At some point in your relationship one of you is going to want sex more than the other. The difference may have always been there or it may have popped up more recently due to things like new parenthood, a chronic illness flare, new medications, or a global crisis. Regardless of the cause, if different sex drives are ruining your relationship, read on.
Note: If your sex drive has change drastically or you’ve noticed a difference since starting a new medication, talk to your doctor. Antidepressants and some oral contraceptive/birth control pills can decrease your libido.
Dealing with different sex drives takes its toll
The lower sex drive partner feels guilty. The higher sex drive partner isn’t getting their needs met. The more one partner initiates sex, the more the other pulls away. Soon, every touch elicits a stress response in both of you. You worry if things will progress or whether you’ll be rejected (again). Both of you feel frustrated and under-appreciated. You both feel bad about yourselves and the relationship. You wonder if there’s something wrong with you?
This is called the chasing dynamic and its both common and frustrating AF
If this sounds familiar, know two things. First: you aren’t alone. I’ve been here and so have almost every single one of my friends, colleagues, and clients. Secondly, there are many things that can impact your sex drive…which means there are lots of ways to minimize the differences.
Feel disconnected from your partner? Try these 21 ideas to reconnect.
Struggling to stay present during sex? Use these mindfulness practices to reconnect to your pleasure.
Gender doesn’t really matter
You’ll notice above that I didn’t specify any gender. That’s because it truly can go either way. I’ve worked with women who want more sex than they’re getting and men who are never in the mood. While men do tend to reach their sexual peak earlier than women, it doesn’t mean that all men want to have sex all the time or that women never want it.
And that’s before we look at other factors—like medication, sleep, etc—that affect your desire.
Arousal comes before desire
First, let’s differentiate between arousal and desire.
Arousal has two parts:
- Your body recognising something sexual is happening (physical arousal). This recognition results in a physical response. You get wet or hard, your heart rate and breathing increase, your skin flushes, etc.
- Your brain determining if you like it (subjective arousal). Are you enjoying this sexual stimuli, be it visual (e.g. a hot person), aural (e.g. hearing sexy sounds), tactile (e.g. a kiss or stroke), etc?
Now all this happens very quickly. If you pay attention, you can notice it though!
So something sexy is happening. Your brain recognises it as sexual and determines that you enjoy it. From there, desire may develop.
Read more: Are all women bi?
Desire is wanting more
It’s moving towards the sensation and, well, desiring more of it!
Sometimes this happens so fast it feels spontaneous. You see a hot person, you want sex.
Sometimes though, you need more. This is called responsive desire. Like the name implies, it’s desire that develops AFTER sexy things start to happen.
Spontaneous desire is what we tend to think of when talking about sex drive or libido. Its when your partner just looks at you and is ready to go or when you think about last time and get all tingly.
Responsive desire, however, is when your hello kiss turns into something more and even though five minutes ago you were not thinking about sex at all you find yourself wanting more…
For more about spontaneous and responsive desire, click here.
Both types of desire are totally normal and healthy. Their difference though is a big cause of the chasing dynamic.
5 Steps to Stop Different Sex Drives from Ruining Your Relationship
In order for desire to develop, certain things have to happen. Specifically, you need enough things that turn you on and few things that turn you off. Too few exciting things and you won’t get turned on. Same goes if there are too many turn-offs. You’ve got to be excited AND there can’t be too much stopping that excitement.
So to stop different sex drives from ruining your relationship you need to:
- Know what turns you on
- Know what turns you off
- Communicate with your partner
- Do more of the first
- Do less of the second
If this sounds like a lot, don’t worry. Researchers have identified the only three things you need for better sex. Most everything falls into one of these three categories.
For example, let’s say you and your partner haven’t been sexting all day long. You’re wearing their favorite piece of lingerie and they promised tonight is going to be all about you. You leave work aroused and excited to get home! Then your boss calls you into your office to give you some negative feedback. Because of that, you leave late and your commute home takes twice as long. You ate a snack in the car to tide you over but for some reason it gave you a stomachache. When you get home, you walk in on your partner masturbating…and an unexpected medical bill sits on your side table. Because there are more turn-offs (negative feedback, a stressful commute, being late, a stomachache, and the bill) then turn-ons (sexting, sexy promises, and seeing your partner touching themselves), you are not as likely to feel aroused or in the mood.
Just do it…kind of
Let us be clear: sex must be consensual. Both partners should agree to do something without guilt, pressure, or coercion.
That being said, sometimes you don’t know! You aren’t currently in the mood but it’s not a hard no. You’re open to exploring.
If you find yourself or your partner(s) in this situation, we recommend asking yourselves these two questions.
- Could I be in the mood? If I was less tired or stressed? If we kissed for a little bit?
- What am I in the mood for? Do some sex acts (e.g. kissing, massage) sound ok but not others (e.g. intercourse, oral sex)?
From here you can say something like, “Let’s kiss and see where it takes us” or “I’m not promising anything but can we see what happens if you start to rub my back?”
Getting clear and being honest + nuanced helps both you and your partner have your sexual desires satisfied.
Shake up your sex scripts
Most of us also have scripts for how sex happens: before bed, on a Sunday morning, after the date, etc. In other words: sex has become just another thing on your to-do list. Mixing it up can address some practical causes of libido differences.
Here are a few ideas to get you started:
- Have sex before dinner (aka before the end-of-day exhaustion settles in). This can mean having morning sex, doing it as soon as you’re both home from work, having sex before you leave for your date night, or sneaking off while waiting for appetisers.
- Don’t have intercourse. Try oral sex, hand sex, sensation play, a steamy makeout session, a sensual massage, or so many other sexy fun things that don’t involve penetration.
- Try mutual masturbation. This tends to be faster plus you don’t have to worry about pleasing one another, just bringing yourself pleasure.
Do what works for you
Every couple is different in how they prevent different sex drives from ruining their relationship. Ultimately, it’s about finding a solutions that work for your life and desires.
One last note: if neither you nor your partner feel bothered by you, don’t change it! There’s no right number of times to have sex each week – its all about what satisfies you both.