One of the most common issues couples face in the bedroom is a mismatched libido. It’s perfectly normal for a person’s sex drive to fluctuate. One week, it’s through the roof. The next, it’s Dullsville. Sexual desire does a lot of things, but it rarely holds steady. Here are eight tips for how to approach this sensitive topic.
Reframe the word "libido"
As a sex therapist, one of the biggest problems Dr. Juliana Morris faces is that most people don't really have an understanding of what desire and libido are. “I started dropping the word ‘libido’ because some people have such a negative reaction to the word and felt like it was too medical and clinical,” she tells SheKnows. “That narrows people's view of how to go about the problem and find a solution for it.”
For people who’ve lost their sexual desire along the way, Morris has developed a course called The Wanting, which explores what desire is — what you and your partner want — and the societal pressures places on what a “normal” sex life looks like. Sure, it’s about desire and libido, but it shifts the dialogue into actively figuring out what you want versus focusing on what’s lacking.
What does desire mean to you?
Sexual desire and drive, like many things, exists on a spectrum and doesn't mean the same thing to all people. “I think when you start having discussions about what desire is with your partner, you really have to know if you’re talking about the same thing,” says Morris. “You really do need to look at what you’re wanting."
For instance, if you want to let your partner know that you're not satisfied with your current arrangement and would like to talk about it and figure out something that would make you both happy, Morris says that it's important to remember in these cases that they're likely equating happiness with how many times they're having sex.
However, there’s more to desire than how many times you’re doing it, and only you and your partner can define what that means to you.
If you have an open dialogue, dive right in
Are you already in a good place in terms of being able to communicate with your partner? That's a great start, Xanet Pailet, sex and intimacy coach and author of Living an Orgasmic Life: Heal Yourself and Awaken Your Pleasure tells SheKnows.
“The conversation with a partner is pretty straightforward if you have already established open communication around your sex life,” she says.
Pailet suggests saying something like, “I’m noticing that my libido has been really low lately and it’s making me not want to have sex.” It might also be helpful to add some expression of empathy, such as, “This must be hard for you to hear,” or “I’m so sorry to be disappointing you.”
As with most aspects of a relationship, discussing a mismatched libido requires having empathy for your partner.
“It’s important to remember that the partner with the lower libido has the power over sex in the relationship, and that person needs to be even more empathetic and attuned to their partner’s needs and frustrations,” says Pailet. “In a couple with open communication, these types of conversations can lead to deeper connection and intimacy as well as create joint problem-solving strategies.”
This may involve getting hormone levels checked, talking about desire (or lack thereof) and reaching out to a professional sex therapist or coach for support, Pailet explains.
Don’t ignore the issue
What's worse than an awkward conversation about sex drive? Not having one at all. Pailet says the most common pattern she sees with couples who cannot freely communicate about sex is to sweep it under the rug.
If one partner is constantly telling the other partner, “I’m not in the mood,” it may make them feel rejected and undesirable. Understandably so, and over time, this will end up building a tremendous amount of resentment and often leads to a sexless relationship.
“This can obviously happen the other way around, but it’s typically the woman who loses her libido first,” Pailet notes. “The solution, of course, is to begin to communicate, but with couples who already are struggling with communication around sex, this is fraught with danger.”
Take a health assessment
When it comes to your sex drive, there could be a lot of different factors at play.
For instance, Morris has her clients look at their mental health, physical health (past and current), relationships (past and current), family origin, any medications they’re on, reproductive health and period (if people are still having periods), menstruation history (and if they’re in menopause, where they are with that) as well as hormones. “They have to go to a physician and get their hormones checked, only just as a baseline,” she says. “I’ve actually found that hormones aren’t a huge part of why people are coming to me. It’s a part of it, but rarely the only thing going on. But people are told and they think that’s what it is.”
Write an email
For some, opening up in writing may be easier than doing so in person.
“One way to open up communication is to write your partner an email rather than have an initial face-to-face conversation,” Pailet suggests. “Often, we can express our feelings better when there is a little bit of distance. It also provides the other person the time to digest the information and process it.”
Get to the root of the issue
When dealing with mismatched libidos, there's a decent chance that it may be part of a larger issue with the relationship.
“Having the conversation is important, but, of course, the real issue is why is the partner suffering from low libido in the first place?” Pailet says.
There are multifaceted reasons for low libido in women and men. “While sometimes, it’s obvious (a new mom, for example), often it’s not and is related to many different factors," she explains. "However, one of the most common for women is feeling the lack of intimacy and emotional connection with a partner.”
The bottom line
Although it’s nice to “match” your partner’s libido, it’s more important when faced with differences to recognize and compromise to find common ground. Be sure to nurture communication and connection with your partner — without putting pressure on them — and you’ll be better positioned to create true intimacy.