“MISMATCHED” LIBIDOS OR
SEXUAL DESIRE DISPARITY
WHAT IS LIBIDO?
Sexual desire, libido or sexual appetite, refers to the thought or feeling of urgency that motivates us to seek out sexual satisfaction. Desire is subjective and fluctuates over time and depends on the state of the relationship, aging, as well as physical and emotional factors.
IS SEXUAL DESIRE DISPARITY NORMAL?
Most every couple has unequal levels of sexual desire. It would be extremely rare, if not impossible, to find two people with perfectly matched libidos. And even if that was possible, it would definitely be impossible for them to be in sync every single time. Desire discrepancies are bound to occur because level of individual sexual desire fluctuates over time and is affected by multiple factors. Desire discrepancy is perfectly natural then.
WHY IS SEXUAL DESIRE DISPARITY LESS COMMON IN EARLY STAGES OF RELATIONSHIPS?
At the beginning of a romantic relationship, in the courtship stages, partners have typically stronger desire for one another. The novelty of the relationship and the feel-good hormone (i.e., dopamine) flooding our brains fuel passion. As dopamine levels subside and the novelty effect wears off naturally, within six months to three years into the relationship, sex drive typically declines slightly. Later, after children are born, there is a further decrease in sex drive. Additionally, sexual desire usually also declines as we age. In this climate, once the initial excitement of a new relationship fades away, sex must become more intentional.
HOW "MISMATCHED LIBIDOS" AFFECT COUPLES?
Discrepant sexual desire in a relationship is one of the most common and troubling reasons why partners seek couples counseling and sex therapy. It is important to note that this issue is not gender dependent (i.e., “female issue") nor is it limited to heterosexual couples. Same-sex couples (both males and females) report this concern as well.
Couples seek help from a sex therapist because they are often not in agreement when to have sex, where to have it or how to have it and they seem unable to find a satisfactory compromise. What they might have tried before is one partner modifying their own desire grudgingly and under pressure and to their own psychological detriment. It almost always inevitably causes more distress and conflict down the line. Higher level of desire discrepancy often causes more sexual dissatisfaction for women but more relationship dissatisfaction for men. When partners have mismatched desire, it can often lead to emotional, behavioral and cognitive distress. Also, when couples complaint about mismatched libidos, the partner who is most sexually dissatisfied, is also likely to be less happy overall with the relationship.
SEX THERAPY IS EFFECTIVE IN ADDRESSING "MISMATCHED LIBIDOS"
In sex therapy, which in the case of sexual desire discrepancies, is most effective when conducted with both partners, I encourage clients to carefully examine their individual needs, as well as the meanings and assumptions about their different libidos. At times, the increased need for sex may be masking the actual need for affection and affirmation. And often the negative things they tell themselves about themselves, their partners and their relationships have a tendency to further complicate this problem.
There are several approaches I use as a sex therapist that often help alleviate tension, blaming, guilt and frustration in a relationship where one person seems to have high sexual needs and the other does not. It is crucial though to rule out any medical or psychological problems first. If none are identified, sex therapy proceeds with the emphasis on partners' having regular, deliberate conversations about sex, sexual plans, sexual acts, expectations, assumptions and preferences because these discussions prevent a lot of negative feelings in the long run. Additionally, my interventions involve providing information, education, suggestions for behavioral changes, broadening the range of activities, beyond the obvious ones, that both partners consider sexual, rethinking monogamy, and helping partners increase mutual empathy and support.
If you would like to learn how sex therapy can be a good treatment option for you and your partner, please click below and book a free phone consultation with me.