It’s never fun to hear from your partner, “Not tonight” or “I’m not in the mood”. On the other hand, it’s never fun to say to your partner, “Not tonight” or “I’m not in the mood”. Am I right? Sexual desire or libido discrepancy (when your level of sexual desire doesn’t match up with your partner) is one of the most common challenges couples of all ages, shapes, sizes, and orientations encounter. It can be incredibly disruptive to the satisfaction levels in your relationship as well as your sex life. Without proper guidance and education, your sexual mindset can be misguided in assigning blame or pathologizing your partner with the lower libido. True story: Your mindset needs to change because that approach is all kinds of wrong. Before we get into it, let’s define a few key components of sexual desire. Sex drive is an innate construct that is dictated by neuroendocrine and biological factors; thus everyone is born with a certain level. Sexual motivation is a person’s willingness to actually have sex, and it is heavily influenced by the quality of the relationship. For example, a person may have high sexual desire, but their motivation is low because they just had a fight with their partner.
What makes sexual desire so complicated is the fact that there are actually two different types: spontaneous desire and responsive desire. The spontaneous desire is what we see all the time in film and the media. It’s the type of desire that just comes on with very little stimulus outside of your boo looking extra sexy. No foreplay or warm-up is needed in this scenario. Responsive sexual desire is heavily based on context versus spontaneous arousal or desire. For people whose style is more responsive, they need the right “set-up” before sexual desire can be cultivated. That “set-up” can be biological (medications), emotional (anger or depression), physical (pain), environmental (stressful home-life), or even situational. Think of sexual desire as being on a continuum…just like gender or sexual orientation. Depending on where you fall on the spectrum; you may need more or less stimulation to jumpstart sexual desire and arousal. Now, desire is definitely impacted by factors outside of our control (hormone deficiency, medication, depression, chronic pain, etc.) as well as factors within our control (work stress, relationship dynamics, body-image, etc.).
The key to successfully navigating these waters is to remove the expectation that you both have to have the same level of sexual desire; create room for variability. If you are more on the spontaneous desire end, then explain that to your partner. Tell them what turns you on. If your partner is more on the responsive end, create room for them to explain what they need to get in the “sexytime” headspace. Is it more about day-to-day logistics, such as picking up the dry cleaning or doing the dishes? Is it more about the sexual technique? Is it that they need more or less romance or eroticism? What does that look like to them? What does that look like to you? Once you have it all out in the open, then you both can come to a better understanding of each other’s sexual style and the sexless nights will eventually become a distant memory.
1. Bridges SK and Horne SG. Sexual Satisfaction and Desire Discrepancy in Same Sex Women’s Relationships. 2007. J of Sex and Marital Ther. 33(1):41-53.
2. Meana M. Elucidating Women’s (hetero)Sexual Desire: Definitional Challenges and Content Expansion. 2010. J of Sex Research. 47(2-3): 104-122.
3. Basson R. Women’s Sexual Desire – Disordered or Misunderstood? 2002. J of Sex and Marital Ther. 28(s): 17-28.