While you and your partner might feel bummed about it, difference in sexual desire is a completely normal fact of life.
No matter the cause, experiencing varied levels of libido to your partner can make you feel out of sync or even wrong for each other. While sexual desire is not a match indicator, it is something you, understandably, want to sort out. Well, here’s our handy how-to, informed by accredited clinical sexologist and psychotherapist, Catriona Boffard.
What Affects Sex Drive?
Differences in sex drive are normal, and the sooner you and your partner accept this, the better. When you accept that mixed libido is normal, you form a protective layer within your relationship by accepting your partner as they are, and learning about them and blending your desires for a mutually satisfying sex life.
So many things affect sex drive. Medication (like antidepressants), weight, self-esteem, anxiety, and the barrage of messages we receive about sex from media and pop culture, all affect our libido. Add in all the uncertainty, stress, and grief brought on by the pandemic, and you may find getting down and dirty has slowed down a bit more than you’d like. But most often the dynamic between two people is what makes or breaks a balance in sex drive between partners.
The nature of your relationship with your partner, and external stress can hinder your libido, or conversely give it a boost. But perhaps the most common barrier to fulfilling sex (and resulting improved sex drive), is context.
Your limbic system (emotional brain) changes according to your external circumstances and internal mental state. Under stress, your limbic system becomes devoted to threat avoidance, and that affects how you respond to sexual queues.
For example, if you’re cooking a dinner for a romantic date and your partner comes up behind you and kisses you and touches you in all the right places, you get turned on. If you’re cooking dinner on a stressful weeknight, your baby is crying, the kitchen’s a mess, and your mind is on work troubles, your partner could come up behind you and kiss you and touch you in all the right places, but rather than get turned on, your limbic system reverts to threat avoidance and you might feel annoyed and turned off.
In essence, context is everything. To have good sex with your partner, you both need to be relaxed, not stressed out or worried. This can get tricker to achieve as life changes, so it’s important to be open with your partner and work to create the context that does it for you.
Spontaneous vs Responsive Sexual Desire
Spontaneous desire is the desire you think you and your partner should have. It’s a lightning bolt to your junk that tells you ‘hey, you’re horny, you should get some!’ It builds up in anticipation of sex. Spontaneous desire is one of a few healthy forms of sexual desire, but we’re subconsciously taught that it’s the only one.
Responsive desire is another form of sexual desire, and rather than building up in anticipation of sex, it builds up in response to sexual queues.
If the sex isn’t good, you won’t have either of these. You won’t be reaching for sex because you don’t enjoy it, and you won’t be reacting well to the initiation of sex, because it feels like there’s nothing in it for you.
The typical age at which people have their first truly spectacular sex encounter is 55. That’s a long time of less-than-incredible sex before you find sexual enlightment so to speak. It’s normal not to want sex you don’t like, and that could be one reason your or your partner’s sex drive has taken a dip.
So How Do We Fix It?
First, you abandon the idea of fixing. Fixing is for broken things, and a mismatched libido is not a broken relationship. You also need to realise that perfect sex is unattainable. Accept that good enough sex is an achievement. Turning the focus from the orgasm to the journey there can make sex a more fun, curious, learning experience.
Another thing you should do when it comes to libido and sex is abandon the idea of spontaneous sex. Our lives are run by schedules – even our bowl movements are timed, whether you notice or not. Planning sex works it into your schedule and gives you something to look forward to.
To work on evening out your libido with your partner, you need to speak openly with them about why they want to have sex with you. Is it because they feel connected with you? Is it because they feel attractive when they have sex with you?
Understanding the reasons your partner wants to have sex with you could help you gauge when it is they would feel most keen on it, and why they may need or not need the satisfaction of sex. Active listening when having these conversations and any conversations about sex and your relationship is a key part of strong communication.
Keep in mind that both partners are responsible for meeting the other halfway. The partner with a higher libido should also work to have sex less, at the same time that the partner with a lower libido works to have sex more. It isn’t fair to expect one partner to entirely sacrifice their need for sex (or lack thereof) for the sake of the other.
That brings us to our next point.
To navigate desire well, it’s important to not take things personally. Your partner should feel alright telling you they’re not in the mood tonight, without it feeling like a personal attack on you, and vice versa.
A mismatched sex drive is normal, and it doesn’t mean that there’s something fundamentally wrong with you or your partner. It can be caused by anything from stress, self-esteem, and medication to less-than-fulfilling sex and even something as simple as the way you are. It takes work on both parts to build a sex life that is mutually satisfying, regardless of your differing libidos, but it is possible. So go out there, work on it, and see what you and your partner are capable of. You might just be surprised.
This post is part of the &BAM x Catriona Boffard mini-series. Catriona is an accredited clinical sexologist and psychotherapist. To learn more about Catriona or to follow her work check out https://catrionaboffard.com/ or follow her on IG @sexologywithcatriona
The articles published by &BAM are for informational purposes only and do not constitute medical advice. If you have any medical questions or concerns, you should contact your doctor.