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Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Sexual Desire Discrepancy: What to Do When You and Your Partner Have Different Sex Drives

In my prior article, What is Sexual Desire Discrepancy?  I introduced this concept, which is when one person in a relationship has a higher sexual libido than the other.  I'm continuing with the same topic in this article by focusing on how couples therapy can help.

Overcoming Problems With Sexual Discrepancy

Sexual Stereotypes
A common stereotype is that men have a higher sexual libido than women.  This stereotype is often inaccurate and misleading because many women in heterosexual relationships have a higher libido than their male partner (see my article: Women With High Sexual Desire - Part 1 and Part 2).

Sexual desire discrepancy (or high sexual libido vs lower libido) comes up in all types of relationships--whether these relationships are heterosexual, gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender.  

Regardless of gender or sexual orientation, sexual desire discrepancy can be a significant problem in any relationship, and many couples don't know how to deal with it.

Although some couples minimize this problem, sexual desire discrepancy is often a significant stressor in a relationship, and it should be taken seriously rather than being ignored.

Sexual Accelerators and Brakes
Often the person in the relationship who is perceived as having a lower libido is labeled by the couple as "the problem" when the couple comes for therapy.  

But as couples explore their problem in therapy, they often discover that the person who seemingly has a lower libido just isn't turned on by what the couple is doing sexually (see my article:  Understanding Your Sexual Accelerators and Brakes - Part 1 and Part 2).

Spontaneous Sexual Desire vs. Responsive Sexual Desire
It's important for couples to communicate with each other to find out what turns each of them on sexually, how they get turned on, and under what circumstances.  

Some people experience sexual desire more spontaneously while others need more time to get turned on (see my articles: Spontaneous Sexual Desire vs Responsive Sexual DesireWhat is Your Erotic Blueprint - Part 1 and Part 2).

When a couple is able to open up and speak to each other about how they experience sex in their relationship, they often discover that they each require something different to get turned on (see my article: Rethinking Foreplay as Just a Prelude to Sexual Intercourse).

So, let's explore this with some examples (the examples given below are composite cases with all identifying information changed).

Talk to Your Partner About Sex
Jane and Bob were in a three year relationship.  When they talked about their sex life in couples therapy, Bob discovered that Jane got much more turned on when Bob spent more time performing oral sex (cunnilingus) rather than rushing into sexual intercourse (see my articles: How to Talk to Your Partner About Sex - Part 1 and Part 2).

Prior to this, Bob thought of Jane as having a low libido, but he soon discovered he was mistaken.  Also, based on their work in couples therapy, they changed how they engaged in sex, and he realized that her libido was just as strong as his (see my articles: Understanding Your Sex ScriptChanging Your Sex Script - Part 1Part 2Part 3 and Part 4).

Once Bob did the things that got Jane turned on, she became much more orgasmic (see my article:  Closing the Orgasm Gap Between Men and Woman- Part 1 and Part 2).  This made sex much more enjoyable for both of them (see my article: What is Good Sex?).

As Jane and Bob became more comfortable talking about what they did and didn't like sexually and they made changes to their sex script, their sex life improved (see my articles: Reviving Your Sex Life By Discovering Your Peak Erotic Experiences - Part 1 and Part 2).

They also discovered in couples therapy that they each had particular sexual fantasies they liked to think about and possibly explore (see my articles:  Exploring and Normalizing Sexual Fantasies Without Guilt or Shame).

What If You Feel Too Ashamed to Talk to Your Partner About Sex?
There are many couples who feel too ashamed to talk to each other about what they enjoy sexually.  This can be due to their cultural background, family history, religious background, unresolved sexual trauma or many other issues.

For instance, Jack and Alice, who were married for five years, both came from traditional religious families where sex was strictly forbidden before marriage and was never even spoken about.  

Prior to getting married, they both agreed they would wait until after they were married to have sex.  They both assumed sex would automatically be enjoyable once they were married.  But neither of them had been sexual with anyone else prior to their relationship, and they both felt shy and inexperienced with each other.

Since they wanted to have children, they focused on procreative sex where the goal was for Alice to get pregnant.  Both of them thought of procreative sex as a duty to each other and their community rather than something that either of them could enjoy.

After Alice got pregnant, she wasn't interested in being sexual and Jack felt he would make Alice uncomfortable initiating sex until they wanted to have another child.  Although he felt like sexual enjoyment was missing from their marriage, he didn't dare bring it up because he felt ashamed of his need for sexual enjoyment.

As time went on, Jack secretly masturbated in the shower.  But one day Alice walked in on him.  They both got embarrassed and she quickly walked out. Afterwards, they were awkward around each other for the rest of the day.  

At night, when they were both in bed with the lights off, Jack suggested they talk.  At first, Alice was silent, but she eventually responded. She said she didn't masturbate and she wasn't sure how she felt about Jack masturbating.

Later that week, they decided to speak with their pastor about it.  Neither of them felt comfortable talking to him but, after a period of awkward silence, Jack told the pastor about the incident where Alice caught him masturbating in the shower and how they wondered if this was "unnatural" or a sin.

The pastor assured the couple that masturbation is common and not sinful at all.  Both Jack and Alice were relieved.  Then, Jack told the pastor that both he and Alice were inexperienced sexually before getting married, neither of them felt comfortable talking to each other about sex, and they didn't have anyone in their lives they felt comfortable talking to about it.  In response, the pastor encouraged them to seek help with a couples therapist who works with couples on sexual issues.

With their pastor's encouragement, the couple sought help in couples therapy.  During the first few sessions, they both felt hesitant, but their couples therapist normalized their feelings and encouraged them to talk (see my article: Why It's Important to Talk to Your Therapist About Sexual Problems).

Their couples therapist also provided them with psychoeducation about enjoying rec-relational sex and about sex scripts.  She also encouraged them to talk to each other about their sexual fantasies.  At first, Alice said she didn't think she had sexual fantasies, but as she learned more about fantasies, she realized she did, in fact, have them from time to time.

Over time, Jack and Alice gradually discovered they could change their sex script to include oral sex, which would be more pleasurable for Alice.  When they returned to their next couples therapy session, Alice was happy to report that she had her first ever orgasm.

Up until that point, they both thought Jack had a much higher sexual libido than Alice.  But, as they experimented sexually, they discovered that she just wasn't turned on by what they had been doing before they incorporated oral sex.  They also learned that many women weren't able to have an orgasm by penetrative (penis in vagina) sex alone, so including oral sex made sex much more pleasurable.

Over time, Jack and Alice developed a much more satisfying sex life together as they became  more comfortable communicating with each other and they became more sexually adventurous.

Many couples feel shy and awkward talking to each other due to a combination of problems.  Some of them were raised to think that sex was shameful.  Others, who were inexperienced sexually, believed that sex was only for procreative purposes and they didn't feel comfortable actually enjoying sex.  

In addition, some individuals, who have responsive desire, need more time to get turned on, so their partner, who might turned on more easily, needs to be patient to take the time to pleasure their partner.  For instance, if one partner has been under a lot of stress and they have a hard time making the transition from their stressful day, the other partner might initiate with a pleasurable massage.

Most couples respond well in couples therapy with a therapist who can provide them with psychoeducation about sexual pleasure, help them to overcome any guilt and shame and also assist them to change their sex script.

Getting Help in Therapy
Problems with sexual discrepancy are common in committed relationships.

If you and your partner are struggling sexually, you could benefit from seeking help from a couples therapist who helps couples to overcome sexual problems.  

About Me
I am a licensed New York City psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, AEDP, EFT and Somatic Experiencing therapist.

I work with individual adults and couples.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.