
  • Hormone imbalances
  • Sexual dysfunction disorders that inhibit the expression of sexuality through desire and interest, arousal, and ability to orgasm
  • Stress
  • Side effects of medications (i.e., blood pressure medication, beta-blockers, antipsychotics, or opioids)

On the other hand, some medical issues increase sexual desire, which can also cause frustration. "Always being aroused can be a medical condition called persistent arousal disorder, in which someone is in a constant state of arousal, even after orgasm," shares Cline. 

What to do about it. 

The tension of sexual frustration can pass naturally, so the easiest way to deal with being sexually frustrated is to simply wait it out. There are also plenty of outlets to help you relieve that energy, like exercise and meditation.

"Sexual frustration is a form of stress, so stress management techniques that work for other forms of stress likely apply here," explains Sweet. "In the therapy work, we call it self-care." 

The strategies you choose to self-care and calm your mind and body are up to you, but here are some ideas to help you get started. 

Physical ways:

  • Masturbate regularly. 
  • Have virtual sex via text, video, or online.
  • Watch pornography (here's how to find ethical porn).
  • Find a partner to have sex with (i.e., sex workers, one-night stands, friends with benefits, or casual dating)
  • Go out and connect with friends.
  • Exercise, which is "actually correlated with a more sexually active life," says Casperson.
  • Move your body through dancing, yoga, or other cardiovascular activities.
  • If in a relationship, explore other types of physical touch to connect with your partner.
  • Take orgasms off the table the next time you have sex, and only explore pleasure. 
  • Use sex toys.

Emotional ways:

  • Communicate your desires to your partner. 
  • Listen to calming music. 
  • Practice mindfulness and meditation.
  • Use your voice (like singing while dancing) as a way to release.
  • Write out your frustrations in a journal, collage, or other visual medium to process the emotions flowing through you.

"A natural way to increase dopamine is to try something new and exciting," says Cline, "so you may want to invest in learning something new or trying something that scares you a little."