In an ideal world, Ted, a 38-year-old man from Oregon, would have sex with his girlfriend once a week. In his girlfriend’s ideal world, they’d have sex once a day.
The pair has learned the importance of compromise in the year they’ve been together: The agreed-upon goal is to have sex every other day, but it doesn’t always happen that way ― and that’s created some tension in and outside the bedroom.
“It’s an ‘in theory and in practice’ difference,” Ted told HuffPost. “In theory, it’s easy to understand being turned down by your mate, but in practice, it can hurt emotionally for both of us, especially her.”
Relationships like Ted’s ― where a man has a lower libido than his partner ― are a common problem, even if people don’t often talk about it, said Keeley Rankin, a sex therapist in San Francisco.
“I’d say about half of my couples clients showing up these days are the female desiring more sexual connection and frequency than the male,” she told HuffPost.
Much of the frustration can be chalked up to inflated expectations for men: Far too many people still believe that a man should always be ready, willing and eager to go, Rankin said.
“As women step more into their own power, I’m really hoping this social construct of ‘men always want it, woman don’t’ will completely disappear,” she said. “The first step is to talk about it openly.”
There are plenty of physical and health-related reasons men aren’t eager to have sex, from erectile dysfunction to problems with premature ejaculation. Even overexercising can do it; recent studies have linked endurance workouts like long-distance cycling or marathon training to reduced levels of testosterone and lower libido.
And obviously, sometimes a dude just isn’t in the mood. That’s often the case for Joseph O., a 29-year-old man living in the suburbs of Los Angeles who told Huffpost that 90 percent of the time, he’s too tired ― “or too lazy, honestly” ― to have sex.
“Between me and my partners’ crazy schedules and a three-year-old who is like a can of soda that’s been shaken 24/7, it’s really difficult to have regular sex, to say the least,” he explained.
At the end of the day, Joseph said he feels it’s crucial for guys to accept what their sex drive is and what it isn’t.
“As a man, we love to look for ways to judge our manhood based on things outside our control, like our sex drive, the property we own or our hairlines,” he said. “It’s just, like, ‘try to accept yourself, bro.’”
He’s right, said Celeste Hirschman, a sex therapist and the co-author of Making Love Real: The Intelligent Couple’s Guide to Lasting Intimacy and Passion. Unlinking masculinity and a strong sexual appetite is the first step to working through desire discrepancy, she said.
“Many men push themselves to have sex even when they don’t feel like it or jump to quick solutions like Viagra or Cialis,” she said. “One of our clients with a low sex drive told us, ’I felt completely under the gun. I was having sex when I didn’t want to so often, I started to feel disgusted with my partner.’”
While there’s no one-size-fits-all solution to mismatched libidos, Hirshman tells clients that having obligatory sex is not the answer. Instead, she tells them to “aim to see what’s possible.”
Sometimes, couples she sees discover one partner has misdiagnosed themselves as being low desire when they’re not simply not having the kind of sex they like. Other times, it’s just about sticking to a compromise.
“Different solutions work with different couples; it’s important to be creative and look at the the options while respecting peoples’ boundaries and honoring their desires,” she said. “Maybe a man is happy to go down on his partner or make out while he or she uses a sex toy to get off.”
Ted told HuffPost that communication has made a huge difference for him and his girlfriend.
“Seriously, it’s an awkward topic, especially to talk about on a regular basis, but that has made it work for us,” he said. “She needs to know I’m still attracted to her, love her, appreciate her even if we are having sex less frequently than maybe she’d prefer.”