|Courtesy Frank's Photo Essays|
Mismatched sex drives appears to be one of the most common relationship problems we face. Data suggests about a third of all couples have a serious issue with libidos that don't sync. One partner wants more sex; the other partner wants less sex.
This difference usually creates a significant rift in relationships due to the resulting negative emotions generated in both partners. One person begs for sex, the other rejects them. Guilt, shame, resentment, anger, and feelings of inadequacy are common byproducts of this dynamic. Those feelings spread to every area of the relationship, and the toxicity usually either ends the relationship or assures year after year of bitter unhappiness.
The issue is complicated because there's rarely a simple solution. Magazines like Cosmo and Redbook offer dumb advice that isn't sustainable (dress seductively, light candles, masturbate, etc.) Religion often plays the morality card and tells us to suppress our desires or submit to unwanted sexual advances. Self-help books give us pop psychology solutions that ignore the underlying dynamics.
Note- I basically give pop psychology advice, so I'm not knocking that approach. But my advice is better because it kills less trees. ;-)
For this explanation of our sexuality, I'm going to use the analogy of a poker game. At various points, you're dealt cards. Sometimes you'll be dealt new cards, discard some others, and decide what to keep and what not to keep. Some cards are easier to discard than others. Every time we have a sexual encounter, we play the hand we're dealt. We can play the cards in different ways but always get the same cards for each hand.
Anyway, few "solutions" actually fix the problem of differing sex drives. The "fix" isn't really a cure so much as mutual understanding. Our sex drive is an elusive, fluid concept. The basic foundation was probably laid during early childhood or earlier. These are the first cards we're dealt. This is where our unique biology and social environment shaped ideas like how we see our bodies, if we were encouraged or discouraged to explore, or if shame and guilt will introduced and associated with sexuality. These are the cards that are exceptionally difficult to change... we usually can't simply discard them and get new cards.
Those early experiences were then dragged through adolescence where some behaviors may have been reinforced or punished. Those that were punished were likely suppressed and may have been manifested in other behaviors. These cards are easier to change, but still require work.
How sexuality is modeled also plays a role in the development of this foundation. The openness of our parents is a strong influence. Were they overtly affectionate and/or sexual? Did they hide their sexuality? Did they avoid sex? These cards are fairly easy to change. Parents also tend to instill our sense of sexual morality, which often comes from an external source like religion or society's prevailing sexual norms. We learn what is "good" and "bad." This morality will eventually influence our openness to cards that will come along in the future.
The media also plays a role by modeling sexuality. As a society, we tend to begrudgingly accept sexual references in the media, including advertising. We sense it is bad, but secretly (or not so secretly) enjoy seeing sexuality, so we do little to suppress sex in the media. Interestingly, it's not the display of sexuality itself that's bad... it's the display of bad sexual habits that's harmful. If you rely on the media to learn how to be a good lover, you're in trouble. Furthermore, the media promotes the idea that there's little difference between individuals. Men are often portrayed as sex-hungry dogs; women are often portrayed as either overtly sexual teases or wholesome, virginal girls next door that constantly defend themselves against unwanted male advances. These cards are very easy to change and have a lot less permanent influence over our beliefs and behaviors than we think.
At any point in those first 14-18 years, any sexually-traumatic experiences further influence our sexuality, which may associate a cocktail of sometimes conflicting emotions to our self-concept of sexuality. These cards can be nearly impossible to change without outside intervention.
All of these concepts result in the basic hand you'll play for the rest of your life. New cards will be added based on life circumstances, but you'll maintain the same basic hand you got dealt in those earlier years.
So what life circumstances result in new cards?
- Jobs: We have a tendency to throw ourselves into our careers, with negatively affects our sexuality.
- Kids: Having kids is stressful and results in the addition of new individuals that force couples to share attention and affection.
- Conflict: Fighting with your significant other can alter your relationship both temporarily and over the long haul.
- Body image: As we age, our bodies change. That may lead to insecurity and feelings of unattractiveness.
- Negative communication habits: Use of nagging and complaining deep-sixes sex drive due to repressed anger or resentment.
- Lack of variety: We all have different tolerances for boredom, which we'll reach at some point in a relationship unless both partners are open to continued experimentation.
- Health issues: Many health issues influence sex drive, usually for the worse.
There are countless other life situations that will result in being dealt different cards. Sometimes these cards are simply added to our hands from our early years; sometimes the cards replace the cards we were dealt previously.
It IS possible to get rid of undesirable cards... but some require more effort than others. Some may be close to impossible to eliminate without outside help. Be open to that possibility.
At this point, both partners have a handful of cards. When they have a sexual encounter, they play some of the cards in their hand. Ideally, both partners are going to win and the experience is overwhelmingly positive. Sometimes one partner wins and the other loses which is good for one but bad for the other. Occasionally both partners may lose and the experience turns out bad for both.
If a couple has mismatched sex drives, one partner usually wins and the other loses. That can happen if the high libido (HL) partner initiates sex and the low libido (LL) partner consents. The HL wins and the LL loses. If the LL doesn't consent, the LL wins and the HL loses.
We want to create a situation where both partners win despite their HL and LL status. The best way to accomplish this is to understand and acknowledge that each person is playing a different hand. Strive to understand why you have the specific cards in your own hand and communicate that to your partner. Have them do the same. The goal is to understand your own cards and understand their cards, too. Once we know which cards each one holds, we can then communicate which cards each can play so both win as often as possible.
When we take this approach, not only do we acknowledge our different sex drives, we communicate exactly how we can come to an understanding to bridge that gap. The potential solutions vary greatly and it will likely take some imagination to bridge the gap.
Part of this process is understanding that your own cards cause you to value sexuality for reasons that may be different from your partner. For example, we may use sexuality to:
- Relieve stress.
- Foster feelings of closeness to our partner.
- Experience the rush from an exciting experience.
- Satisfy an obsessive/compulsive-like thought and behavior process.
- Alleviate feelings of failure or inadequacy.
- Satisfy an addiction.
- Satisfy our need to please others.
- Satisfy our need to control others.
- Satisfy our need to feel loved and desired.
- Cum. Hey, it's not always complicated. ;-)
There are other possible meanings we attach to sex, but the key is understanding our meanings are dictated by the cards we hold. Our partner's meaning is also dictated by the cards they hold. Don't assume your partner has the same hand you have!!!!
I usually don't like to go into too much detail on my own sex life, but this issue is important enough to pull back the curtain a little bit. Shelly and I both came from relationships where our partners had significantly lower sex drives, which contributed to the end of each respective relationship. We're intimately familiar with the issue of being the HL person.
In our relationship, we're fairly evenly matched. Sometimes our libidos match up perfectly. Sometimes she's the HL person. If averaged out, though, I'd probably be the HL person in the relationship. It's a non-issue, though, because we do a great job of communicating needs and developing solutions.Here are some of the things we do to bridge the gap:
- Guilt-free masturbation. We both masturbate, acknowledge it, and even encourage it. While it's not a great substitute for shared sexual activity, it does the job. Sometimes one of us will masturbate in the presence of the other if only one is in the mood. It's far more intimate than masturbating in isolation, which often satisfies several needs at once.
- Foster variety: We're very open to experimentation and have adopted a "try it once" attitude. The novelty keeps things exciting, including what some would classify as "boring sex." As a side benefit, we've really learned how to please each other in a wide variety of ways. Phenomenal sex is a function of these variables, and we practice what we preach. If your partner isn't into experimentation, here are some tips that may help convince them to loosen up.
- Recognizing that sometimes the desire to have sex isn't about sex: Sometimes we want sex for reasons other than just sex. Maybe we want to feel reassured or need that intimacy. In those cases, other activities can be substituted for sex.
- Recognizing that sometimes the desire to have sex is only about having sex: Sometimes we just want to have a good, hard, animalistic fuck. Other times one of us may want a quickie. We recognize that neither one of us want a long, drawn-out session every single time.
- Recognize the power of seduction: Sometimes we intentionally ignore each other's needs to build desire. If one of us is in the mood and the other isn't, the one that's not in the mood will resist and subtly tease the other until we're both in the mood. This requires the understanding of the power of pulling away to bring you closer. Unfortunately many people have an aversion to this relationship dynamic. Here's a basic technique we use frequently.
- We acknowledge the influence of our instilled sexual morality: It would be inaccurate to say we don't have sexual morals. We're more likely to acknowledge we've learned some things are "good" and "bad" through various channels, then decide if we wish to be bound by said morals. Work to understand why you think various acts are "good" or "bad", then question if it's logical or not.
- Harness the power of outside influences: We both acknowledge that we'll get turned on by other situations or people besides each other. Instead of being defensive, jealous, and angry, we embrace it.
Will these tactics work for all? Probably not. Remember, we all have different cards in our hands. So do our partners. The cards each of us have are based on biology, early life experiences, and life situations. We can change the cards through varying degrees of effort. We can bridge any gap in libido if we truly work to understand the cards we have in our own hand and communicate with our partner to understand the cards they have in their hand.
What if the Idea Doesn't Work?
This goes back to the original post on differences in sex drive- what do you do if you can't negotiate that difference? Living with that gap is possible, but the resulting friction is going to pollute other areas of the relationship. In essence, the relationship is on a fast track to Shitty Town. Population: You.
Many people seem to be more than willing to make that sacrifice (cough, cough, martyrs, cough), and use a litany of excuses to justify the decision. The most common rationale: We're staying together for the kids. They end up with a loveless, unsatisfying relationship. Is that really a good role model for the kids? Yeah, splitting up sucks... but is modeling a terrible relationship really a better alternative? It's something few people consider.
Another alternative is for the HL to find another partner. Society tends to frown on this practice, whether it's an extramarital affair or occurs with full knowledge from the LL. This rarely works out well, but may be a better alternative than drudging through life in a loveless relationship.
Based on messages I've received and comments posted here and on Facebook, many of my readers have issues related to differences in sex drives. If you're one of these individuals, consider this approach as a possible solution. Whether you're the HL or LL, this method should be a good tool to help open lines of communication and begin to bridge the gap. It probably beats the alternative solutions of living with unhappiness, immediately ending the relationship, or seeking love, affection, and sex elsewhere.
Since this topic affects so many people, help spread the idea that differences in libido can be managed. Share this specific post with anyone you know that may be struggling with the issue, whether they're the high or low libido person in the relationship.