What does brain science tell us about couples who lose their sex appeal for each other?

Much as we may wish otherwise, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer to this question. Every couple’s experience is unique, However, there are a wide range of identifiable factors that can influence a person’s level of sexual attraction to their partner, and observing what’s happening in these areas can be helpful to getting to root causes.


One factor that may influence sexual attraction is changes in the levels of certain hormones, such as testosterone and estrogen, the hormones that influence sexual desire and arousal. Health conditions, medications, and life transitions need to be considered when sex appeal drops. If you see a mental health counselor or other provider, see if they can make a good referral if you need one.

Reward Pathways/Mental Health

Another factor that may influence sexual attraction is change in the brain’s reward and pleasure pathways. These pathways may be negatively influenced by a variety of factors, including stress, anxiety, depression and mental health issues such as substance abuse and trauma.

Substance Use

It is not uncommon in my practice for substance abuse and/or trauma to play a part in a couple’s dilemma, including sexual intimacy. The specific ways that sexual attraction is impacted will depend on  a number of things, like the type and amount of substance used, the frequency of use, and how each of the partners view the role and level of substances in their relationship.


A person might feel repulsed by their partner’s sexual preferences if they trigger memories or feelings related to past trauma. For example, a person who has experienced sexual abuse might feel repulsed by their partner’s interest in certain sexual acts or fantasies.


Changes in the levels of certain neurotransmitters, like dopamine and serotonin, also play a role in sexual attraction. They help govern the  regulation of mood, emotion, and behavior, so changes in their levels can also negatively impact a partner’s sexual desire and arousal.

Gottman’s Findings

John Gottman’s research found that one of the main reasons why partners lose sexual attraction for each other is a decline in affection and intimacy. This can be caused by factors such as poor communication, lack of emotional connection, and an increase in negativity and conflict in the relationship.

His method of couples therapy (which I practice) highlights the importance of maintaining positive emotional and physical connection in a relationship to keep the sexual spark alive. We use his GottSex materials to develop connection to turn things around.

And lots more…

On top of all that, numerous other factors such as past trauma, emotional vulnerabilities, fixed beliefs, cultural values and acute or past life events can also inhibit full sexual expression.


One partner may have discomfort with certain acts, feeling embarrassed, turned off or even repulsed by their partner’s sexual preferences that they consider to be distasteful or unpleasant. For example, a person might feel repulsed by their partner’s interest in BDSM if they find such activities disturbing or abusive.

Differences in Values

A person might feel repulsed by their partner’s sexual preferences if they conflict with the person’s personal values or beliefs. For example, a person who values monogamy might feel repulsed by their partner’s interest in non-monogamous relationships.

If you are experiencing difficulties with sexual attraction in your relationship, it may be helpful to seek the guidance of a mental health professional or healthcare provider. They can help you identify and address any underlying issues and find ways to improve your relationship and sexual intimacy. I provide a free 15-minute consult and welcome being of service. Sometimes these issues may require work with a certified sex specialist, and if a referral is needed, I am happy to provide one.



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