Mismatched Levels of Desire


If you have either much higher or much lower sexual desire than your partner, then as a couple you are faced with the challenge called “mismatched desire.”

Notice that there is no judgment in the term mismatched desire. It doesn’t imply that high desire is better than low desire, or vice-versa. It simply describes that there’s a difference in levels of desire or interest in sex.

In fact, this is the most common issue that sex therapists help their clients with. Statistically, about one third of all couples struggle with some type of gap in sexual desire.

Also notice that, by definition, this is distinctly a couple’s issue. It’s not about seeking to “cure” one or the other partner. It’s about getting to the root of your true desires – both for yourself and for your relationship – and then communicating with your partner to find ways to accommodate your differences.

My role is to guide you through this process.

The first thing we explore are the possible external factors that may contribute to the gap. There may be hormone imbalances or side effects of medications. Stress, fatigue, depression, grief, negative body image or unresolved issues from childhood, such as sexual abuse – can also sap sexual desire.

Sometimes I have to do psychotherapy before I can do sex therapy because you and your partner may experience continuing arguments and feelings of anger.

If you’re the partner with the lower sex drive, surprisingly, you may control the sexual relationship – determining the frequency of sex. Too often there is the unspoken expectation: I don’t have to satisfy your sexual needs, but I expect you to remain faithful to our relationship. Frankly, this type of attitude all too often erodes the bond between partners.

In order to make a change in your relationship, both you and your partner may have to adjust your expectations and experiment with new ways of interacting.

To get the ball rolling, I sometimes suggest that you just do it. If you think you need to be in the mood to have sex, you might in fact need to have sex to get in the mood!

And, you might dispense with the checklist. You may be convincing yourself that you can’t enjoy sex unless a long list of conditions is met … paying the bills first, etc. Make your relationship a priority!

If you’re the partner with the higher desire, you may respond to sexual rejection by withdrawing emotionally or developing a short fuse. Both reactions tend to push your lower-desire mate further away.

I recommend that you search for nonsexual triggers that arouse your lover. You may have more luck by providing gestures of love outside the bedroom. Ask yourself, “What has my partner been asking for or complaining about?” Make an effort to satisfy that request. Being responsive to your mate’s need is foreplay!

You may also need to steer clear of common turnoffs, such as blaming or over-control. In essence you are learning new behaviors, and it takes time to change old patterns. One good reframe is to remember that every touch, hug, or kiss does not have to be sexual.

I may also need to remind you not to confuse denial of sex with intent to punish. When your partner continually refuses your sexual advances, it’s easy to perceive it as a punishment or personal rejection. That’s often not what’s really going on.

Bottom Line: Mismatched desire a complex issue, and couples make better progress when they get some help.

Sex can be a powerful bonding experience. At some basic level, we simply want connection.

I find it an honor and a pleasure to help couples regain this sense of connection and joy.

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