What to Do When You Have Mismatched Libido in a Relationship

A mismatched libido, also known as sexual desire discrepancy, is a common issue in relationships that occurs when one partner has a higher or lower sex drive than the other. While a difference in sexual desire in couples is normal, it may cause a lot of stress for some. Luckily, there are ways to help mitigate this difference, including scheduling sex, exploring intimacy without sex, self-pleasure, and therapy.

What is a mismatched libido?

A mismatched libido, which is also known as sexual desire discrepancy, is when each person within a relationship has a different level of sexual desire than the other. There are a number of factors that can influence a person's sexual desire, including:

  • Stress
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Relationship problems
  • Trauma
  • Pregnancy
  • Menopause
  • Pain during sex
  • Self-esteem
  • Illness
  • Certain medications

As these factors influence a person's sexual desire, a mismatched libido is not necessarily permanent, and some couples could experience a change in their sexual desire for a brief period in their relationships. For example, a couple may experience mismatched libido during pregnancy and postpartum, but their desire may return to previous levels once the child is sleeping through the night.

It’s important to note that the stereotype surrounding men having higher rates of desire, and women having lower rates, is not true and is also heteronormative. Many women experience higher rates of sexual desire than their partners. And sexual desire discrepancy is common in many relationship types, including gay, lesbian, and queer relationships.

How common is mismatched libido?

Having a different amount of sexual desire than your partner is normal and extremely common, with one study finding it affects around 80% of couples.

It's important to remember that having a higher or lower sex drive than your partner is normal and that, as many factors impact sexual desire, it is bound to change at different stages of life. Having a mismatched libido isn't necessarily an issue that needs to be worked on. For some couples, a mismatched libido isn't a big deal, but for others, it can cause enormous strain on the relationship.

Can a relationship work with mismatched libidos?

Yes, a relationship with mismatched libidos can work. Couples who use empathy, understanding, good communication, and compromise find that they can have a pleasurable and satisfying sex life.

Mismatched libidos — what to do

If you and your partner are experiencing mismatched libidos, there are a few things that you can try.

Communicate your concerns

If you are experiencing a discrepancy in sexual desire within your relationship, the first thing you need to do is communicate with your partner. Pick a time when both partners are free from distraction and have an open and honest discussion about your concerns, needs, desires, and boundaries. Make sure that you listen to your partner's concerns and treat them with respect, avoiding any blame or shame.

Compromise

Once you and your partner have communicated your concerns, needs, desires, and boundaries, work out a way in which each person can have some of their needs met. To do this, both partners will need to compromise and incorporate different strategies, including scheduling sex, exploring intimacy without having sex, self-pleasure, addressing the underlying issues, and potentially seeing a therapist.

Respect each other's boundaries

First and foremost, remember that it is always ok to say 'no.' Neither partner should be pressuring the other into doing something they're not comfortable with. However, if the relationship is safe and healthy for each partner, and the couple is committed to working through their differences in libido, the partner with the lower libido should provide their partner reassurance when saying no to avoid feeling personally rejected.

Tips for couples experiencing sexual desire discrepancy

If you and your partner have a different amount of sexual desire, there are a few tips that you can try.

Schedule sex

Scheduling sex has many benefits. First, it helps us to prioritize our pleasure in a world where so many other things are competing for our attention. It's also great for those who have responsive desire, who are turned on only once they are sexually stimulated. Scheduling sex also helps to take the pressure off initiating sex, as the partner with the higher desire doesn't feel guilt or rejection from initiating. Scheduling intimacy also creates anticipation and excitement leading up to the event.

Explore intimacy without sex

Exploring intimacy without having sex allows couples to build on their emotional connection, which increases trust and closeness, all essential ingredients to having good sex. Couples can also maintain intimacy through physical touches, such as kissing, cuddling, and spending time together doing their favorite activities.

Additionally, couples may like to reframe their understanding of sex and focus on sexual or intimate acts outside of penetration. For example, one partner may be feeling tired but open to receiving oral sex but unable to put in much effort. This may please the other partner, who is willing to give pleasure and finds this sexually stimulating.

Try self-pleasure

If you find yourself wanting more sex than your partner, self-pleasure can help to reduce the pressure on both partners, as the higher-desire partner can experience sexual pleasure without having to pressure their partner.

Self-pleasure is also beneficial for the lower-desire partner, as it can help to increase their desire and sexual self-confidence, and they may find new ways to pleasure themselves, which can be communicated back to their partner.

Try therapy

Many people find that seeing a sex therapist or mental health professional who specializes in sex and relationships is beneficial. Therapists can offer support and guidance and help address any underlying factors that may be contributing to the discrepancy in desire.

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