Dealing with Mismatched Libidos
There are some people who need no prompting in order to ramp up their sexual desires, who either want sex or are receptive to it at all times. Then, there are others who take a little more coaxing or warming up before they get in the mood. Sometimes – read: more often than you think – these people wind up in relationships together, and their different approaches to passion can become a source of confusion or frustration.
The main issue when feelings get hurt discussing mismatched libidos stems from the lack of education on the topic in our youth. Realistically, young people are learning about sex through scripted media and pornography where libido is not discussed. And while yes, it may be awkward to hear your parents talk about how often they have sex, the reality is that we end up not ever talking about it until our first serious relationships, where it becomes trial and often error. When it comes to libido and sex drive, it’s important to first understand what someone does and doesn’t have control over, like their natural libido.
A little sex drive primer: the sex drive isn’t a switch set to on or off. It’s a spectrum with no universal ‘normal’. If you and your partner’s libidos don’t match up, neither of you are at fault; if one person wants it multiple times a week and one might want it once or twice a month, even these numbers can fluctuate.
When it comes to you and your partner, do your sex drives match up? No matter which end of the spectrum you fall on, if this discrepancy of libidos exists in your relationship, the responsibility falls on both of you when it comes to dealing with the issue.
Please note that talking about what you want sexually should not be done in the heat of the moment or right after a sex session. This can make your partner feel as though they have not given enough and actually discourage them and cause them to get defensive. A good time to express desires are outside of the bedroom, during non-sexual intimate moments. For example, while bundled up and watching a movie (not to disrupt the best parts of course), or during a walk around the neighborhood.
First of all, don’t take it personally.
If your advances to your partner are being rebuffed or going unnoticed, keep in mind that it’s likely not about you. Your partner’s lack of libido can come from factors like physiological issues or their level of self-esteem – or just who they are. As you move forward to reaching an understanding, be empathetic, as long as they also acknowledge that they also want things to change.
When you’re feeling rejected, it’s likely you’ll feel hurt and angry. As difficult as it might be, maintaining a level of kindness and thoughtfulness directed toward your partner will in turn reinforce your emotional closeness.
On the other hand, if you’re the person with the lower libido, it might be time to restructure your thinking framework. A lot of people will see this initiation as their partner only wanting sex from them, while really it is a compliment that their partner is attracted by them. If we lead with the compliment framework first, we can incorporate the intimacy that can lay foundation to anything sensual. In general, honoring how your partner is feeling regardless of their libido level is important in maintaining the connection that all relationships should have.
Talk, Talk, Talk
Easier said than done, I know: none of this is to say you should be taken for granted by a partner who simply will not meet you halfway on the matter. You have to know when enough is enough – which, surprise, is easiest to figure out by having open, non-judgmental conversations with your partner – but first let your partner know that finding a satisfying way to reconcile your discordant sex drives is a focus for you, and has to be for them as well.
One of the ways to get started in reaching a compromise is to think about your sex number. In this case, your sex number is a 1-10 scale of how sexual you consider yourself to be. On your own, think about where you see yourself, sexually, and have your partner do the same. Then, share the number with your partner.
If anything, this is a starting point to know where you and your partner are at in order to begin working toward the middle ground. Where do you go from there? Frank, honest communication, as well as a bit of laughter. Having the ability to add some levity to the issue, not making it into a life-or-death struggle, will reinforce the feeling that you’re dealing with the issue together.
Being able to laugh about your mismatched libido while also trying to deal with the issue takes a lot of the edge off, but that’s not all: it will also remind you both about what works in your relationship and why you’re working together to make it last.
The libido you have when you enter a relationship isn’t necessarily the same one you maintain throughout it. Being on the same page as your partner isn’t important, but understanding what page your partner is on is.
Donna is a Volonté contributor and freelancer who lives in San Francisco with her understanding husband and not-so-understanding teenage sons. Her work has been published in The Journal of Sexology and she is currently writing a book on love languages.