Mismatched Libidos

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Is mismatched libido an issue in your relationship? It seems you are not alone!

Mismatched Libido

Millions of women don’t want sex, according to Oprah Winfrey. On one episode of her show, Oprah said, “low libido is now big, big, big”. Her parade of guests described their guilt and shame at never wanting or desiring sex again. One woman said: “I dread it. It would be fine if I never had sex again. I am never in the mood. I am afraid that he is going to get sick of the sexless marriage and leave”.

The issue for many marriages / long term relationships today isn’t trying to put out the fires of desire, it is trying to remember that there was a spark between them in the first place!

Low Libido can affect Men, too

But it is not always the woman struggling with a low sex drive; low libido can affect men too.

Mismatched libido or “desire discrepancy” is one of the most common causes of distress in a sexual relationship. Because our society is seen as sexually enlightened it is often the partner with the “low libido” who is seen as the one with the problem. This however oversimplifies things, according to Sandra Pertot, a Clinical Psychologist and Sex Therapist with more than 30 years’ experience.

Commonly, libido is thought to be just another term for sex drive, or the passionate desire for sex. However it is much more than that – it is about what triggers arousal and what dampens it; the importance of sex within the relationship compared to other parts of the relationship; the meaning of sex for each individual; and what role variety plays in the sexual relationship.

Couples frequently feel badly if their libido and / or sex life doesn’t measure up to Hollywood. A couple may adore each other, refer to each other as best friends, respect and feel loved by each other but be having very little activity in the bedroom.

Dealing with Mismatched Libido

One choice is to acknowledge the lack of sexual desire and decide whether or not that is something that you can live with. If your partner is a good friend, provider, good mother or father then you might consider having a limited sex life is a fair trade off. A rich fantasy life and lots of masturbatory sessions might be enough for you. As a couple you might decide to take a lover as they do in some European countries, and have your sexual needs met outside of the marriage. Or you could end the relationship and seek fulfillment elsewhere.

However if none of these sounds like a viable solution to you, there are ways to create a joyful and mutually fulfilling sex life despite the problem of mismatched libido.

When a couple differs in ways that have great meaning to the one partner or both partners, distress and confusion can be the start of the rot in the relationship. This can be seen in the importance of who initiates sex, how often and in what way.

While some couples are quite comfortable if one partner is taking on the role of initiating sex most the time, others feel unattractive or unloved if their partner never initiates sex at least half of the time in a passionate way. The hurt and the frustration can begin to interfere in other areas of the relationship.

Start with Discussion

While there is no therapy group or retreat program guaranteed to help with mismatched libidos, there is still much that couples can do on their own, starting with communication. Sandra Pertot outlines the following guidelines to start the discussion:

  1. Recognise that you are both equal but different. Nobody is right or wrong.
  2. Be respectful, courteous and practice compassion to each other with generosity and kindness of spirit when you are speaking of what is true for you. Try not to be surprised or defensive if your partner says something that appears hurtful or you disagree with; listening to somebody does not mean that you necessarily agree with them.
  3. Describe. Don’t judge. Don’t use words such as “cold” or “selfish”, or insist that it is your partner who has the issue. This can lead to defensiveness which automatically blocks communication. State the problem in objective terms eg “I would like to have more/less sex often” or “I would enjoy more variety in our sex life”.
  4. Be willing to really listen to your partner. Ask your partner’s opinion. Let your partner influence you. Be curious about your partner by asking open questions like: “What do you think will help here?” or “What would you like to do?” Show real interest in wanting to know the answers; don’t use this as a way to criticise your partner. Try and encourage your partner to an open and frank dialogue that might reveal previously unexplored solutions.
  5. Challenge your interpretations. Misinterpretations are common in cases of mismatched libidos. You may think your partner is being selfish or controlling, or does not love you – but it is possible that your partner feels the same way about you! So the result is that both of you are feeling hurt and lonely. Try to ask your partner questions like,”What does it mean when I say No to sex?” or “What do you think it means when I try for sex so often?” Without criticism then talk through these issues. If your partner is feeling as bad as you, try comforting each other and both acknowledge how sad it is for both of you.

Taking Action

Once you have gained a better understanding of each other’s point of view, Pertot suggests that each of you identify what you would like your partner to do to achieve a more satisfying sex life.

Remember, you are trying to create a “good enough” sex life, not a perfect one! Keep your requests realistic. There is no point in expecting a partner with a lower libido to suddenly start initiating sex in a passionate way. So look at what action on your partner’s behalf would demonstrate to you, that he or she is working on it.

Your part in the taking responsibility for developing a mutually satisfying sex life is to decide: What am I prepared to do now or in the near future towards meeting my partner’s needs? Are you willing to take on the challenge of committed action in line with what your partner has requested – or will you wait to see if your partner is going to change first?

If you both take on the responsibility for change and your focus is on meeting your partner’s needs rather than concentrating on yourself, ultimately your sex life should be able to move towards mutual wants and needs.

Finally, if the idea of discussing or resolving the problem of mismatched libidos seems too awkward or frightening, then you might want to consider jointly going to a qualified Sex Therapist such as myself for help.