Before we get into the tips to handle mismatched desire, let's talk about the factors that may affect this sexual discrepancy.
What Affects Individual Sexual Desires?
There is no right or wrong level of sexual desire. Similarly, there are no "rules" regarding frequency or intensity. (Though research has shown that the average couple is satisfied by once a week.) It ultimately boils down to your personal preferences and life circumstances.
Mismatched sexual desire is often associated with having a poor relationship or a lack of attraction towards one another. While that can be true in some cases, you would be mistaken to say that as a blanket statement. Several other factors, including the length and stage of the relationship, can affect partners' sexual desires.
Some of the common influences are:
- Performance anxiety
- Frequency of non-sexual affection
- Lack of time or privacy
- Sexual turnoffs (or "brakes")
- Anxiety, depression, and/or other mood disorders (such as Postpartum Depression or Postpartum Anxiety)
Perhaps earlier in your relationship, the sex was fantastic, and everything was in sync, but then kids came, and something shifted. The same can be said for stressful life events or illnesses that may lessen sexual desire.
In short, being sexually incompatible with your partner can be situational and caused by many different reasons. If you and your partner are not aligned, it can be tough to be present and go with the flow. This can lead to friction and reduced relationship satisfaction.
Tips To Handle Mismatched Sexual Desires
Sexual incompatibility is the number one reason couples seek advice from sex therapists. The one with a higher libido feels gutted with every "no," and the one with the lower libido feels pressured and/or guilty for rejecting their partner's advances.
There are plenty of ways to improve your sexual connection and relationship satisfaction. Here are the top 7 tips that have worked for many couples.
1. Talk it out
The first one is a no-brainer. Communication is ultimately one of the main contributors to the success or failure of a relationship. Discussing the "elephant in the room" is the first step toward finding a balance. You see, issues are deepened when partners keep their concerns to themselves and don't talk about them. Talking about sex might feel awkward, but respectfully and honestly communicating about each other's needs and feelings can help you both understand the issue better and find a possible solution.
2. Is sex the problem?
Sometimes the problems in a couple's sex life are more indicative of something else. For example, emotional and physical exhaustion throughout the day can lead to low sexual desire. Likewise, money issues, children, and not feeling supported or satisfied are all valid reasons that can cause problems in the bedroom. If one of you is feeling rejected, then considering the factors outside the physical relationship is crucial. Most of the time, these play a more significant role than the ones we think of.
3. Build up to it
Intimacy is not only about sex, and sex is not only about intercourse. When sex becomes just about the actual act, it may become less enjoyable for one or both partners. Foreplay and non-sexual affection like kissing, cuddling, hugging, etc., all play a role in building up to positive sexual interaction. And there's also the school of thought that in long-term relationships, almost everything is foreplay, from the way you say good morning to washing the dishes after dinner so your partner can relax. When both partners intentionally put effort into the relationship as a whole and non-sexual affection, actual sex is more likely to happen.
4. Schedule it
When life gets too busy, scheduling may be just what you need. If one partner wants to have sex twice a week, whereas the other is set on once a month, tension is bound to happen. The goal is to find a frequency that both partners are comfortable with. Scheduling might sound “unsexy”, but it is a great way to reassure both partners- the lower-desire partner knows that sex is only expected when scheduled, and the higher-desire partner knows that sex will actually happen.
5. Focus on quality over quantity
Tune in to what feels good and enjoyable for each of you. You might notice that certain days and times feel better than others. In the past, nighttime may have been prime time, but now you're too exhausted by the end of the day, and mornings or afternoons might work better. Maybe something you liked before is no longer desirable. Or you have curiosity about something that never interested you in the past. Be open to your experience looking different than it used to and figuring out what works best now.
6. Understand each other's accelerators and brakes
In Come As You Are, Emily Nagoski explains how each person has unique accelerators- the things that turn them on, and brakes- the things that turn them off. When you understand what these accelerators and brakes are for you and your partner, you can be more sensitive to and intentional about which pedal you're pressing. Some may be more obvious, while others may be unexpected. It may take time and effort to figure out, but it will be well worth it once you "crack the code."
7. What's it like to be on the other side?
Imagine how it feels to be the other person. Then, look at the dynamics of your relationship through your partner's lens. This way, you can understand their experience of your relationship and the frequency, or lack, of physical intimacy. Keep in mind that the goal of this tip is not to find who is right or wrong. It is to develop empathy and a deeper bond with each other.
My partner has low sexual desire. What can I do?
As the partner with a stronger desire, it can be frustrating when your partner doesn't match your passion. It is normal to feel neglected, rejected, hurt, or self-conscious. However, it is also essential to keep in mind that less attraction to (and interest in) you may not be the reason for this sexual slump. Your partner may be dealing with a myriad of factors causing low libido.
It takes patience, understanding, and empathy toward each other to rebuild your relationship. The best thing you can do is offer support and commitment, and put time and attention into finding solutions. This will also reassure your partner that you're in it with them.
My partner has a strong sexual desire. What can I do?
If your libido is lower than your partner's, honestly consider whether they have an overly high drive and yours is normal or if you’ve had a lower than usual drive. If it’s the later, try identifying potential causes contributing to your low sexual desire. Next, communicate your feelings with your partner. Reasons for not wanting sex can vary from personal preference to medical, physical, or emotional factors.
You may think that all your partner wants is sex. But it is crucial to remember that your partner may have a different love language than you. Like you, they are also finding it tough to match your level of sexual desire. So be considerate toward your partner and try to figure out a middle ground for a happy and healthy relationship.
Dealing with a mismatched sexual desire can seem like a scary and uncomfortable journey, but it doesn't have to be. Understand that libido levels are not static throughout the span of your relationship. Like every other aspect of your relationship, desire, ebbs and flows, interest, turn-ons, and turn-offs can look different in different phases and be influenced by numerous factors.
It is best to work on your struggles together. Learn to bring understanding, balance, and passion to your relationship in ways that meet both of your needs. This will lead to a much happier and healthier relationship.