What Is Mercy Sex? 10 Signs You Have Had Pity Sex

Sexless Marriage | |
Updated On: December 21, 2023
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Sex is considered to be an expression of love and passion. It is a normal phenomenon among people who genuinely have a sexual desire for their partners. However, at times, relationships can fall prey to mercy sex. This typically happens when one partner is struggling with a low sex drive or doesn’t feel aroused by their partner.

In such situations, to avoid saying no to sex over and over again and risking alienating their partner or spouse, many people start giving in to their advances even when they’re not feeling it. Naturally then, mercy sex is not enjoyable for the partner who is treating it like a relationship obligation.

People who indulge in mercy sex are either unaware of it or hesitate to admit to it. Some believe that mercy sex is noble, while others think that it is cruel and has the potential to ruin the relationship. Whether mercy sex is a healthy option for your relationship or not, it is for you to decide. But, before that, you must know what exactly mercy sex or pity sex means.

What Is Pity Sex?

Pity sex is characterized by a lack of satisfaction and enjoyment, especially for the uninterested party. People generally have mercy sex just for the sake of it, without much experiencing or longing for actual sexual pleasure. It mostly occurs when your partner is really in the mood and you’re not but you don’t want to let them down.  

When a person is having mercy or sympathy sex, they don’t really care about trying different positions for enhanced pleasure or experimenting in bed. Their mindset is to ‘endure’ the act for the sake of their partner’s pleasure and they wait for it to be over.

It’s a classic case of confusing love and pity and sacrificing your own wants at the altar of your relationship. While this selflessness has been celebrated and eulogized for decades, it isn’t a healthy relationship dynamic. If you’re forcing yourself to do something that you don’t want to, over and over again, you will eventually start resenting your partner for it.

Besides, ‘offering up your body’ to someone out of mercy or pity is also disrespectful to the other person. Put yourself in the other person’s shoes, and think, how would you feel if your partner was getting intimate with you only out of sympathy and not because they desire to? A wife’s sympathy sex with her husband can dent his self-esteem and vice-versa.

infographic on mercy sex
Signs your intimacy hinges on mercy sex

Common features of mercy sex

Knowing what is pity sex and understanding whether your relationship is fraught with this tendency can be two different things. In case you suspect that your intimate equation with your partner may hinge on mercy sex but aren’t sure if that’s the case, pay attention to these common features:

  • Minimal foreplay: Sympathy sex involves minimal foreplay because one of the partners is not interested in the act at all
  • No pleasure: If you don’t experience any pleasure or arousal during for the act, it could be because you’re just having sex with your partner out of pity
  • Emotional detachment: While having mercy sex, the person feels emotionally detached. Since you are enjoying the act, you find it hard to stay in the moment. Instead, sex becomes like an out-of-body experience for you, leaving you feeling like you’re observing from a distance two people having sex
  • Lack of initiative: The person offering mercy sex might not feel generous in bed. If you’re being intimate with your partner because you don’t want to say no to sex one more time, you wouldn’t take intiative in bed. Instead, you’d let your partner take charge and get done with what they want to
  • Intimacy feels hollow: The pitying person will also be unmindful about the whole sexual act. The act itself becomes empty, formulaic, foreshortened and genitally focused
  • Distate for sex: Mercy sex begins to seem like a chore and the pitying person might develop a distaste for it in the long run

Related reading: 8 Types Of Intimacy In A Relationship

Can one have sex with someone they don’t feel attracted to?

It is assumed that one will have sex with someone one feels attracted to. But this might not be the case for everyone. Some people have sex with their partners even if they are not sexually attracted to them. This raises some pertinent questions: Can you love someone out of pity? Can you make love to someone out of sympathy? How does it affect your psyche and your relationship dynamic with your partner?

what is pity sex
Pity sex can lead to distance in a relationship

The answer to these questions lies in why women have mercy sex or why men agree to sex even when they’re not feeling it:

  • For sake of partner’s happiness: Having sex with a partner even when you don’t feel attracted to them or turned on by them means you are doing it to make the other person feel happy and satisfied
  • For developing a taste for it: In some cases, people might continue to sex with someone they are not attracted to, to develop interest and an earnest desire for sex. This is commonly seen in case of people who’re conflicted or in denial about their sexualities. If your husband is gay, for instance, he may continue to have sex with you, even if sparingly, because he may not be ready to come out of the closet
  • Fearing loss of intimacy: Some people give in to their partner’s advances and have mercy sex out of the fear that their relationship will fail and intimacy will be lost if they don’t. This is among the most common reasons why women have mercy sex. In some cases, men too may force themselves to get into the act even when they’re not fully aroused for the sake of not hurting their partner’s feelings
  • Bragging about getting laid: There might be other people who have mercy sex just so that they can brag about getting laid

However, such sex is unhealthy, unsatisfactory and not enjoyable. Relationship experts feel that indulging in mercy sex is unfair for both partners. However, in long-term, stable relationships, the possibility that you will give into your partner’s advances even when you’re not interested in sex, or them into yours, more than a few times cannot be ruled out.

As long as, this is a rare occurrence and you enjoy a robust sex life barring these fleeting phases of dry spells or lack of desire, it’s not something you need to be alarmed about. However, by and large, mercy sex must be avoided or at least its frequency should be minimal in a relationship.

Related reading: Why intimacy is as important as the act itself

10 Signs That You Have Had Mercy Sex

The very concept of mercy sex rests on the paradigm that the pitying partner feels comfortable and okay with the whole idea. You are choosing to have sex out of sympathy because you care about your partner and don’t want to disappoint or hurt them.

However, if you are pressurised or coerced into having sex and your consent is being overlooked, then it is no less than rape or sexual abuse.

Still confused whether mercy sex is part of your intimacy dynamics with your partner? Pay attention to these 10 signs of pity love and mercy sex:

1. You do not initiate sex

Is it always your partner who initiates physical intimacy between the two of you? If yes, then it means that you are not too eager to initiate sex and end up having mercy sex when your partner initiates it.

After having two kids, Carla’s desire for sex nose-dived. At first, both she and her husband, Mark, thought it was a temporary phase but Carla didn’t quite get her libido back. After a while, she stopped sharing her lack of interest in sex with Mark because the idea that she would hurt him by saying no was too heartbreaking for her.

So, she started having pity sex with her husband and faking orgasms to protect his feelings. This is among the top reasons why women have mercy sex.

2. You’ve developed a distaste for sex

When you have pity sex with your partner for whatever reason frequently, then you will eventually develop a distaste for sex. The idea of being physically intimate with your partner will make you feel dismayed and icky.

sympathy sex
The idea of sex begins to put you off

The idea of sex begins to put you off, and you begin to dread that your partner will try to get intimate with you and you’d have to oblige with yet another round of pity sex. This can become a common sex problem between couples.

The longer you brush it under the carpet, the harder it gets to resolve.

3. You just want to get over with the sexual act as soon as possible

This happens because you are not completely invested in the act and do not feel satisfied with it. You are not in the mood for foreplay and simply want to get it done.  You’re having sex with someone you are not attracted to, so you just want to get it over with as soon as possible.

Even if that person is your spouse or long-term partner and you are very much still in love with them, you can still stop desiring them and go down the path of pity sex. In such instances, it’s not necessarily the case of confusing love and pity.

You may still love your partner and still not be aroused by them. This happens when the reasons for your low libido are more physical than psychological.

4. Your mind is distracted while having sex with your partner

If you have pity sex with your partner, then your mind may be preoccupied with other thoughts during the act. You are not mindful of the fact that you are supposed to feel loved and make your partner feel cherished as well.

Signs of pity love
Your mind is elsewhere while having sex

In fact, you may find it increasingly hard to be present in the moment because rather than being enjoyable, sex is turning out to be an agonizing experience you have to put up with. To save yourself from feeling the full extent of how unpleasant sex has become for you, you find refuge in your thoughts.

5. You do not like too much touching or kissing

When you have sex, you avoid too much touching or kissing because you are not interested in foreplay. Even if your partner is really making an effort to make foreplay enjoyable for you, you are reluctant to engage.

The kissing and touching during the act might make you feel like you’re just prolonging the deed. You just want to button down and get things done. Sex out of pity can feel abominable.

Related reading: When my husband is in the mood

6. You avoid experimenting with new techniques and positions

Confusing sympathy with love, and giving in to your partner’s advances can put you off the idea of intimacy to an extent that you don’t want to entertain the thought that sex can be pleasurable for you again.

Since you just want to finish having pity sex without any delay, you do not feel excited at the prospect of trying a new technique or position. You avoid doing something out of the ordinary while having sex because to you it would only mean prolonging the act.

7. You do not refuse the advances your partner makes out of guilt

Even when you are not in a mood for sex, you do not refuse the advances your partner makes. You feel guilty if you refuse to reciprocate his/her advances. Be warned, your partner will be able to catch on to your lack of interest sooner or later.

Joseline felt that her partner was somehow becoming more and more uninterested in sex as their relationship progressed. If she tried hard enough, he’d come around and say yes to sex but it was all very run-of-the-mill and bland.

“My boyfriend is only with me out of pity. He doesn’t even enjoy sex with me. It’s like it does it because he doesn’t want to disappoint me with another no,” she confided in a friend, as she tried to come to terms with the realization that he was having mercy sex with her all along.

8. You feel awkward after the sexual act

Do you find yourself avoiding your partner after the sexual act? Do you simply walk out of the room or just go to sleep after having sex? If your answer to these two questions is yes, then it means you are having mercy sex and it makes you feel awkward around your partner.

Distancing from a partner after intimacy is also one of the signs that your dissatisfying sex life could be the result of certain deeper issues. Perhaps, there are unresolved relationship issues that have weakened the emotional connection between you and your partner, which is why you no longer feel attracted to or aroused by them.

If that’s the case, you could, in fact, be confusing sympathy with love.

More on spice it up

9. You use sex to brighten your partner’s mood

If you find your partner sulking about the sex life you both have, then you will probably use sex as a tool to brighten up their mood. The sexual act will be done without your genuine interest, but with the sole purpose of satisfying your partner.

Rather than addressing the elephant in the room and talking about lack of intimacy in your relationship, you use sex to sweep the issue deeper under the carpet. You may want to wish away this problem but it’s only going to grow bigger and more daunting unless you work through it the right way.

10. The overall status of your relationship seems shaky

You might be confused about your feelings and might feel that your relationship is not standing on firm ground. Therefore, you might use sex to keep the relationship going. You won’t refuse your partner’s sexual advances and end up having mercy sex. Trust us, having sex out of pity to keep the relationship going is not a good idea.

Being merciful in the relationship and making an effort to make it work by having pity sex with your partner is not such a bad idea. However, you have to avoid using sex as a way to divert attention from the real problems you are facing in your relationship.

Communicate with your partner and make him/her aware of your sexual likes and dislikes. You both have to work together to come out of the zone of pity sex and try to have a successful sexual life. You may have developed a distaste for sex or started looking at it as a chore more than a fulfilling, pleasurable act because your partner doesn’t know their way around your body. Or is too focused on their own gratification to care about yours.

Once you have discussed the matter, think about ways in which you can spice up your sex life. Consider buying sex toys such as vibrators, nipple clamps, butt clips with which you can heighten the pleasure quotient. Similarly, if you experience painful intercourse due to a lack of arousal, keeping a bottle of lube handy can be a lifesaver.

Remember, sexual health is of utmost importance. ‘Sex’ should be a positive and blissful experience for the people who love each other, not a compulsion or obligatory duty void of emotions and true passion.

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