No two people have the exact same level of sexual desire at the exact same time. But if desiring sex more or less often than your partner is the norm, it may cause rifts in your relationship and fuel an array of complications. Both you and your partner may feel a sense of resentment around not being sexually satisfied or intimately connected, or you may experience intense feelings of shame or embarrassment around not desiring sex “enough.” Whether you wish to even out the playing field desire-wise or learn to better cope with these differences, examining these 11 common causes and solutions can help.
1. Shame Can Take a Toll
Sexual shame is extremely common and derives from a range of factors, from limited sex education early in life to being taught that sex is sinful or bad. And there is nothing erotic or arousing about that, said Megan Fleming, Ph.D., a sex and relationships therapist in New York City. Having a partner with higher desire can also trigger shame, especially if you don't feel “sexy” or “sexual” enough for your partner. Fleming recommends gaining awareness of your shame patterns so you can address them. “How does it show up for you?” she suggests asking yourself. "Where and how do you feel shame in your body?”
If shame takes the form of physical tenseness, stretching or breathing exercises may help. If you feel emotionally panicked, you may benefit from therapy or mindfulness practices. Even awareness alone can go a long way toward boosting desire.
2. Parenting Brings Problems
Becoming parents can reduces the desire for sex in many couples. From exhaustion and heightened responsibility to hormonal shifts associated with childbirth and breastfeeding, sex may be the last thing on your mind.
“It’s normal for a woman to have low and sometimes no libido in the first few months of giving birth,” said Fleming. “Women often feel exhausted at the end of the day, and instead of seeing time to relax with their partner as an opportunity for connection and physical pleasure, they often feel as if one more thing is wanted from them, versus what they might also receive.”
A new dad may experience similar libido loss, especially if he’s struggled in the sleep department or takes on a lot of the child care responsibilities.
3. Remember to Prioritize Pleasure
If sex is MIA in your relationship since having a baby, give yourselves time to adjust to being new parents. When you feel ready, begin scheduling time for intimate connection. The anticipation of knowing you’ll engage in sensual play later can serve as a powerful aphrodisiac.
If you’re on the lower-desire side, Fleming suggests prioritizing pleasure for yourself as well your partner, knowing your whole family will benefit from the perks sex can bring, from relaxation and better sleep to feeling happier in general.
“It’s important to keep your inner sexy pilot light on,” she said. “[Take] responsibility and see the opportunity for turning yourself on long before your partner gets home, much less into the bedroom.”
4. Nagging Doesn't Make Things Better
If you’re perpetually put down by your partner, your libido is likely to downshift as well. This is one of the most common causes of low libido in men that Fleming sees in her practice.
“If men feel nagged and as if they ‘aren’t good enough’ or have felt that their sexual performance has been critiqued or somehow comes up short of their partner’s expectations, this can be a cold shower for their libido,” she said. And even if a physiological factor is at play, such as premature ejaculation or erectile dysfunction, men tend to experience related emotional complications too, such as stress, anxiety and shame — all of which worsen libido issues.
In addition to addressing any underlying medical issues, address sexual challenges together, knowing there are many ways to give and experience pleasure and that compassion goes a long way.
5. Understand Her Pleasure Points
Couples with libido disparities may want to consider new definitions of “foreplay” and “sex,” according to Cyndi Darnell, a sex and relationship therapist in Melbourne, Australia.
“The word ‘foreplay’ suggests it’s coming before some other major event,” she said. “We have to change this. The stroking and caressing of the vulva is not foreplay. It’s sex.” Only considering penis-in-vagina intercourse for heterosexual couples greatly reduces female pleasure and orgasm, she added, because of a lack of clitoral stimulation. And less pleasure potential can make sex less appealing for anyone.
“Expanding sex practices to include her clitoris and the G-spot — the back of the clitoris — by using your fingers or toys (the spots where your penis may not reach due to ‘design features’),” she said, “are great ways to make you a better lover and provide more pleasure for you and for her.”
6. Hormones Change With Age
As people age, levels of sex hormones estrogen and testosterone tend to decline. Dips in these hormones associated with menopause can trigger vaginal dryness, making penetrative sex painful and less appealing. Lower levels of these hormones can also hinder desire and sexual function in people with penises.
“It’s not uncommon that first signs of medical issues that might be vascular, endocrine or neurological might first manifest [as] changes in sexual response,” said Fleming, who suggests a physical exam for anyone experiencing significant desire shifts.
If you have a hormonal deficiency, hormone therapy may help. Taking more time for foreplay and using a lubricant or vaginal moisturizer can also boost libido by minimizing dryness and enhancing arousal and pleasure.
7. Try a Libido-Friendly Diet
Arousal requires healthy blood flow to your genitals, so if your diet lacks heart-healthy foods, your libido may lack fuel as well. Eating more foods rich in flavonoids, such as fruits and vegetables, is linked with a lower instance of erectile dysfunction, according to a study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in January 2013. Other research has linked Mediterranean-style diets, which are rich in similar foods, with reduced menopause symptoms. These factors are important, seeing as ED and menopause contribute to libido loss.
In addition to seeing your doctor for regular blood pressure and cholesterol checkups, exercise regularly and aim for a diet rich in foods that improve blood flow, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, salmon, nuts and seeds.
8. Mindfulness Matters
If you want to desire sex as much as your partner does, mindfulness may be just what the doctor ordered. If you’re distracted by everything but sex, you’re less likely to desire or enjoy physical intimacy.
“Pay attention to what kinds of contexts get you in the mood,” said Darnell — and it need not be physical. “It may be feeling relaxed, being away from your regular environment, being sure that you’ve had a shower. Desire is a state of mind as well as a feeling, and that can occur throughout the day, not just at night in bed with your pants off.”
Send flirty texts to your partner when you’re apart, she suggests, to keep the mindset going and build anticipation. “Mindfulness in sex is about slowing things right down,” Darnell said. “Sex after a long day at work may feel rushed, tiring and just another thing on the to-do list.”
9. Communication is Key
When two libidos vary, the person with higher desire may naturally initiate most often. But really the lower-libido partner controls the sexual relationship, said Fleming, whether they wish to or not, by determining how often sex happens.
“For the higher-libido partner, I first recommend that they communicate to their partner what sex helps them to feel [or] experience,” she said. “Commonly, the low-libido partner feels as if their high-libido partner just wants sex, and it could be with anyone. In 15 years of experience [as a sex therapist], I’d say that’s almost completely not true.”
Most higher-drive partners only desire sex with their partner, she added. Through sex, they feel more connected. With less pressure for “sex for the sake of sex,” your partner may feel more desirous because they, too, desire that connection.
10. Embrace Masturbation
If you wish to boost your libido, making time for solo play can help. Known for enhancing arousal and desire, masturbation can help remind you how great sex feels, discover new turn-ons and cultivate the habit of making time for your own pleasure. A study published in the Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy in February 2013 linked masturbation with greater ease in reaching arousal and orgasm in women.
Masturbation may also ease sexual tension in the higher-libido partner, making the discrepancy less bothersome, said Fleming, but it may also exacerbates matters. “If the latter [is true], talking with a sex therapist would be helpful to figure out individualized options and strategies for the couple,” she said.
11. Therapy Can Help
Whether you feel unable to navigate libido differences in your relationship on your own or simply wish to deepen intimacy, with professional guidance, therapy can help.
“Sex therapy has a lot to offer, [including] assessments and solutions individualized to your particular circumstances and needs,” said Fleming, who added that the notion that seeking therapy means you’re “crazy” or “indulgent” is completely false. “I’ve seen individuals and couples experience 'aha!' moments and actionable takeaways from a single consultation. For most [people], who are ready for change and motivated to take action, eight to 10 sessions can lead to significant growth and desired change.”
For the best potential benefits, seek the counsel of a credentialed and experienced sex and relationships therapist.
What Do YOU Think?
How do you address libido issues? Differences in libido are common, and different strokes work for different folks! What steps have you taken to even things out in the desire department or deal with marked discrepancies? Let us know in the comments below.
- Megan Fleming, PhD; GreatLifeGreatSex; New York City, New York
- Everyday Health: Menopause, Female Hormones and Sexuality
- The New England Journal of Medicine; Gonadal Steroids and Body Composition, Strength, and Sexual Function in Men
- The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition; Dietary Flavonoid Intake and Incidence of Erectile Dysfunction
- Menopause; Adherence to Mediterranean Dietary Pattern and Menopausal Symptoms in Relation to Overweight/Obesity in Spanish Perimenopausal and Postmenopausal Women; July 2015
- Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy; Masturbation Among Women: Associated Factors and Sexual Response in a Portuguese Community Sample; Feb. 2013
- Psychology Today: Bridges to Sexual Desire
- American Heart Association: Diet and Lifestyle Recommendations
- Cyndi Darnell; Therapist, Educator, Speaker; Melbourne, Australia
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