It’s a scenario played out in bedrooms across the globe: One person makes a move, and the other bats them away, saying, “Not tonight.” But what do you do when your partner’s rarely — if ever — in the mood? How do you handle being the partner with the amped-up libido?
Here’s the good news. You don’t have to resign yourself to a life of sexual frustration. There are solutions — if you’re willing to work at it.
What affects a person’s sex drive?
Sex drive is fluid and individual and can go up and down due to stress, energy levels, body image, well-being and the state of the relationship. It can also reflect medical issues, like sleep disorders and hormonal imbalance.
While everyone’s sex drive is unique, there is a sexual scale. For some people, sex is paramount; others crave it much less. Australian sexologist Dr. Nikki Goldstein explains, “We’re all different people with different desires.”
New York sex therapist Dr. Stephen Snyder agrees and links desire to libido. “Drives are things like hunger and thirst that we’d die of if we didn’t satisfy. Nobody dies from lack of sex. Rather, [sex therapists] tend to think of libido as a capacity to respond to something you find sexy with desire or arousal,” he tells SheKnows.
Both experts say it’s common for one partner to have a higher libido than the other, but according to Goldstein, “It doesn’t mean you’re incompatible, and it’s not something to be fearful of.” Though men are stereotyped as the pursuers, the reverse is also common. As Goldstein puts it, the myth is men are goal-oriented — “or hole-oriented, if you will!” — and women feel obligated. She believes for many couples, the issue isn’t libido, but rather boredom.
“Women have creative minds, and many want to explore their sexuality, but why would they keep doing something if they’re not getting satisfaction out of it?” she says.
Not only that, but women tend to lose desire unless someone is giving them something worth desiring, Snyder adds.
The same goes for men. Boredom as well as issues like erectile dysfunction, porn overuse, loss of confidence and relationship stress can all cause a man’s libido to cool.
Over time, those differences in desire can take an emotional toll on a relationship, as one partner feels constantly rejected and the other tired of fending off sexual advances. As a couple, Snyder says, it’s important to recognize the negative cycle you’re in so you can work on getting out of it.
If you’re feeling sexually unsatisfied in your relationship, communication is crucial — and Goldstein says to offer specific suggestions. Instead of just letting your partner know you’re not happy, “tell them what to do so there are no guessing games.”
Similarly, Snyder points out people want sex for a number of reasons: looking for an orgasm, attention, reassurance or to feel close to their partner. His advice is to figure out what your motivations are and then frame them in a positive way (rather than a complaint). He gives an example that’s as simple as saying, “I think if we had sex once a week, that would make me feel better about myself and us.” By solving emotional issues, you’ll be one step closer to a more synced-up sex life.
Communication aside, you could also try arousing each other in different ways, and redefining what sex means to you. In other words, experiment. This might involve introducing toys into the bedroom, mutually masturbating or drawing out foreplay via kissing, massaging or showering together. Sometimes, thinking outside the box is the trick.
“If A just wants an orgasm, and B doesn’t want sex, often the best solution is for A to give themselves an orgasm, while B holds them, kisses them or otherwise plays a supportive role,” Snyder explains.
Another idea is to explore having sex at unusual times or places to see if that sparks a change.
Along with enhancing the erotic connection, tackle the romantic side of the relationship. Long-term relationships can stale over time, so put some effort into reigniting the passion by planning date nights (like you would have when you first started dating) and even sex sessions. By doing so, you’ll be taking charge of your sex life, but just remember to communicate with your partner about what they want/need to feel sexually fulfilled.
Relieving the pressure
For Emma*, a woman in her 20s, learning not to taking her partner’s low libido personally was a challenge.
A few months into her long-term relationship, it “became obvious I needed more intimacy.” Since Emma had been conditioned to believe that “men always want it,” it was frustrating until she noticed her partner’s interest in sex only waned when he was stressed at work. He confirmed her suspicions, and they came to a compromise: When she was aroused and he wasn’t, she would masturbate and give him the option to join in. It was a success. Now, she has a sexual outlet, and he is happy the pressure is off him.
Bottom line: Having different sex drives isn’t ideal, but there are definitely ways around it. With a little work and patience, you and your partner should be able to get through this in a way that works for both of you.
*Name has been changed.