Impact of mismatched desire on a relationship:
Differing libidos in a relationship are perfectly normal unless the discrepancy is causing relationship distress. If a couple is experiencing relationship distress due to desire incompatibility, usually the partner with the lower desire controls the “when and how much” of sex in the relationship. The partner with the higher desire struggles with feelings of rejection and begins to question their desirability and attractiveness for their partner.
The partner with the lower desire often struggles with guilt and feels responsible for their partner’s feelings of rejection. They may also experience anxiety about any kind of physical touch because of the fear that it might lead to sex along with a sense of powerlessness when they feel the pressure to have sex and they don’t want to. This results in a marked decrease in hugging, kissing, cuddling and other non-sexual intimacy building behaviors leading to the couple becoming more distant.
Helpful tips for couples with mismatched desire:
1. No sex rule-
The key for such a couple is to break the cycle of initiation-results-in-rejection and also alleviate the anxiety that surrounds sexual intimacy. Anxiety always overrides the sensation of pleasure and the best way to start is taking sex off the table and just focusing on building the non-sexual intimacy in the relationship. This includes cuddling, hugging, kissing, giving each other massages and gazing into each other’s eyes- since sex is not inevitable, the partner with the lower desire is more likely to want to engage in these behaviors and the partner with the higher desire begins to feel validated and it improves their self-worth.
2. Discover your sexual self-
Once sex is taken off the table, it allows both partners more time and emotional energy to explore their sexual selves individually. This is a good time to become more grounded in your body as a sexual being. It is helpful for partners to set aside private and individual time to explore their own body through self exploration & masturbation . Find out what feels good and what doesn’t, what is a psychological turn on and what is off-putting.
3. Assess your connection-
Sex is all about intimacy & connection. Take some time to reflect and assess what is lacking in your relationship. If you discover that you are resentful, perhaps even angry towards your partner because of past or present hurts- find a way to express your feelings in a kind way and collaborate with your partner to work through the resentment. Perhaps, your partner is too pushy with sex or the technique is off- find an appropriate way and time to have a conversation about this.
4. De-clutter your mind-
The brain is the most important organ for women when it comes to sex. Good sex is mostly a mental thing for women but not so much for men who respond mainly to physical/visual stimulation. Having said that, learning how to de-clutter your mind and turning off the “to do” list button in the brain can do wonders for sexual desire. It’s much more difficult for women to compartmentalize but it could be an extremely handy tool when it comes to sex. Being able to only focus on what’s happening in the moment and giving yourself permission to indulge & engage in sexual pleasure, while putting everything else on hold can be very helpful.
5. Understand your sexual response cycle-
Female sexuality is much more complex than male sexuality. Even the manner in which women undergo the physical & emotional changes during sexual arousal is very different from men. It is very common and normal for women to feel that they are not in the mood to have sex and have that quickly change, once they start to engage in foreplay. In other words, the female sexual response cycle works in a circular fashion- desire does not always precede arousal- it’s normal for women to get aroused (vaginal lubrication, heart rate going up etc.) and then experience the desire to have sex.
6. Prioritize self-care-
I can’t emphasize this point enough, especially for women. The reason being that women tend to take on a lot more responsibilities than men. Being wired to be caregivers & nurturers, women spend a lot of time taking care of other people’s needs and are prone to ignoring their own. Find a way to fit self-care into your daily schedule-literally block off time on your daily calendar for self-care. Meditate, exercise, do yoga, get mani/pedi, massages, socialize with friends, soak in the bathtub full of Epsom salt, whatever it takes to pamper yourself & quiet your mind down. A rejuvenated, rested mind & body is more likely to respond favorably to sexual cues & stimulation.
It is also important to recognize that sexual desire does not go hand in hand with being attracted to your partner. You can have low desire and be madly in love or attracted to your partner. Also, there is no agreed upon standard that determines that someone has higher or lower sexual desire. In other words, when it comes to libido- there is no “normal.” Everyone’s baseline libido is as unique as their individual self and bodies. It is perfectly normal to want sex once every month or once every day.
Of course, if a couple is not able to tackle the issue of differing sex drives on their own, I recommend getting professional help and working with a trained &experienced sex therapist.