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Coping With Mismatched Sexual Desire

Written by Lucy Snider
I recognise that gender is distinct from sex assigned at birth and that gender identity and sexual/romantic orientation are fluid concepts. For the purposes of this article “women” refers to those people who define their gender identity as female and “men” refers to those people who define their gender identity as male[1].

One of the most common complaints in my therapy room is “mismatched libido”. This usually means one person feels they want to have sex more than the other person and it’s causing conflict or tension in the relationship.

Often, the person that feels they want sex less is labeled as having “low libido” and they come to therapy looking for help to “fix their libido”. The common stereotype that “men” always want sex more than “women” is not true, I see equal numbers of “men” and “women” complaining of low sex drive.

While I can completely understand and empathize with the nature of this problem, it’s important to take a step back and reflect on the roots of this issue.

Every day in the media we are bombarded with overtly sexualized images and storylines. We all know sex sells, but unfortunately, it sells us a lie.

The media, film, and television perpetrate a myth that “happy couples” have “regular sex” and if you’re not having sex well then that’s a problem.

Add in the contradictory messages that typically “women” should be “sexually naïve and inexperienced” and “men” should “know what to do and always want to do it” and you’ve got a recipe for disaster.

So let’s break this problem down. Firstly, “libido” or “sex drive” is not static. There are many reasons why a person would choose to engage in sexual activity and these are ever changing over the course of our lifetime[2].

Physical, emotional and relationship issues can all contribute to a person’s level of sex drive.

Such examples are: menopause, chronic pain conditions, diabetes, heart disease, depression, anxiety, trauma, grief, infidelity, communication problems or on-going relationship conflict.

Additionally, sex drive is a spectrum ranging from people who never experience sexual attraction to others (who may refer to themselves as “asexual”[3]) through to people who worry they experience it too much.

Where you fall on this spectrum is also changeable over the course of your life. In short, there is no “normal” level of libido and there is no “normal” amount of time a couple should be having sex.

Sexual Attraction
She is trying to please her spouse as she experience spontaneous desire. Shutterstock Images

What is important is that both people in the relationship feel they are able to get their needs met and that they can agree on how best to achieve this.

The idea of “spontaneous desire” often portrayed in film and television is also unhelpful. Broadly speaking “men” experience spontaneous desire more than “women” (although of course this is a generalization and there are lots of “women” who do experience spontaneous desire and lots of “men” who don’t).

Related: Find 10 Amazing Reasons Why Your Body Craves For Regular Sex?

Spontaneous desire is the idea that you would experience sexual desire randomly in the absence of any particular sexual stimulus, for example when you’re doing the laundry.

Often when people say they have low libido, what they mean is they never or rarely experience spontaneous desire. There can be a feeling of having to wait for spontaneous desire to happen before engaging in a sensual activity.

However, if you are someone that rarely experiences spontaneous desire, you could be waiting a long time! But just because you don’t experience spontaneous desire doesn’t mean there is something “wrong” with you.

It may be that what you experience more often is responsive desire. Responsive desire was first introduced by Basson (2000)[4] and takes into account the varied motivations for engaging in sexual contact including whether it is a positive experience or not as well as the fact that sexual desire may occur after becoming physically aroused.

This means that if you don’t enjoy sex with your partner chances are you won’t be very receptive to their advances. The more you reject them, the less often they initiate and you can quickly fall into a stalemate.

So we also need to consider why someone might not be enjoying sex. This takes us back to the unrealistic images portrayed in the media. For “women” who are expected to be naïve, chances are they haven’t had much opportunity or feel guilty about exploring their sexuality.

Masturbation and Sex
Giving a sensual touch to himself while watching Adult movie. Shutterstock Images

Masturbation is a key part of sexual development, but many people have experienced shame from being told it’s wrong to masturbate. Without knowing what type of touch you like, it’s going to be hard to communicate what you need to a partner.

Equally “men” who are supposed to know what to do probably haven’t been able to practice asking what a partner needs. If you touch your partner the way you think they might like but you’re wrong, chances are that won’t be very enjoyable for them!

Finally, “sex” often means “intercourse” or more commonly PIV (penis-in-vagina) sex. This is a very narrow definition of “sex” and makes many assumptions including that the two people engaging in sex have one penis and one vagina to begin with, that they both work and that they both enjoy that kind of sex!

Additionally over 80% of people with vaginas cannot achieve orgasm through penetrative intercourse alone[5].

Broadening your definition of sex to include almost any activity that you find sensual and pleasurable opens up much more opportunities for enjoyable sex, which opens up much more opportunities for sexual desire.

The key to understanding your own desire, needs and pleasure is self-exploration and open, honest communication with your partner, both of which may be challenging if you have never done them before.

Communication With Partner
Couple are discussing about their sexual issues. Shutterstock Images

Start small, open up the conversation with an “I” statement such as “I feel unhappy about the sex we’re having, I’d love to talk about it with you and see what we could do about it”.

That way your partner will be less likely to feel attacked or blamed. Start by exploring your own body through sensual touch or masturbation. If the idea of masturbation makes you feel uncomfortable, try to reflect on why this might be.

Did you receive unhelpful messages about sex and your body at home or at school?

Can you give yourself permission to let these ideas go?

Can you approach your sexuality with curiosity and playfulness rather than shame and a sense of duty?

Take PIV sex off the table, what other sensual activities can you share with your partner that you can both enjoy?

Read Next: Is Intercourse Depend On Sexual Desire?

Conclusion

If you really feel stuck and you don’t know where to start, consider arranging an appointment with a sex therapist who can help you with communication and navigating your sexuality.

You are not alone and you don’t have to suffer in silence.

Image Credits
Feature Image Credit: shutterstock.com
Inpost Image Credit: shutterstock.com
References
Author

Contributor : Lucy Snider ()

This Article Has Been Published on November 8, 2018 and Last Modified on December 4, 2018

Lucy Snider is an experienced Psychosexual and Relationship Psychotherapist and Sexual Health Educator based in Kelowna, BC. She specialises in helping couples and individuals who are experiencing relationship or sexual difficulties by providing a safe, non-judgemental space for you to freely explore these sensitive issues as well as practical help and advice to help you overcome your problems. She works in a holistic, sex positive way with all clients regardless of ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, age or disability. She uses an integrative therapeutic approach which combines a variety of therapeutic models such as psychodynamic psychotherapy and CBT to tailor an individual treatment plan for each client. For more information you can contact her via her website at www.bcsexualwellness.com or you can follow her on social media like Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn.

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