If you’re in a loving, romantic, and supposedly sexual relationship but your bedroom has started to feel less like a dreamy wonderland and more like a World War II battlefield, then you may be experiencing a phenomenon known as “sexual desire discrepancy.”
According to an article entitled “What to know about mismatched sex drives” in an issue of Medical News Today from earlier this year, mismatched libidos are usually at the heart of the problem: “People in a relationship may differ in how much sex they want. Mismatched sex drives are common but may cause a strain in a relationship if the couple does not learn to manage their differences.”
So, if lately you’ve been hearing statements such as, “I’m not in the mood”, “I have a headache tonight”, or “Maybe later?” when you feel frisky and charged up to have sex, it’s probably left you feeling guilty or anxious, frustrated and stuck in a bad place, explains Sophie Browness in an article for Blueheart, an online couples therapy program.
“Having different levels of desire is totally normal,” she says. “There are many things that can affect it on a day-to-day basis or even year-on-year basis. It is unrealistic to expect both of you to want sex at the exact same time, in the same way ever time.”
In fact, she refers to research on the topic that indicates up to 80% of couples regularly experience situations where one partner has a desire for sex and the other doesn’t. “While sex therapists would tell you that low sexual desire is the most common sexual problem,” she says, “desire discrepancy is considered more distressing due to its dampening down the romance in a relationship.”
A first step should be to consider what might be impacting your lover’s libido, since there are numerous potential causes. In addition to stressful jobs and demanding family responsibilities, aging and the accompanying hormonal shifts can play a significant role. Shifts also come with pregnancy or as men naturally lose testosterone over time or women encounter the trials and tribulations of menopause. Mental health conditions such as anxiety disorders and depression, and even the medications used to treat those conditions, can also certainly hamper normal sexual relations. In addition to all that, degrees of attraction can change over time, as well.
So, what can you do if you still feel the embers smoldering down below?
Catherine Wilson, a psychologist in Halifax, Canada, wrote about what steps you can take when you’re feeling out of synch with mismatched libidos for Cornerstone Psychological Services. Trust and open communications, she believes, can be your most powerful tools to overcome snags in your sex life by helping you clarify the issues.
“It’s worth taking an honest look at the quality of the relationship with your partner,” she recommends, such as: How have you been feeling in the relationship lately? Do you feel connected with your partner? How about respected, supported, and appreciated by them?
“It’s also important to think about when you started noticing a discrepancy in the interest in sex between you and your partner,” she continues. “Has it always been this way in the relationship, or did this happen recently? If the latter is true, have there been any life changes for the two of you recently (e.g. new baby, job change, the death of a family member)? Have you or your partner been under increased stress? Are either of you feeling self-conscious about a change in your body (e.g. weight loss/gain)? Have you lost interest in sex in general, or is it specific to sex with your partner?”
After this candid inquiry with each other, you can implement her suggested five-step process to help improve your love life situation:
1.) Give yourself a number: On a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate yourself in terms of sexuality and interest in sex and how does your partner rate themselves? Wilsons says, “If there is a big difference between these two numbers, we can use this information to start to make sense of the patterns that have developed; such as, ‘Of course I initiate sex more often – I’m an 8, and they’re a 3!’. By giving yourself a number, and knowing your partner’s, you can start to see things a bit more objectively, and this can be really helpful in preventing the mind-reading that can often occur.”
Of course, just like our libidos, these numbers may be fluid over time, so be sure to check in for changes periodically.
2.) Empathize with each other: Put yourself in your partner’s place so you can sympathize with where they are regarding sex. “Keep in mind that the goal is not to determine who is ‘wrong’ or ‘right’, or whose behavior is ‘good’ or ‘bad’,” she says. “It’s simply about trying to more fully understand your partner’s experience in the relationship. This can lay the groundwork for more compassion, honesty, and ultimately problem-solving.”
3.) Redefine successful sex: If you define sex only as intercourse during which both partners orgasm, then you will benefit from expanding your definition and expectations. “What makes sex enjoyable between two people is often way more to do with intimacy than it is to do with physical gratification,” Wilson explains. “Given this, it’s important to expand the definition of what successful sex means in your relationship, and this is particularly true for couples that have a discrepancy in their interest in sex.”
Open your mind (and your options) to the many other forms and aspects of sex, and find ways to incorporate those into your bedroom life more frequently. Oral sex, fingering, mutual masturbation, anal play, toy play, and even intercourse where one partner may not reach orgasm all still count as sex, and focusing on physical intimacy in those ways can relight the spark of desire for mutually satisfying sexual intercourse in the future.
4.) Qualify vs. quantify: Rather than just considering the frequency with which you have sex, “focus on how enjoyable you find your sexual interactions,” she advises. Sometimes quality really is more important than quantity.
5.) Schedule sex: While this practice is considered controversial by some who believe spontaneity is vital to good sex, it may provide a solution to getting you back on the path of doing it whenever the urge strikes.
“Scheduling sex doesn’t have to be a bad thing,” Wilson says. “It can actually add some anticipation throughout the day, which can be a turn-on for a lot of people. The adage ‘foreplay begins when you get up in the morning’ rings true here. And best of all, it can help in avoiding the cycle of hurt, guilt, and resentment that can often develop for couples with mismatched libidos.” The person with a stronger desire for more frequent sex is still getting sex…even if you had to put it on your calendars! Just make sure you follow through whenever you schedule it, though. Starting the shift towards a more fulfilling sex life with scheduled sex may lead to it occurring more organically…and whenever you want it to…in the future.