How to Deal with Different Sex Drives in a Relationship

6 minutes to read

HELP! I have a different sex drive than my partner. What do I do?

Sound familiar? You are not alone.

One of the most common questions I receive as a coach for women who aren’t sexually satisfied in their relationships is how to deal with different sex drives.

One person wants sex more than the other and its causing problems.

The lower sex drive partner feels guilty one hand but, on the other, doesn’t believe that they should have sex when they aren’t in the mood.

The higher sex drive partner feels their needs aren’t being met. They’re frustrated and may even feel unappreciated.

Both partners feel like the bad guy and wonder if there’s something wrong with them.

Note: If your sex drive has change drastically or you’ve noticed a difference since starting a new medication, talk to your doctor. Antidepressants and some oral contraceptive/birth control pills are known to decrease your libido.

Gender Doesn’t Really Matter

You’ll notice above that no one gender is singled out. That’s because it truly can go either way. There are women who want more sex than they’re getting and men who are never in the mood. While men do tend to reach their sexual peak earlier than women, it doesn’t mean that all men want to have sex all the time or that women never want it. Additionally, there are many factors that affect sex drive. These include everything from medications to mood to lack of sleep!

Turn Ons and Turn Offs

Speaking of your mood, specifically being “in the mood”, there are actually two systems at play: sexual excitation and sexual inhibition. In other words: some things turn you on and some turn you off. To really be in the mood, you need more things that excite you than inhibit you.

So to address libido differences:

  1. Know knowing what things excite you and inhibit you
  2. Communicate that with a partner,
  3. Doing more or less as needed.

Too few exciting things and you won’t get turned on. Same goes if there are too many turn-offs. You’ve got to be excited AND there can’t be too much stopping that excitement.

For example, let’s say you and your partner haven’t been sexting all day long. You’re wearing their favorite piece of lingerie and they promised tonight is going to be all about you. By the time you leave work, you’re aroused and can’t wait to get home. Then your boss calls you into your office to give you some negative feedback. Because of that, you’re late leaving and your commute home takes nearly twice as long. You ate a snack in the car to tide you over but for some reason it gave you a stomachache. When you get home, you’re greeted by your partner masturbating…and an unexpected medical bill. Because there are more turn-offs (negative feedback, a stressful commute, being late, a stomachache, and the bill) then turn-ons (sexting, sexy promises, and seeing your partner touching themselves), you are not as likely to feel aroused or in the mood.

This also is why couples who have relationship issues often have sexual problems. If you don’t feel close to your partner, you may be too turned off to get turned on! In this case, the question changes from how can you get in the mood to what can you do to feel more connected to your partner? Hint: this is where knowing your partner’s love language is super helpful.

One of the best ways to deal with too many turn-offs is to do something that reconnects you to your pleasure. Here are two mindfulness techniques that you can try. They help you feel into your body and diminish some of the turn-offs so you can focus on the turn-ons.

Spontaneous vs. Responsive Desire

Now that you understand the different forces at play behind the scenes of your libido, there’s another concept that plays in: type of desire.

Spontaneous: happens out of nowhere.

Responsive: happens after sexy things start.

Spontaneous desire is what we tend to think of when talking about sex drive or libido. It’s when your partner just looks at you and is ready to go or when you think about last time and get all tingly. Responsive desire, however, is when your hello kiss turns into something more and even though five minutes ago you were not thinking about sex at all you find yourself wanting more…kisses…

Both types of desire are totally normal and healthy. They’re just different. Obviously it would be easier if we always got spontaneously turned on at the exact same time as our partner; however, this often is not the case. Responsive desire requires a bit more work and exploration, more understanding of your desires and your partner’s. Which leads to my next suggestion:

Just Do It…Kind Of

Before I delve into this it’s important to note here that sex should always be consensual. Both partners should agree to do something without one guilting or pressuring the other.

That being said, there’s a difference between “doing it for” someone when you really don’t want to and exploring whether or not you want to do it. The former is a hard no — you definitely don’t want to have sex. The latter is more of a “I’m not totally sure.”

If you find yourself or your partner in the latter category, I recommend asking yourselves these two questions.

  1. Could I be in the mood? If I was less tired or stressed? If we kissed for a little bit?
  2. What am I in the mood for? Do some sex acts (e.g. kissing, massage) sound ok but not others (e.g. intercourse, oral sex)?

Getting clear and being honest + nuanced helps both you and your partner have your sexual desires satisfied. Yes — it means you have to talk about sex. Yes — it might be awkward at first, especially if you usually leave it at a simple yes or no. And yes — it will help you have a more fulfilling and intimate sex life.

When Sex Feels Like Too Much Work

Somehow sex has become just another thing on so many of our to-do lists. I include myself in this because some days even I fall into this trap! But sex is an important part of many relationships and it’s the only thing that you share with your partner that you don’t share with others.

Most of us also have scripts for how sex happens: before bed, on a Sunday morning, after the date, etc. However, shaking up these scripts, though requiring a bit of forethought, can address some libido differences.

Let’s say you’re really aroused at work and when you get home. Meanwhile, your partner comes home halfway through you prepping dinner. Rather than putting dinner on hold, you agree to have sex later. If you’re anything like me, after dinner, all you want to do is finish up some work, relax with TV or a book, and go to bed. Any of this sound familiar? If so, we recommend trying out these two strategies:

  1. Have sex before dinner. Literally and metaphorically: have sex before end-of-the-day exhaustion and stress settles in. This can mean having morning sex, doing it as soon as you’re both home from work, or having sex before you leave for your date night. Not only will you have more energy, it also adds a sense of urgency: you just couldn’t wait until the evening. Plus you can play with various states of undress. I recommend removing just enough clothes so your body is accessible (e.g. penis out of zipper, skirt pulled over waist, and pants just below the butt).
  2. Don’t have sex intercourse. Most people think sex = intercourse, either penis-in-vagina or penis-in-anus. If this type of sex feels like too much work, do something else! Mutual masturbation, where you masurbate in front of each other, is incredibly intimate and helps you learn about each other’s likes and dislikes. Other ideas include oral sex, handjobs, fingering, and makeout sessions.

Do What Works for You

Every couple is different in how they approach this issue and in what solutions work. Ultimately, it’s about finding a resolution that satisfies both you and your partner.