Vanessa Marin has tips for those times when mismatched sex drives are causing tricky moments in a relationship.
“My partner wants it less than I do” is the sentence that most frequently makes an appearance in my inbox.
I’m a sex therapist, and mismatched sex drives are the most common reason couples come in for psychotherapy. Two people are never going to want sex at exactly the same time, every single time, so all relationships have at least some degree of incompatibility. Couples can sometimes navigate minor discrepancies with ease, but more often than not, they wind up fighting.
If you’re the partner with the higher sex drive, you probably find yourself struggling with how to manage the differences in your libidos. You don’t want to pressure or guilt your girlfriend into having sex with you, but you can’t turn off your desire either.
I’m here to help those of you who want to bring the spark back into your sex life while being a respectful partner at the same time. Here, my top tips for managing those tricky moments when you want sex and your girlfriend doesn’t:
•Be direct in your initiation. One of the most common patterns I see in my sex therapy practice is that the partner with the higher sex drive gets tired of initiating, and claims he’s going to stop. I understand this tactic; it’s hard to repeatedly put yourself out there when you think you’re going to be rejected.
That being said, it’s not a particularly effective move because the partner with the lower drive starts getting extra sensitive to indirect initiation. The smallest interactions get imbued with suspicion and tension. “Is he trying to start something?” She starts shutting down physically, and pulling away from even little kisses and hugs.
I know it’s vulnerable to put yourself in the position of potentially being turned down, but trying to ban yourself from initiating makes things worse instead of better. The best thing to do is initiate clearly and directly. Don’t be demanding, pushy, or rude, but state what you would like.
•Make sure your offer is enticing. When we get into long-term relationships, we stop making as much of an effort to be seductive. Muttering “you wanna do it?” while yawning isn’t exactly going to fire up anyone’s engines (probably not even your own).
When you’re trying to get your girl into bed, muster up more enthusiasm and gusto. I’m not saying you need to put on some phony Cassanova act, but try to initiate in a way that will make her want to say yes. Set yourself up for success!
If you feel stuck, think about the situations or gestures she has responded well to in the past. Does she like it when you look her in the eyes and play with her hair? Can you give her a relaxing back massage?
•If the answer is no, get curious about why. If she says she doesn’t want to have sex, ask her about it. See if you can tune in to genuine curiosity about her experiences, without getting defensive or argumentative. Her reasoning might help you shed some light on how to make more successful initiations in the future. Is she stressed from work and in need of a venting session? Is she distracted by the trash you promised her you’d take out? It’s not your job to fix everything, but you may be able to help her relax to the point of being more open to intimacy and connection.
•Feel your disappointment. Being turned down for sex sucks. Trying to pretend you don’t care is only going to make you feel more frustrated, so it’s best to honestly acknowledge your reaction both to yourself and to your lady.
Gently, and without expectation, tell her that you’re bummed. Then take some time to soothe yourself, perhaps by cuddling with her, going for a quick run, or masturbating. Since rejection can cut so deeply, it can be helpful to keep in mind that turning you down for one sexual interaction is different than rejecting you as a person.
•Keep the context in mind. Has she been saying “no” a lot more frequently since she lost her job? Did her sex drive tanked once she started birth control pills? Our sex drives don’t exist in vacuums – they’re highly sensitive to stress, fatigue, relationship problems, and health issues. Are there ways that the two of you can work together to create a life that is more supportive of regular sex?
•Talk to her about your sex life on a separate occasion. Have an honest conversation with her when you’re both calm. Share all of the reasons why you love having sex with her. Tell her the ways that you’ve been struggling with your intimate relationship, and ask her about her perspective.
One particular aspect to consider is whether the sex you’re having is good. If you guys have been having lousy sex, it makes perfect sense that she doesn’t want it as much anymore. Make it a point to check in with each other regularly about the status of your sex life. Actively working on improving together, by asking for feedback, reading books, going to sex therapy, and experimenting with new things.
•Be willing to make some tough decisions. Is getting turned down an infrequent thing, or is it happening all the time? It’s not possible to get all of your needs met by one partner, but you don’t want to feel consistently deprived.
You may need to consider if this is the right relationship for you. Many couples aren’t sexually compatible. It’s not a judgment on either person, but sometimes it simply doesn’t work. It can be hard to end a relationship solely because of mismatched sex drives, but keep in mind that sex is one of the top three reasons why couples break up.
When my clients are struggling with whether or not to move on, I ask them if they can picture feeling like a team in working on these issues. Any long-term relationship is going to have sexual difficulties at one point or another, and it goes a long way when both parties are willing to recognize the issues and take active steps together. If your girlfriend refuses to put effort into your sex life, or belittles you for your desires, you may need to find a better teammate.
Navigating the frequency of sex is going to feel a little tricky at times. You’re never going to be thrilled to get a “no” when you’re raring to go. But by developing these skills, you can set yourself up for success more frequently, minimize the sting of a rejection, and create a more honest and connected sex life.
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