Friday, August 10, 2012

Partners With Mismatched Sex Drives

This post is an extension of a question that was asked in this post. The topic comes up so often, I decided it warranted a post of its own.

When pondering this issue, I tried looking at it from both sides. I realized something strange... I don't think I have any friends that all into the "my partner wants too much sex" category. As far as I know, they're all in the "My partner doesn't put out enough" group... both males and females. A few do seem to be evenly matched with their partner.I'm not sure what that says about my friend selection process.



The Problem


In any given relationship, each partner will have a particular drive to engage in sexual activity. When partners have similar sex drives, all is good with the world. Both partners are satisfied.

However, if one partner has a higher sex drive, all sorts of issues arise. Blame, resentment, and shame tend to rule the relationship. The partner that isn't getting enough often feels rejected, unloved, and may feel like their sex drive is abnormal. They're treated like a sex maniac. The partner that is getting too much often feels inadequate because they can't meet the needs of their partner and may not feel loved because their partner isn't happy. They're treated like they're frigid.

It quickly creates a toxic situation that ultimately destroys relationships.

It's important to note this problem is not gender-specific. We like to believe men are always wanting more sex and women always want less. This is the predominant pattern in the under-thirty crowd, but is often reversed after thirty. 

Also worth noting- sometimes people toss out statistics regarding frequency of sex (about 85 times per year for Americans). This is problematic because we may compare ourselves to this and determine we're abnormal. I call bullshit. The variability in responses can range from well over 300 times per year to zero. When it comes to sex drive, there is no "normal."

Finding a Partner with a Similar Sex Drive

The best solution is to avoid the problem altogether. Unfortunately, that's more difficult that it would seem. When two people start a relationship, the cocktail of neurotransmitters released in our brain compels us to have lots 'o sex. This may continue for months and months.

 For a partner with a high sex drive, this may be a form of "false advertising." When the frequency of sex diminishes as the flood of chemicals abates, the "high sex drive" partner is gradually left more and more unsatisfied.

Experience helps. If a person has been in a long-term relationship, they've moved past the honeymoon phase to the point where their sex drives level out. It would be helpful to have a discussion early in a new relationship where partners discuss their past. 

As the reader that initiated the discussion in the previous post mentioned, women with high sex drives are a special case. Most guys, regardless of their sex drive, fantasize about women with high sex drives. Indeed, the early stage of the relationship usually seems great... until the novelty wears off. Contrary to popular belief, many men don't have have unlimited sex drives. If those men are paired with women with high sex drives, problems ensue. Women with high sex drives are placed in a bad position because there's so little societal support or understanding for women with high sex drives.

So... what are some reliable predictors of sex drive once the honeymoon period wears off?
  • Masturbatory frequency- How often does a person rub one off? This is probably the most reliable predictor of sex drive. The more frequent the masturbation, the higher the sex drive. While it can be awkward discussing masturbatory frequency early in a relationship, it may save a lot of frustration (literally) down the road.
  • Exercise- Generally speaking, the more frequent one exercises, the higher their sex drive. The two tend to go hand-in-hand, though it is a 'chicken or the egg' relationship. Some say exercise stimulated sexual activity; others say sexual drive fuels exercise. Regardless, the two are loosely correlated.
  • Willingness to please- This one isn't so much a predictor of sex drive, rather one's willingness to please their partner. Ideally, people with a high sex drive should find a partner that is intrinsically (it brings them pleasure to give pleasure) motivated to engage in sexual activity. This makes it far easier to negotiate frequency of sex should there be a sex drive discrepancy.


Changing Sex Drives as a Result if Life Circumstances

It's important to understand that sex drives change based on life circumstances. All other things being equal, men's sex drive peaks in their late teens and gradually decreases. Women's sex drives tend to follow an inverted "U" pattern- they're high in their late teens, decrease throughout their twenties, and begin increasing throughout the thirties. Not everyone will follow this pattern, but it is common.

Other factors play a role. Sex drive for both genders goes down as we busy ourselves with children, work, and other life issues. Other factors like illness, menstruation cycles, or diet play a role, too.

The point- sex drive isn't static. If you have a partner that has a sudden change, it may be temporary.

What If Your Current Partner is Mismatched?

So what happens if you're in a relationship and you have a mismatched sex drive with your partner? Some simple options:
  • Get out of the relationship.
  • If it's not serious or it's an open relationship, find another partner.
  • Live with the difference (not recommended).
Let's assume it's a committed, monogamous relationship and the above solutions are not options. Then what?

Popular advice columnists like to suggest negotiating for your needs (you put out, I do the dishes), taking matters into your own hands (masturbate), or work harder to seduce your partner.

Let's assume you've done all of these and the problem still persists. First, I'd suggest closely examining your own sex drive. What exactly do you get out of sex? For many of us, sex serves different purposes. For example, sometimes it may reassure us that our partner loves us. It may make us feel more attractive. Maybe we crave the intimacy. It may satisfy our curiosity about a new position or activity. It may cheer us up if we're feeling depressed. It may ease tension after a stressful day. Maybe sometimes we're just really fucking horny and need the animalistic release.

Assessing why you want more sex can be useful because it may allow us to do other activities to produce the same results, either with or without our partner. More importantly, we can then communicate what we need and why we need it to our partner. It may be much easier for them to satisfy our need if it's not a generic "I need to get laid" request.

If a couple has been suffering with this problem for awhile, there's a good chance a great deal of resentment and guilt has built up which may make communication impossible. In that case, a good therapist may be necessary. It's important to find a therapist that is sensitive to your needs and really understands the problem. I'd suggest interviewing potential therapists prior to committing. Any good therapist will agree with this approach. Once you find a therapist you can trust, it may be a good idea to meet individually before meeting as a couple. 


So... that's my take on the issue. I'm hoping this post results in some conversation. Others may be able to offer some better advice. I'm lucky in that Shelly and I have pretty similar sex drives. When we do have a discrepancy, we're good at communicating those needs and making sure we're both satisfied. We both have some experience with the discrepancy as both of us have been in a high/low sex drive relationships... and it wasn't pleasant.

Have a comment? Post it below!

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Sex and Emotional Bonding

Q: What about sexuality and emotional attachment. We often here people say you are giving part of yourself away to a person when you have sex with them. Some people can hook up twice a day and feel no attachment while others hook up once and are hung up on that partner for years. Is this something with learn through observation? In what ways does the physical act of sex impact our psychology in regards to attachment?



One word: Oxytocin.

It's a neurotransmitter that's released in the brain post-orgasm. Among other things, oxytocin encourages emotional bonding. Scientists suspect the purpose is to bond a couple throughout the period of child-rearing. Here's a study that discusses the phenomenon:

The neurotransmitter vasopressin may also play an important role, too.

Now my own crackpot theory that's sort of related:

Ever get that incredibly strong "falling in love" feeling? We know that feeling is created by a cocktail of neurotransmitters like dopamine (makes us feel really good), epinepherine/norepinepherine (adrenaline- gives us energy), serotonin (gives us obsessive thoughts about mate), and oxytocin. There's some evidence that we'll have a stronger "falling in love" feeling with people that are genetically dissimilar, and this mechanism is controlled by invisible, imperceptible chemicals called pheromones. All of us give off pheromones, and they carry information about us.

If another person picks up our pheromones and their brain determines they're genetically different (thus increasing the likelihood of producing healthier kids), that "falling in love" cocktail gets released and that person becomes the center of our universe. Since oxytocin is released, we develop an emotional attachment. Our relationship behaviors probably influence oxytocin levels, too, which further enhances the effect.

If we hook up with someone and they're genetically similar to us, we're not likely going to have that release of oxytocin, hence no bonding. There will still be a significant boost in dopamine, which makes the act enjoyable... but there will be no emotional attachment.

There's probably a fair amount of individual variability in the amount of oxytocin released and sensitivity, which is why some people seem to fall in love with pretty much anyone and others never seem to fall in love.

Monday, August 6, 2012

What's This Blog All About?

People like sex. Look at our species and our cousins. In some form or another, we've been around for at least hundreds of thousands of years.

We don't always like to talk about sex, though.

Our society has a ton of strange taboos that keep us from having open, honest discussions about human sexuality. We've had a few pioneers that have tried to open lines of discussion, like:
  • Kinsey
  • Masters and Johnson
  • Dr. Ruth
  • Dr. Drew and Adam Carolla
  • Sue Johanson
We're going to extend their work here at the Sexpressionist Project by engaging in open, honest discussions about sexuality between consenting adults. I imagine the project eloving like this:

1. Someone brings up a topic related to human sexuality on the "topics" page as a comment.
2. I write a blog post about that topic.
3. The community comments on the topic and discussion ensues.

I AM going to have a few rules:

Rule #1: Don't pass moral judgement.
Rule #2: Offensive language is okay, but offending others is not.
Rule #3: Do not post about topics involving those that cannot give consent.

Breaking any of the rules will likely get you banned. In essence, don't be a douche.

So... if you're interested in participating, head on over to the "Topics" page and post a topic. I'll get a post up as soon as possible.

Why the Interest in the Topic?

Back in the day, I trained to be an experimental psychologist with an emphasis in sexuality. I actually published an obscure study in an even more obscure student publication. Instead of pursuing an advanced degree, I decided to teach psychology instead. The fascination with human behavior never went away, especially when it comes to a taboo topic like sexuality.

Also, I hope the project eventually provides an opportunity to learn. The barriers to open discussion about sexuality are often a major source of conflict in relationships. Why? We generally don't like talking openly about sexual topics.

Finally, I'm always looking for more opportunities to learn, which benefits my own relationship. :-)