As a sex therapist, I help clients navigate tricky sexual and relationship issues.
Varying levels of desire is one of the most common reasons couples want help. And the thing is, if you’re in a long-term relationship, no matter how in sync you might be in terms of frequency right now, you will at one point or another want to know how to cope with different libidos.
Because libido isn’t stagnant.
The trick is to handle it early on and find ways to align. Here’s how it’s done.
What a difference in desire does to couples:
Rarely is sex just about sex—it’s about so much more; love, appreciation, validation, stress-relief, and play, to name a few.
Because sex can mean such different things, it easily influences how you feel about libido differences.
The partner with more desire might take their partner’s low libido as a sign of detachment—that they’ve lost their attraction, or like their partner has fallen out of love with them.
The partner with a lower level of desire can start to feel like they’re never enough—that their partner only wants sex or like there’s something wrong with them for not wanting sex more often.
If we start comparing our own libido with our partner’s, things may quickly go south, and what perhaps started out as “just sex” turns into a situation where both parties experience pain—pain that has its roots in the meaning we ascribe to sex.
Tips on how to cope with different libidos:
Part of coping with different sex drives has to do with understanding each other’s perspectives and learning to accept the situation at hand.
Honour your differences.
When you fail to address a libido discrepancy early on, it’s easy to feel as though you’re normal and that your partner’s relationship with sex is off or not right.
Instead of looking at it in terms of who is the most “normal” or who feels more hurt, try looking at it from your partner’s perspective.
The reality is that there is no “normal” amount of sexual desire (you can learn more about this in my blog post on how much sexual desire is normal).
You are both normal.
And accepting this about both of your experiences is essential.
Acceptance isn’t the same as defeat. It’s about acknowledging and appreciating that you two are indeed different. You can still work toward a sex life you both want while honouring these differences exist and all that they entail.
This means working on things like:
>> Different ways of initiating sex
>> Possibly taking turns to initiate sex
>> Talking about your intimate moments and what you both like and dislike
>> How to validate each other sexually even when sex isn’t in the cards
By accepting your differences, you’ll decrease the likelihood of hurting one another’s feelings— shifting situations that might have turned into an argument, into moments of genuine compromise.
And when you both feel better, and truly acknowledged by the other, you’ll be more likely to get close and experience more intimacy together—sexual or otherwise.
Have the talk.
Learning how to cope with different libidos is also about understanding the differences in how you and your partner may approach sex. Because there are so many reasons we have sex.
Talk to your partner about what sex means to you and pay close attention when they share what sex means to them.
Even if you’ve been together for ages, this quite possibly might be a conversation you haven’t had previously, which means you might learn that sex means different things to the other person. Knowing about these differences will deepen your understanding and empathy for one another as well as help you accept your discrepant desire.
To help make your conversation go as harmoniously as possible, you’ll want to focus on two things: how you talk about sex and what you talk about. To learn more about how to talk about sex, you can read my blog post: how to talk about sex without losing it when you and your partner have mismatched libidos.
Concentrating on what sex means to you is a good place to start and will help keep the discussion positive and constructive, which is an essential part of learning how to handle different libidos.
Sex might serve as:
>> A brief moment of connection or intimacy
>> Your favourite way to relax and destress
>> A way to grow closer when you are feeling disconnected
>> The easiest way to show gratitude and love
>> A moment of fun self-expression
By discussing these differences and learning to understand what sex means to each other, you might also be able to work through your differing desires and align more closely in preferred frequency.
For the partner with low libido, sex might be something you desire more if you know it’s a way for your partner to get close to you.
For the partner with more desire, knowing sex feels like pressure to perform, will help you understand you both need to approach sex differently, perhaps by switching up how sex is initiated.
What makes a difference.
Sex means different things to everyone, and having a higher or lower libido than your partner is common in a long-term relationship. It doesn’t necessarily mean there’s anything wrong with the relationship or with the two of you.
When you learn to accept your differing desires, talk openly about what sex means to you, and work to make accommodations for both of your relationships with sex—you’ll create more peace and more intimacy.
The more you understand what sex means to the other person, the easier it will be to make opportunities for sex and opportunities to engage in non-sexual validation.
How to cope with different libidos is a skill, and an important one to learn as soon as you can. Because no matter what your sex life is like now, if you’re together for a while, things will change.
It’s how you address this change and your differences that ultimately make a difference.