Dealing With Different Sex Drives: I want it, He/She doesn’t—NOW what?

Millions of couples suffer from what we reproductive scientists call sexual discrepancy

It can manifest in different levels of need or desire for sexual activity between two partners, and in different levels of sexual satisfaction for the two parties (within the sex they do have).

Sexual desire is unique to all individuals
Image Credit: Christian Gonzalez via Flickr

One of You Wants Sex and the Other Doesn’t

Much of sexual discrepancy between the two halves of a whole couple is, at its foundation, genetic or DNA based—an expression of the differing sex steroid secretions between the individuals that make up the pair.

This is important to realize so that we don’t consider our partner to be “messed up” because they want different levels of sex than us. It can also to keep from constantly considering ourselves flawed or unattractive if our partner is not as sexually active, excitable, or interested as we are.

Other Causes Behind Different Sex Drive

At the same time, sexual discrepancy can also be a result of emotional, relational, or physical difficulties in the pair-bond.

Health issues for one person, tension and stress between the pair or for one person, poor sexual fulfillment for either and yes, infidelity of one of the pair, can all create sexual discrepancy.

Sexual satisfaction—the most easily treatable part of sexual discrepancy—is our feeling of pleasure, joy and excitement (without anxiety or negative stress) during sexual intimacy.

In most cases, you and your partner can work on sexual satisfaction even if other parts of the marriage are floundering.

This is very important work because research from around the world—in many diverse cultures—reveals that sexual satisfaction is highly related to overall relationship satisfaction and, thus, marital longevity.

If the two individuals’ sexual needs in a couple are satisfied, the couple will tend to stay together longer and/or will have a more satisfying marriage, even if they don’t have psychologically textbook perfect communication skills, or they fight frequently.

So, dealing with sexual satisfaction can be a way of finding treatment for marital distress both from the viewpoint of the chicken and the egg (so to speak).

If you have a high level of sexual discrepancy in your relationship, prioritize finding out who YOU are sexually, so that you don’t confuse for example, chronic anger at your partner with “low sex drive.”

Be a bit selfish. Focus on what satisfies you and ask for it.

Discuss why you want more or less sex, and what particular activities you want more or less of. This may feel very scary, but leaving this discussion until after irreparable harm to the bond has occurred will be even harder. You have nothing to loose in being honest.

Understanding Your Reasons

Listen to what you are saying in this conversation with your partner.

“Sex is uncomfortable.” “It hurts when you touch me.” “I am worried that my erection will go away.” These are all medical reasons for avoiding sex, they are NOT low sex drive.

“I keep thinking about work when we make love.” “I am worried the kids will need me or hear us.” These suggest that external factors need to be better managed. For women especially, a secure environment away from day-to-day hassles, during the middle of the day with relaxing massages or foreplay, can turn “have to sex” to “want to sex.”

“I really dislike you right now and don’t want you touching me.” “I find it easier to masturbate with porn than to deal with trying to figure out how to turn you on.” These suggest that there are some underlying hurts and disconnects in the relationship that warrant counseling to figure out if the pair can be sustained.

Compliant Sex

Remember if one of you is always having or most always having “compliant sex” this can create resentment in both partners, and poor sexual fulfillment even for the “receiving” partner. It can eventually lead to relationship failure.

Having sex out of a sense of duty is not too unusual. Studies show that 55-65% of women and 35-40% of men say they have said yes to sex they didn’t want. And during a 2-week window in one study, 50% of women and 26% of men consented to compliant sex at least once. There is nothing wrong with this in a partnership—it is part of the compromise that keeps a marriage strong.

But when sex is only or mostly compliant for one member in a couple, the bonds of the relationship will weaken.

Sex is, literally, like a glue (think of the fluids transferring between you as physical, spiritual, and emotional glue) that helps relationships survive and thrive.

If you are feeling some kind of sexual compliance as a constant in your relationship, or feeling sexual discrepancy or low sexual satisfaction of any significant kind, figure out if it is medical (physical), situational, emotional or if you truly have very different sex drives. If so, you need to discuss how this will be navigated and if you are wanting to work through it together or if the differences are too great to make your pair bond work long term.

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