While presenting a workshop this weekend in Provincetown, MA, on Strategies for Successful Relationships, an exasperated participant, with a Horseshak flair about her (Welcome Back Kotter), raised her hand and blurted out an all too familiar question: "What does a couple do when one partner has a higher libido than the other?" Off the cuff, I blurted out the first word that came to mind...
"masturbate." But that's not my real answer.
An unfortunate reality to be aware of is that very few couples have identical sex drives. Figures, right? In this case, one partner is going to be naturally motivated to engage in more sexual activity than the other. At first glance, this may seem unfortunate for the more desirous one, though those with less active libidos will tell you it's very frustrating to be in a position of having to convince their partner that they love them, when sex is not the primary language of choice for expressing this love.
Aside from differing libidos, there are also outside influences that may contribute such as stress, illness (physical and emotional), parenthood, and medications. Be sure to explore the possible side effects of any medications, the affect of your work and life stress on your libido, as well as factoring in any chronic illness or other conditions that may cause you to feel fatigue (including parenthood!).
Get honest with yourself and your partner about what you have control over by focusing on reducing stress, talk to your doctor about alternate medications with fewer side affects, be sure to manage your chronic illness as best possible, and make your sexual intimacy a priority.
Sex is a designed to be pleasurable. When that is not the case - and a surprising number of couples do experience different ideas about what is "good sex," then sex is simply no fun. Talk about your likes and dislikes. Even if you've been having (or not having) sex with your partner for a year now, and not liking it, it's never too late to begin a conversation about what you want and desire today. Communicate what you would like to see happen in your sexual relationship. Your sex life won't spontaneously improve without your participation!
If you seem to have similar drives, and you can rule out the external influences mentioned above, your disinterest may be the result of relationship challenges such as mistrust. Or it's possible that your partner has changed over the years and you are experiencing a decreased attraction because of those physical changes, or perhaps you require more affection and attention to feel motivated to be sexual. Feelings of insecurity or inequality can also negatively affect your desire.
Regardless of the reasons your levels of desire differ, the answer comes back to one word, and it's not masturbation, it's communication. Sex is said to be 99% mental. Know what you're thinking and how you're feeling, then start connecting through communication. If you need help, counseling can also be a great vehicle to root out the challenges that plague your sex life; while making talking about it much easier and effective.
by Michele O'Mara, LCSW