We’ve all been there. Whether we are the one trembling at the suggestion of the whip when all we want is a nice cuddle, or the one frantically wanking to porn sites as our partner sleeps, the case of mismatched libidos is an almost universal problem to one degree or another. It can leave both/all partners feeling as if they are disregarding the other’s needs and easily filter into the emotional areas of a relationship too. As someone who leans more towards spending as much time as possible in the bedroom, I myself have often felt neglected when a partner doesn’t share my desires and concerned that not only are they not really attracted to me but also that they might feel they aren’t “enough” for me. I’m far from obsessed with sex, but to me it feels right to spend a fair amount of time doing it, in a way that leaves all parties satisfied. So what do you do if that isn’t possible?
“In my last relationship, my partner’s lack of self-confidence in the bedroom was mainly because she struggled a lot with self-esteem, as she’s not a skinny woman,” says Sarah, 38. “It was probably her who compromised the most – over time, as I helped her confidence grow, she did begin to come over to the dark side. Mind you, I guess she probably felt she was letting me down if she wasn’t fulfilling my sexual needs.” However, Sarah concludes: “I think for a lot of people, if they’ve not had kinky sex with an experienced partner, it can be difficult for them to find their own boundaries etc… then there’s the fear of rejection if they cross the line. Communication plays a huge part.”
It would be highly unusual if any two people did not have differences – often significant differences – in terms of the amount and kind of sex they want.Meg-John Barker
“I’m pretty much greyscale when it comes to sex,” says Jin, 25. “I could probably live without it altogether, although I’m not averse to the odd gentle vanilla tryst. I suppose I’m lucky in that I live in a triad so my partners have each other to express their sexual sides with. I can’t help feeling a little guilty when they get dressed up for a fetish club and leave me at home with the cat, but equally I don’t feel any pressure to do anything I don’t want to do. In previous relationships my partners have been a lot less understanding, accusing me of being a closet straight and all sorts, but in this relationship love really does seem to conquer all.”
Meg-John Barker, author of How to Understand Your Sexuality and editor of rewriting-the-rules.com says: “It would be highly unusual if any two people did not have differences – often significant differences – in terms of the amount and kind of sex they want. It would be great if we could assume, going into relationships, that this would be the case and talk openly about how we’d like to navigate these discrepancies. Unfortunately there’s a huge cultural mythology that if a relationship is ‘right’ we’ll be matched in terms of our sex drives and desires. This means that people find it very hard to acknowledge, and get support around it, when that’s not the case.”
Rather than allowing sex to affect every area of a relationship, Barker suggests: “It’s very useful to untangle sex from other things where possible. Instead of thinking, or saying, ‘I want sex’ we can tune in and identify what we really want, and then assess whether sex is the only way to get there. In your example it sounds like somebody wants to feel wanted by their partner. Can they explore where that ‘wanting to be wanted’ comes from, and what range of experiences give them that feeling? It’s very helpful to tune into what we really want and need, so we can take the pressure off sex being the only thing that can fulfil those wants and needs.” They also point out that sex drives don’t always stay the same as we age. “Given that all our sex drives and desires shift and change over time, even if we were 100% compatible at one point in time (unlikely!) then that won’t be true for the whole length of our relationship.”
“There are many ways to navigate having different sex drives than your partner(s),” says Jesse Kahn, LCSW-R, CST – Director & Sex Therapist at The Gender & Sexuality Therapy Center in New York. “Differing sex drives are primarily an issue when you don’t know how to communicate together. It’s all about figuring out what works for you in your partnership. First it’s important to communicate, listen, and empathise. A lot of times experiences of being pressured or undesired can be managed through communication and feeling like you’re on the same team in figuring out how to manage your differing needs.”
Kahn is, naturally, a keen proponent of seeking therapy in these situations. “I highly recommend reaching out to a sex therapist to support you in having these conversations. Sex, desire, and our relationship needs can all be very emotional topics with deeper roots in topics related to intimacy, closeness, value and beliefs systems. These are also all topics that we haven’t all necessarily learned how to communicate through. Sometimes differing sex drives causing problems is about actual sex and sometimes it’s about intimacy, closeness, belief systems and a variety of other reasons. Taking time to get clear with yourself about what is actually at the root of the hurt, pain or problem can be really useful. Don’t underestimate self-pleasure and consider if you’re putting all of your pleasure-based needs on to your partner(s) and relationships.”
Not every relationship can survive a case of vastly mismatched libidos, but with a bit of TLC many can. After all, if and when we get old and grey together, a lot (although not all!) of us will be a bit too stiff for the sex swing and prefer a quick peck over the Horlicks before bed. If we still have something to talk about before we doze off, then we’re probably doing okay. It doesn’t have to be a dealbreaker, but there’s no shame in it if it is. Relationships are meant to make us happier and if they’re failing to do that in any way, it’s time to make some repairs. If that isn’t possible, it might just be time to let her go down (no pun intended).