How to Manage Desire Discrepancy

March 3, 2023

Elizabeth Perri

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I'm a licensed clinical psychologist and certified sex therapist based in Chicago. I specialize in anxiety, relationship concerns, and sexual dysfunction. Click here to learn more about me and my private practice.

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What You Can Do to Deal With Different Sex Drives in a Relationship

When it comes to sexual relationships, every couple has their challenges. If you and your partner have ever had discrepancies in the desire to have sex, please know that this is extremely common. Many long-term couples have had (or will have) sexual desire discrepancy at some point. In fact, no two people experience sexual desire at the exact same frequency and intensity for the entirety of their relationship.

Desire discrepancy, also known as mismatched desire, occurs when one partner has more or less sexual interest than the other. What does this often look like? The higher-desire partner may not be satisfied with the frequency of sex and feel undesired or rejected by the lower-desire partner. Meanwhile, the lower-desire partner is fine with less frequent sex but feels pressured by the higher-desire partner.

Many of my clients have experienced this problem at some point in their relationships. In fact, desire discrepancy is one of the most common reasons a couple would seek treatment with a sex therapist. When both partners struggle to manage these differences in libido, it can exacerbate the issue, leading to conflict or avoidance.

Couple cuddling on bed under canopy

How You and Your Partner Can Manage Sexual Desire Discrepancy

While there’s no quick fix for desire discrepancy, there are a number of strategies you and your partner can use to mitigate sexual desire discrepancy.

Open and respectful communication.

First and foremost, it’s important to have an open and respectful dialogue about your sexual relationship. Couples with desire discrepancy often tend to criticize and blame one another, which can lead to hurt feelings, defensiveness, anger, and resentment. This is a relationship issue and isn’t one partner’s fault. Empathic communication is key.

Understand there is no “normal” level of desire.

I’m often asked what is “normal” or “standard” in terms of sexual desire and sexual frequency in a relationship. This doesn’t exist. The lower-desire partner often feels that desire discrepancy is their fault. However, there is no benchmark to attain. What’s acceptable is determined by you and your partner.

Try scheduling sex.

People often have a negative reaction to this concept, but sex doesn’t have to be spontaneous to be good (even though this is what we’re socialized to think thanks to movies/TV). Scheduling sex can result in anticipation and something to look forward to. We all lead busy lives, and sex can become deprioritized in a long-term relationship. Putting it on the schedule also takes the pressure out of initiation. Don’t force it though. If something comes up and sex isn’t in the cards that day, try to find another way to connect with one another.

Have sex by yourself.

Masturbation can help you connect to your sexual needs and desires while alone, which might feel safer and less pressured as you start to bridge the gap between you and your partner’s sexual desires. Self-exploration helps you to learn more about your body, and you can share that information with your partner. Masturbation is an important factor in a healthy sex life and can certainly coexist in a relationship alongside sex with your partner.

Try non-sexual physical intimacy, like cuddling, holding hands, hugs, or kissing.

Physical intimacy doesn’t always have to be sexual. Non-sexual touch can help you feel closer to your partner. The more you practice physical touch, the closer you may get to sexual intimacy.

Don’t be afraid to say “no.”

If your partner is pressuring you to have sex, it’s important to communicate your preferences with them. If you are a survivor of sexual trauma, depending on where you are in your healing process, sex can be triggering. Everyone should be able to say no at any time, whether it’s before or during sexual activity. Communication is key when it comes to being able to say no and having your partner hear it without feeling rejected.

Address other relationship concerns.

This is a big one. Regardless of the relationship issue, if you’re not getting along very well with your partner, it would make sense that you wouldn’t want to have sex with them. Yes, some couples have great “makeup sex” after an argument, but that’s often not the case for many couples.

Explore the causes of low libido.

There are numerous variables that can lead to low desire including medical, hormonal, relational, and psychological factors. If one partner has noticed a significant drop in sexual desire (when low desire is not that person’s norm), it may be helpful to consider what might be contributing to this change. This is something you can think about on your own or with the help of a certified sex therapist. Because there are many variables that affect libido, it’s important to take a closer look at what may be causing a sudden dip in sex drive. Click here to learn more about the causes of low sexual desire.

See a sex therapist.

It’s best to go to sex therapy as a couple to address different sex drives in a relationship. Sex therapy can help you improve your communication as a couple and better understand and empathize with your partner’s experience. Your therapist can also work with you to come up strategies to decrease stress and tension in your relationship and make recommendations for improving sexual intimacy.

Mitigating Desire Discrepancy in a Relationship

A certain degree of desire discrepancy is inevitable in many relationships because everyone’s desire to engage in sexual activities ebbs and flows. If you and your partner aren’t ebbing and flowing at the same time, sexual desire discrepancy is bound to happen.

Mismatched desire is common– especially after the initial honeymoon phase of the relationship. Problems arise when sexual desire discrepancy isn’t addressed and leads to conflict, frustration, resentment, and even avoidance of sexual intimacy. This issue can be distressing for both the higher and lower desire partner, resulting in feelings of hopelessness about their relationship. While mismatched desire can be challenging to treat, your sexual relationship is not doomed.


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