The Sex Doctors are In

mismatched libidos

Posted by Madeleine Castellanos, M.D.

The best thing that a couple can do when they find themselves with differences in levels of desire is to agree to talk about it. Too many times couples allow time to go by without actually discussing it, but instead try to initiate with hints, constant accusations, sarcastic jokes, or physical groping. This fuels irritation, and eventually, anger and resentment. On the flip side, if you are always rejecting your partner, they are left with frustration, loneliness, insecurity, and doubts about the viability of the relationship. If you are in such a situation, you can see that both sides are painful. The first step to negotiating these differences is to start talking about them in such a way that both parties work constructively together rather than in a way that ends in blame, judgment, or criticism. By talking about it openly, a couple can start to understand the other person's point of view and start to collaborate on strategies to help the situation.

Perhaps the best way to start such positive conversation with each other is to first honestly examine for yourself what is going on inside you. If you are the partner with the low desire, are you happy with your level of sexual activity? Do you underestimate or discount your ability to become aroused if you are tired in the moment? Are you uncomfortable with some aspect of your sexuality or your sex life with your partner and saying "no" in order to avoid confronting this discomfort? Do you have ideas that you are not sexy or that your partner will not be attracted to you? Do you see your partner's advances as an intrusion on your time and energy? Are you angry with your partner or thinking negatively about them? These are just some of the ways that a person may be allowing a low-level of sexual desire to continue in their relationship.

If you are the higher-level desire partner, you should also explore what may be going on inside of you or how you may be using sex. Are you initiating sex at times that you know you are going to have a greater chance of hearing "no"? Do you feel that sex is the only way that you feel that your partner loves you? Do you use sex to help you get rid of anxiety or help you fall asleep at night? Do you use sex to try to cheer you up or make you feel more attractive or good? Do you think that you may be using sex in a compulsive way?

When couples begin to talk about the differences they have in their libidos, they may find that some of these apply or that none of them apply. But as they talk about it, they can start to understand the other person's point of view. In that discussion, a couple can also talk about what other activities or variations they would be happy with incorporating into their sex life. For example, if a person is tired, would they agree to help their partner masturbate for a few minutes so that it would be an experience that they share together? Would a person consider having some physical touching to feel closeness, but not necessarily need sex? Would the lower-desire partner allow themselves to say "yes" to foreplay before making the decision as to whether or not they want to have sex?

Oftentimes a couple will know if they have widely varying sexual drives at the beginning of their sexual relationship. But other times, the excitement of a new relationship, or giving your partner exactly what they ask for every time they ask becomes the priority so as not to risk rejection. In that case, discrepancies of sexual desire may not become evident until the relationship has been going on for some time. Sometimes the causes are evident to both parties, but other times there is confusion about why the discrepancy exists. One thing is for sure, pressure without communication tends to cause worsening of the problem because that anxiety quickly short-circuits all sexual arousal. Also, the longer a conflict exists between the both of you without communication and work to resolve it, the greater the buildup of anger, resentment, and negative thoughts and feelings towards your partner. The sooner it is addressed, the easier it will be to resolve or reach a compromise.