How can discrepancies in sexual desire be resolved?

An all-too-common cause of relational distress happens because one partner wants sex more often than the other. Both feel guilty for different reasons. 

The person with a higher level of sexual desire may wonder "What's wrong with me?" "What's wrong with our relationship that I want sex so much more than my partner?" Or even "What's wrong with my partner - why can s/he meet my needs for more sex?"

The person with a lower level of sexual desire may wonder "What's wrong with me?" "What's wrong with our relationship that I don't want sex as much as my partner does?" Or even "What's wrong with my partner - why can't s/he meet my needs for more space in our sexual relationship?"

Common reasons for having a lower level of sexual desire include:-

* physical reasons - for example, chronic illness, low testosterone, high levels of drug or alcohol use, low energy levels due to iron deficiency or other health issues, side-effects of some medications e.g. anti-depressants

* psychological reasons - for example, fear of rejection, high levels of stress not related to sexuality (work, family relationships etc), poor self-image as a sexually attractive person.

* interpersonal reasons - for example, one person may feel generally angry or resentful that the other isn't meeting their needs in the relationship, there may be struggles over power and control, lack of emotional connectedness

Although higher levels of desire can be indicative of good health and wellbeing, they may also indicate problems, such as:-

* psychological reasons - for example, anxiety that the person believes can be relieved only through having sex.

* interpersonal reasons - for example, one person enforces power and control through insisting on sex, or may compensate for a lack of emotional connectedness in their relationship through sex.


So - what to do about it?

While there's not a 'one size fits all' solution to this unfortunately all too common issue, it's important to look at intimacy in all its facets, without focussing exclusively on the sexual part.

It may be helpful to think about:-

* what are the stresses in our lives and how are we dealing with them - as individuals (for example, do I have effective ways to de-stress after work that are not at the expense of meeting my partner's needs?) and as a couple (for example, are we able to talk through and resolve causes of stress as they come up in our relationship in ways that attend to what we both need?)

* does our life-style offer adequate time and space for us to be intimate in a range of ways - e.g. time to talk things through and work on problems as they arise, time to 'just be together' , time to dream together about our longings and dreams for the future, space to be playful and have fun together?

* how comfortable is each partner to talk about both what we want and don't want? How confident are we that if we talk about this, our partner will be willing to listen and try new ways of doing things in response to what we say?

Once each partner can confidently answer the question "Is my relationship meeting my intimacy needs in non-sexual ways?" with an enthusiastic "Yes!" then it can become possible to explore specific areas related specifically to physical intimacy, including the sexual relationship. This may include:-

* making time to connect physically but non-sexually (e.g. touching and cuddling, kissing, giving each other a massage)

* having the courage to talk in detail about what turns us on, and what turns us off sexually (this may include the need for tactful but direct and honest communication about a partner's hygiene, personal grooming, sexual technique etc)

* being willing to experiment with change (for example, the low desire person may need her/his partner to spend time connecting erotically rather than sexually with an agreement this doesn't have to lead to sex; the high desire person may ask her/his partner to be sexual in a way that doesn't require full intercourse).

Communication, a willingness to think about your sexual relationship within a broader context of intimacy, and being prepared to creatively experiment are the keys to finding ways to accommodate differing levels of desire in your relationship. 

A final word - there may be times where true intimacy involves accepting what your partner is and isn't capable of giving you at key times in your relationship. For example, where a women is exhausted and 'all touched out' in her role as a parent of young children, the most intimate thing her partner may do for her is allow her the space to have a good sleep or to reconnect through adult conversation! A man who is stressed and tired from work and parenting demands may be more 'turned on' by his partner's willingness to allow him the space to vent about his day than through physical connecting.


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