Sexual frustration describes a state of irritation, agitation, or stress resulting from sexual inactivity or dissatisfaction. Sexual frustration is a common, natural feeling, and it can affect anyone.

Sexual frustration is a natural response that many people experience at one time or another. It refers to an imbalance between a person’s sexual desires and their reality. Some people assume sexual frustration only applies to those with a high sex drive. However, it occurs in anyone whose sexual arousal is not met with sufficient activity, leading to tension.

Sexual behavior is a complex human endeavor that can affect physical and mental well-being. While sexual frustration can present differently among individuals, it can cause negative health effects and lead to anger, recklessness, anxiety, and depression.

In this article, we explore the concept of sexual frustration, the possible signs, how it can impact health, and how individuals can manage this condition.

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Many people view sexual experiences as an essential aspect of their quality of life. Having unmet sexual desires may lead to feelings of discontent. Sexual frustration does not refer to a person’s libido. Instead, it describes a person being unable to satisfy the sexual arousal they are experiencing.

Sexual frustration is a common experience, and it can affect many people regardless of age, gender, sexuality, and relationship status. Many factors can contribute to this sensation, including sexual inactivity, sexual dissatisfaction, or sexual dysfunction.

There are no known health conditions associated with sexual frustration. A 2018 survey found that “sexless” Americans report similar levels of happiness as their sexually active counterparts.

However, a 2021 study indicates that sexual frustration may increase the risk of violence, aggression, and crime. Restrained sexual behaviors may also negatively affect a person’s efficiency at work, according to a 2016 study.

Evidence suggests an association between sexual and mental health. A 2020 study notes an association between sexual dissatisfaction and depressive symptoms and lower rates of mental well-being.

A person experiencing sexual frustration may also begin displaying reckless behaviors. In an attempt to satisfy their sexual urges, a person may engage in riskier sexual activities, which could lead to unintentional health outcomes such as sexually transmitted infection (STI) and unintended pregnancy.

It may be easy for people to experience stress and tension in other areas of life and attribute them to sexual frustration. A person can begin by assessing their current mood. If they are primarily projecting negative emotions and there is no obvious nonsexual cause, then it may relate to sexual frustration.

Potential symptoms and behaviors that could stem from or connect to sexual frustration can include:

  • feeling irritable, restless, and edgy
  • experiencing rejection from recent sexual advances
  • feeling less confident or less interested in sex
  • having less sex, masturbating less, or both
  • having sexual expectations that partners are unable to fulfill
  • performing riskier behaviors to fulfill sexual desires
  • feeling too stressed or tired to have sex or masturbate, even when there is a desire to do so
  • arguing with a partner more often and steering arguments back to the topic of sex
  • engaging in unhealthy coping behaviors such as binge eating or drinking
  • frequently fantasizing or daydreaming about sex
  • watching porn or movies with many intimate scenes

There are many potential reasons for sexual frustration. These could include a lack of sex, unsatisfactory sex, or the inability to achieve orgasm. Understanding the cause may help a person resolve potential issues.

Lack of sexual partners

A person may be ready for sex but lack a partner. They may be single or in a long-distance relationship, or they may have a partner who does not want to — or cannot — have sex with them at the moment.

Unmet expectations

A sexual partner may impose impossible standards, criticize sexual performance, or want to engage in undesired activities. All of these behaviors may contribute to a person experiencing feelings of frustration, shame, and self-blame.

Poor communication

In some cases, the frustration may stem from an inability to communicate sexual needs or expectations.

Some individuals may not be sexually compatible and may have sizable differences in their sex drives. Openly communicating about their desires may enable sexual partners to negotiate and discuss ways to meet each other’s needs. This can help people become more attuned to their partner’s needs and facilitate more satisfying sex.

Medical conditions

A 2016 study suggests that people with poorer health report lower sexual satisfaction. Poor health and health-related changes such as pregnancy, childbirth, recent surgery, and illness may prevent a person from engaging in sex, which can cause their partner to be frustrated.

Other medical conditions that may result in sexual problems include:

Moreover, taking certain medications, such as antidepressants, opioids, birth control pills, and beta-blockers, can negatively affect a person’s libido.

Body image issues

A 2018 study indicates that females with genital self-image issues were less likely to engage in vaginal sex. Similarly, a 2017 study notes that men’s negative attitudes about their genitals also had a direct, negative effect on their sexual satisfaction. As such, they may experience some level of sexual inhibition.

If a person believes they are experiencing sexual frustration, they may wish to consider other outlets to help release their pent-up sexual energies. This may include:

  • Focusing on health: A person who meets their nonsexual requirements, such as nutrition and sleep, can better focus on meeting their sexual needs.
  • Masturbation: Self-stimulation can help a person release their pent-up physical and mental tension while benefitting from the same hormones released during sex.
  • Connect with friends: People are social creatures and may experience touch starvation that is nonsexual in nature. Meeting with friends may ease a person’s physical cravings for nonsexual intimacy.
  • Exercising: Physical activities can be an excellent way to release energy and also help boost a person’s mood.
  • Initiate sex: People in long-term relationships tend to have less spontaneous sex. A person can initiate sex by simply verbalizing their desire. Even a simple nudge or gesture can be enough to instigate intercourse.
  • Virtual sex: Individuals who cannot be with a partner can explore sexting, video sex, or phone sex. Sending each other nudes can help create feelings of intimacy despite the distance.
  • Communication: Openly expressing sexual needs and desires can help avoid dissatisfaction. A person can show their partner what they enjoy, voice their exact preferences, and plan how to spice things up.
  • Dating: People who wish to enter a relationship or engage in casual sex can use apps, dating sites, and other means to connect with other individuals.
  • Explore and add variety: People can explore their own bodies and their partner’s, use sex toys, and try new positions.
  • Channel the energy elsewhere: Volunteering, beginning a creative project, attending social events, visiting family and friends, or learning a new skill can be good ways to take a person’s mind off sex.
  • Listen to music: Music can improve a person’s mood and ease their frustration, even if they cannot get the sexual need they want at the moment.
  • Take medications: Sometimes, sexual frustration stems from a person’s sexual performance issues, such as erectile dysfunction or premature ejaculation. Receiving treatment for these can help improve a person’s sexual experience and reduce frustration.

A 2017 study of sexual satisfaction in relationships found that males report more significant sexual distress due to their sexual problems, with the highest distress ratings being among older adults. In contrast, females report greater sexual satisfaction. Moreover, the study, which looked primarily at heterosexual couples, reported the following partner effects:

  • Greater sexual distress among male partners causes lower satisfaction in females.
  • Males who find a greater sexual desire discrepancy between themselves and their partners also report lower satisfaction.
  • The more significant the female’s sexual function, the greater the male partner’s sexual satisfaction is.

In a related 2015 study, researchers found a discrepancy between a person’s reported sexual dissatisfaction and sexual dysfunction and those perceived by their spouses. The study found that partners were less likely to accurately perceive male sexual problems than female sexual problems.

A 2020 study notes that bisexual people are more dissatisfied with their sex lives than their heterosexual counterparts.

Sexual satisfaction is associated with relationship stability and healthy relationships. A 2018 study suggests that having high sexual satisfaction early in the relationship protects against declines in relationship satisfaction for over 20 years.

A 2019 review notes that a set of intrapersonal, interpersonal, and environmental factors can affect the health of marital relationships. Sexual relationships, along with constructive relationships and communication skills, fall under interpersonal factors in this study.

If a person’s sexual frustrations begin to affect other areas of their life, they may consider speaking with an expert.

Regardless of their relationship status, a person can consult a sex therapist for their concerns about sex, body image, intimacy, sexual shame, and sexual frustration. These experts can help individuals express their needs and fantasies and reconcile their mismatched sexual drives with sexual partners.

Sexual frustration relates to dissatisfaction with sexual experience due to a disparity between sexual desires and reality. It can involve a variety of causes and may manifest differently between individuals. People can take measures both personally and with a partner to overcome these sensations of disconnect and instead encourage a sense of fulfillment.