Many couples experience differing sexual drives. Although natural and entirely normal, the experience can be frustrating and confusing, especially if your drives have always seemed to “match.” Why does libido change, and what can be done to get your joint sexual desires back on the same path? Well, many things, actually. Unlike some human characteristics, our sex drive is not set in stone. But first, it is important to take a moment to dig into why libido changes and how mental blockers we put on ourselves may lead to a chronic sexual downturn.
Libido ebbs and flows throughout our lives for many reasons. Life events and changes, including childbirth, stress, the natural aging process, body image concerns, medication changes, and various medical and mental health conditions, can all contribute to changes in sexual desire. In most cases, changes in sex drive have nothing to do with our partner or how much we desire our partner. A study conducted in 2015 noted as many as 80% of couples experienced a “desire discrepancy” with their partner in the last thirty days.
It is also very important to remember that mismatched libido is not a gender-specific challenge. Despite common misconceptions, it is not male partners who consistently have elevated libidos and female partners with low libido. The roles can easily be reversed for any of the above reasons and more. According to sex therapist Gina Shapiro, in approximately 60% of the couples she sees, women have a higher sex drive than their male partners.
It is essential to communicate openly with your partner about why your mood may be low so they understand you aren’t rejecting them or diminishing their desire for intimacy.
Fluctuating or mismatched sex drives are not a signal that all is lost. According to sex therapist Janet Brito, if you are willing to work together as a couple by talking openly and compromising, you can still find common ground. The most important thing, says Los Angeles area sex therapist Jamila Dawson, is “to know that it doesn’t mean there’s a problem with either person in the relationship. Rather, it’s a more general imbalance that can be improved through experimentation, collaboration, and working together.”
How to Manage Mismatched Sex Drives
When ignored or left unaddressed, mismatched sexual desire can create unnecessary tension in your relationship. Often, the partner with a higher libido suffers from reduced self-esteem from repeated rejection. In contrast, the lower libido partner feels overwhelmed and discouraged when they fear they cannot live up to their partner’s needs and expectations. Below are some tips from the team at Vibeplanet and sex therapists across the nation you can use to help remove mental blockers and increase libido.
Don’t define your whole relationship by sex
There is more to a loving, lasting relationship than physical intimacy. Work with your partner to ensure these aspects of your relationship are given equal importance. Consider non-physical aspects of your relationship, such as watching a movie, cuddling, eating together, or going for a walk.
It is important to value your partner for reasons other than sex. When sex is the sole focus, the lower libido partner may feel undervalued or worry that the great things in your relationship, other than sex, are less important. Incorporating non-physical joy into your relationship can reduce the feeling that your relationship is built on sex.
Some sexologists suggest the higher libido partner make a conscious effort to appreciate and acknowledge not only their partners sexual boundaries but their non-sexual qualities too.
Expand your definition of sex
Sex is not solely defined by physical penetration. Sex and sexual intimacy can be anything you as a couple wants it to be. Kissing, holding hands, oral sex, sex toys, BDSM; whatever increases sexual interest and elevates your desire for intimacy and connection. If the person with the higher libido can compromise to meet the sexual desires of the person with the lower libido, both can get what they want out of a sexual encounter.
Focus on quality over quantity
A healthy sexual relationship does not mean having sex nightly or even every other night. It is not uncommon for the craving for more frequent sex to arise out of a hidden and unmet need. Finding alternative ways to connect intimately with your partner, such as non-sexual intimate touch and affection. Simple connections like these can help validate that you are loved by your partner and help both partners realize they may need sex less often than they thought.
Start dating each other again
Remember how intense the spark and connection were when you first started dating? As relationships progress, thoughts on sex can change. Take the time out of your day-to-day schedules to be with each other like you used to. This can help improve your sexual appetite and interest as you call to memory all the reasons why you desired each other to begin with.
Consider when you are the most energetic. For some people, it is first thing in the morning whereas for others it may be evenings. Try to find a time during the day where both partners feel equally (or nearly equally) energetic and make the time for intimacy. Sometimes the anticipation that accompanies “scheduled sex” can create sensual tension and increase sexual desire.
Incorporate pleasure into everyday life. Engage in “foreplay before foreplay”
On average, sexual intercourse lasts for approximately five minutes. If sex itself is the only element of your intimate relationship you focus on, you are not giving attention to many more desire-enhancing opportunities. Psychotherapist Esther Perel notes that foreplay begins at the end of the last orgasm. It is important to incorporate elements of foreplay into moments with your partner outside the bedroom as well. Making pleasure part of your whole day, instead of just a few moments, makes the body and mind more ready for sexual pleasure according to sexologist Vanessa Muradin.
Consider all aspects of a sexual encounter with your partner, from foreplay to intimacy afterward. When you consider the entire sexual process, you are more likely to feel satisfaction with each sexual encounter.
Talk things over candidly
Communication is a vital aspect to all parts of a relationship-sex included. If you struggle with a sex drive mismatch, it is even more important to actively communicate and work together on ways you can enhance your sexual connection that meets both of your needs. Remember, things will not always be perfect, and your libidos may not always coincide; however, if you keep an open mind and work together with understanding and empathy, aligning a mismatched libido can be something to work towards together instead of something that drives you apart.
Vanessa Muradin enforces the importance of communication between partners. “How you treat each other, how you support each other, and listen to one another, that matters to them feeling attracted and safe with another person.” Deeper, open, and honest communication can lead to deeper feelings of sexual desire.
Seek professional help
If you have tried the above, and things still don’t seem to click, consider contacting a sex therapist. A therapist can listen to both points of view and provide insight and suggestions that you can follow to get things back in line. A trained therapist may also be able to pinpoint the root of some underlying issues that may be contributing to your desire discrepancy.
A mismatched libido does not spell the end to a long, loving, and passionate relationship. Mismatched libidos and sexual differences are common aspects of many relationships, especially those that have stood the test of time. Removing mental blocks that lead two sexual frustration makes it possible to bring the sexual fire back into your relationship.