Anyone who has ever been in a romantic relationship for any period of time will realize that how much sex we want, and how often, can vary over time. It might depend on how busy we are at work, how much exercise we’ve been doing, those niggling financial stresses or simply how good we’re feeling about ourselves on any given day.
It’s completely normal for sexual desire to ebb and flow – sometimes changing daily, sometimes over a longer period. Is it any wonder then, that one night we might be more keen on the idea of intercourse than our partner, and the next they’re the one nudging us in the direction of the bedroom?
The problem comes when one of you is keen to instigate sex often and the other is less keen and less likely to do so. And there are consequences when this situation persists over a period of time. This is when we use the term mismatched libidos, or more scientifically Sexual Desire Discrepancy.
Of course, everyone is different, a low libido can be normal, just as a particularly high sex drive can be normal. As long as you’re happy with the amount and quality of sex you’re having, then there’s no issue. However, if the higher-desire partner is not feeling their needs are being fulfilled while their partner feels pressure to have sex more regularly than they would wish, then neither are experiencing sexual satisfaction.
And it’s important for a successful relationship that something is done to improve things.
Differences in desire can have a very real affect on long-term relationships, impacting each partner in a different way.
Suppose you’re the partner with the high sex drive. Your desire for sex is strong, you seek regular physical connection with your partner. You like to instigate sex regularly and find that physical intimacy helps you stay emotionally connected to your partner. But increasingly, when you reach out to snuggle or kiss your partner, you find them pulling away. And when you suggest sex they come out with a raft of excuses. As you begin to notice a pattern, you start to worry whether you’ve done something wrong or whether they no longer find you attractive. This might lead to bickering and frustration as sex begins to occupy a lot of your thoughts. Over time you might start to lose confidence, preferring to withdraw from the issue rather than suffer the same feelings of rejection or have the same conversations over and over again.
Eventually, your levels of relationship satisfaction hit a low and you start to wonder whether you can cope with a life in which sex doesn’t play a big part.
Meanwhile, let’s put ourselves in the shoes of the lower-desire partner.
Whether you’ve always had a low libido or this is something that has changed for you more recently, the impact on both your relationship and your mental health is the same. You feel like there is something wrong with you. You love your partner, you don’t want to disappoint them, but you just can’t get yourself in the mood for sex as often as they seem to want it. You spend time feeling horribly guilty that you’re not able to meet your partner’s needs. As time goes on it becomes easier to avoid physical contact just in case your partner takes it as a come on, but this lack of affection and intimacy begin to take its toll, driving an uncomfortable wedge between you. You might feel embarrassed about the situation and unsure how to talk about it or even begin to resolve it. And you may even begin to feel anxious that your partner will leave you if things continue.
In short, neither situation is a great place to be. And from the inside, a relationship between two people with mismatched sex drives can feel pretty hopeless and frustrating at times.
The good news is there are usually ways to improve the situation and get back to a healthy sex life with more (and better) sex. As long as that’s what both of you want.
It stands to reason, doesn’t it, that to improve sexual desire discrepancies in a relationship you need to understand what is causing them. And to uncover that, you may need to do a bit of digging into how you’re both feeling and what you’re thinking. Things may not be as complicated as they seem.
Is the issue one that has been there for a long time?
Is it that the apparently lower-desire partner in fact lacks confidence in their ability or feels under-confident about their body?
If the answer is yes, perhaps finding ways to help them relax, and creating a stress-free environment for sex might go some way to increasing enjoyment and boosting much-needed confidence.
Has there been a lot of change going on in your relationship recently?
Are you busy with the kids or worried about money or generally feeling stressed? Are there frustrations and arguments bubbling below the surface? It’s common for feelings of anxiety and stress to interrupt libido every so often, leading to lower sexual desire for a period of time. Try some relaxation exercises or mindfulness techniques to calm your brain or simply choose to have sex anyway. Very often once you get things going you’ll find you enjoy it. And you never know, it may even help with the stress levels!
Does the lower-libido partner actually experience pain when they engage in intercourse?
If so, it’s unsurprising that they don’t gain too much enjoyment from it. If either partner suffers with pain during or after sex, it could indicate a physical issue and it’s important they get checked out by a physician. Intercourse should never be painful.
Is it less about desire, more about the types of activities you enjoy or don’t enjoy?
If the issue is actually the type of sexual activity your partner wants you to engage in that’s causing the issue rather than a lack of desire, it’s time for an open, honest conversation. And a bit of creativity to come up with some ideas that will suit both of you.
Remember, you should never be made to feel you have to do something you don’t want to if you’re not up for it.
While it may feel like there is a large gulf between the sexual desire levels of both partners in the relationship, simply understanding one another’s perspectives and being willing to take positive steps to work through the problem really can help.
Here we’ve got some ideas to help you build connection and create a healthy happy sex life that fulfills you both:
Sometimes we find that lack of sexual activity is simply a result of lack of opportunity. If you’ve become overwhelmed by the needs of your family and the responsibilities of your job, it’s easy to deprioritize time with your partner. And the thing is you may not even realize that’s what you’ve done. Start with the basics. Tell your partner that’s how you feel and arrange to spend some quality time together doing something fun. And if getting out together seems almost impossible, why not try these date night ideas at home.
What defines having sex? The answer to that question can be surprisingly different depending on who you ask. From foreplay to intercourse, there are countless ways to achieve sexual intimacy without necessarily having intercourse. One thing is for certain, the more you are able to broaden your definition of sex, the more room there is for creativity. And ultimately the more sexual satisfaction you’re likely to be able to achieve, whether that’s as a result of ‘traditional’ sexual intercourse or not.
It makes sense when you think about it. If you’re not getting satisfaction from your sex life, you’re unlikely to want to ‘do it’ more often. If you’ve got an idea about what you might like or prefer, be honest with your partner. Everyone deserves a fulfilling sexual relationship. Talk to your sexual partner about what you’d like to try and ways you think it might become more enjoyable for you. Remind them, getting it right is a win-win situation, after all the more each of you enjoy the sex you’re having the more often you’ll want to have it.
Yes that can sound dull and boring but we promise you it’s anything but. If you want to reboot your relationship, scheduling your sex sessions might well be the answer. And far from making sex a chore, our clients often find that creating a habit of sex actually makes them want it more.
Take the pressure off
For some people, the importance of a strong connection cannot be overestimated when it comes to feelings of desire. So try taking a step back to work on building the connection with your partner first. You might agree you're going to spend time together, perhaps fool around a little bit, but not have intercourse. You could try some of these foreplay techniques or decide to keep your clothes on for now. You could try showering together or giving one another a massage. For someone who is nervous or under-confident about sex, setting boundaries and sticking to them can be a great way to help them relax.
Learn about love languages
We love to talk about love languages. Learning to express love in a way that truly talks to your partner is one of the most powerful things you can do to transform your relationship. Have a read of our article and use it as a start point for a conversation with your partner. Make an effort to use the right love languages – whether that’s words, actions, physical touch or gifts and you’ll feel a deeper sense of understanding and connection to one another.
Consider sex therapy
Designed to help bring you closer together, sex therapy can get you back on the same page when it comes to emotional and physical intimacy. Sessions with a professional sex therapist can be hugely valuable when it comes to tackling Sexual Desire Discrepancy or mismatched libidos as it can help you to understand things from the other person’s perspective.
If the idea of talking to your partner about sex therapy makes you feel icky, we’ve got plenty of helpful ideas and advice in our article Bringing up the idea of sex therapy with your partner. And if you don’t fancy the idea of face to face sessions, or you’re not sure you can afford the fees, a sex therapy app like our Blueheart app could be the answer.
Science-backed and written and tested by our expert sex therapists, Blueheart is a tailored programme that allows you and your partner to start from where you are and take things as far, and as fast, as you want them to go.
From emotional connection to physical intercourse, if more sex is something you both want, Blueheart can help you get there.