In an ideal world, each couple would be made up of two partners with identical sex drives.
The problem with that, besides being unrealistic, is that our libidos aren’t set in stone. They fluctuate over the course of our lives for any number of reasons: stress, birth of a child, aging, medication side effects, certain physical and mental health conditions, among countless others.
If you and your partner just aren’t on the same page sexually these days, don’t fret. In fact, it’s very common for couples ― especially long-term ones ― to deal with mismatched libidos at some point. According to one 2015 study, 80 percent of couples experienced a “desire discrepancy” with their partner in the past month. And despite gender stereotypes about heterosexual relationships, it’s not just male partners with high libidos and female partners with low libidos.
“In around 60 percent of the couples that I see in my clinical practice, it is the women who have a higher sex drive,” sex therapist Gila Shapiro said.
If left unaddressed, differing levels of desire can create an unpleasant relationship dynamic. Often the higher-libido partner deals with repeated sexual rejection that may impact their self-esteem, while the lower-libido partner can get overwhelmed by sexual pressure and discouraged if they feel like they’re not living up to their partner’s expectations.
So should different levels of libido be a deal breaker? Not necessarily, psychologist and sex therapist Janet Brito said, so long as the couple is willing to have some honest conversations and make compromises.
“It really takes both parties working together on finding some common ground and agreeing to meet each other’s moods, not 100 percent of the time, but more than 50 percent of the time,” she said. “The focus becomes more about how sexual intimacy and connecting in that way nurtures the relationship, and less about focusing on individual needs.”
We asked sex therapists for their expert advice on how to deal when your sex drive and your partner’s sex drive just aren’t lining up. Below, find out what they had to say:
1. Get comfortable talking about sex (and other tricky subjects)
No surprise here: Strong communication around bedroom issues is key. Sex can be a sensitive subject, particularly when partners feel out of sync, but it’s essential to talk things through anyway. Sex therapist Douglas C. Brooks tells his clients to focus their attention on how to communicate their own needs and insecurities.
“Talk more about feelings about sex and intimacy,” he said. “By respectfully communicating to one another, it can lead to a better understanding of this issue.”
As long as you’re able to express your point of view and really listen to what your partner has to say without blaming or shaming, the issue doesn’t need to become grounds for a split, sex therapist Shannon Chavez said.
“Mismatched sexual drives are only a deal breaker if you cannot communicate effectively and get stuck in situations where one or both partners is defensive, hurt or unreasonable about expectations around sex,” she said.
2. Figure out when you have the most energy
When you’re exhausted and run down, sex is probably the last thing on your mind. Identifying the day and time you usually have the most energy and then seeing where you and your partner overlap may help you map out some opportune times to get frisky.
“This is important as matching their energy levels will maximize their chances of getting it on,” Brito said. “Once that’s established, I’d suggest they reserve that time for themselves.”
3. Set the right mood
Does a hot bath, a candle and the right playlist make you feel like a sexual god or goddess? Does a messy kitchen or a rough day at the office totally kill the mood? Brito recommends zeroing in on which conditions put you each in the mood and which don’t.
“Identify what your bridges (a clean house, a nice scent) or poisons (relationship conflict or resentment) to desire are. Then be intentional about building more bridges and lessening the poisons,” she said.
The same goes for nice, little things you can do for yourself that make you feel hot, whether it’s a haircut or a good workout class.
“Find out what makes you feel good about yourself, what makes you feel sexy, so that you sabotage less and connect more,” Brito added.
4. Get intimate without actually having sex
Focusing too much on the sex itself can add unnecessary pressure to the situation. Instead, start slow; engage in sensual activities that don’t necessarily culminate in penetrative sex.
“Explore different erotic menus that focus on connection and not only sexual activity such as touching, kissing, eye-gazing and play,” Chavez said. “Connection builds safety and closeness where erotic energy can develop.”
Over time, these little acts of affection can improve your intimate bond ― whether sex happens that night or not.
“The path to more frequent sex often starts with foreplay, sexual teasing and with touching before the ‘big deed,’” Brooks said.
Sometimes, quality alone time ― even of the nonsexual variety ― is all you need to make you feel genuinely connected to each other.
“Take a walk, watch a movie in bed, buy some sexy sleepwear and have some fun,” Brooks said. “Staying connected to our partners is important for our overall well-being.”
5. Don’t underestimate masturbation
Masturbation is often thought of as a solo activity, but it doesn’t have to be. When one partner isn’t in the mood for full-on sex, watching ― or helping ― their partner get themselves off could be a solid backup plan.
“Don’t define masturbation as a lesser sexual activity,” Shapiro said. “Masturbation, which is considered a solitary experience, can become a shared one and a partner can include the other through eye contact, touch, talk and still maintain a sexual connection while meeting one’s needs.”
And if your partner isn’t down to assist, then some solo play can still release some of that sexual tension and improve your well-being.
“Masturbation can be a wonderful alternative to meets one’s own needs,” Brooks said.
6. Consider seeing a sex therapist
If things just aren’t clicking for the two of you, it might be worth making an appointment with a sex therapist, who can offer helpful insights and suggestions.
“Sometimes couples get stuck in the argument around libido issues and need a therapist to see both points of view and give suggestions and a plan that couples can follow without conflict,” Chavez said.
A sex therapist may also be able to pinpoint some of the underlying issues that could be contributing to your sexual disconnect.
“In the cases that [the desire discrepancy] becomes problematic, there tends to be other underlying challenges, compounded with difficult communication patterns and unresolved resentments or conflicts,” Brito said. “The sexual symptom tends to become a representation of some deeper pain or unmet need.”