August McLaughlin offers advice for couples where the woman has the higher sex drive.
Editor’s Note: August McLaughlin is our weekly relationships advice columnist. She’s here to answer questions and offer guidance on the tough challenges we face in our intimate relationships. Readers can submit questions to [email protected]. Not all questions will be published. The opinions expressed in this column do not constitute professional advice. The Good Men Project assumes no responsibility or liability whatsoever for any actions taken by, or reactions that ensue from, anyone following the recommendations in the answers.
This is awkward for me to talk about, but here goes. My boyfriend of two years has a lower sex drive than I do. When we’ve tried to talk about it, things have gotten tense. He feels foolish and I feel needy and annoying. I’d like him to initiate more often, and am not sure he ever will. I’m scared to start things half the time for fear of rejection or making him feel bad.
But that’s not exactly why I’m writing to you.
Here’s what he doesn’t know: I’ve had a higher sex drive than most of my boyfriends. (I told a therapist this once and she asked if I’d been abused as a kid. The answer is no.) I’m embarrassed to tell him and I’m not even sure why. I know that doing so might make him feel less awkward.
Am I a horrible person? Or a freak of nature for wanting sex so much? I’m not addicted, I swear. I just really crave and enjoy it.
I loved my high drive when I was in a relationship with a guy whose matched, but now I sometimes wish it would go away.
—Too Turned On
Hey Perfectly Normal,
I hope you don’t mind the name adjustment. Trust me, it’s more accurate.
Isn’t it interesting that the masses assume that women desire sex less than men? It’s such a popular notion that few folks question it. Think about it. Where does that “fact” come from? Various studies show that men reportedly have more sexual thoughts and partners than women do—but research also shows that men tend to exaggerate their sexual traits and history whereas women round them down—if they’re willing to discuss them at all.
Recent research conducted by Meredith Chivers, PhD, of Queen’s University shows that females are naturally as desiring of sex as men and more easily bored by monogamy. (That’s not to say we need multiple partners or breakups, of course, but that spice and variety help.) You may find Daniel Bergner’s research-based book featuring Chivers’ work, What Do Women Want?, reassuring.
When I’ve discussed these issues before, people have said, “But what about testosterone?” Testosterone is important, yes, but there’s also this gorgeous thing called estrogen we ladies are chock-full of. Estrogen deficiency causes low sex drive in women and men.
Even if testosterone were the only sex drive hormone, emotions play a hugely significant role for many women. Stress, sexual shame, poor body image, depression, anxiety, and exhaustion—issues prevalent in women—are major libido tankers. So if it seems women are less sexually inclined, here may lie the reasons.
We’re taught in manifold ways that women are either “sluts” or prudes and that while “good girls” don’t embrace sex, we should make like porn-stars in the bedroom. These mixed and untrue messages hurt all of us, including men.
Healthy women who embrace their sexuality tend to desire sex freely and, more importantly, lead happier, more gratifying lives. That said, how often we experience or desire sex says nothing of our worth. It’s completely normal to want sex once every month or two, daily or somewhere in between.
So no. You’re not a freak of nature. The aside in your letter about your therapist says a lot. It sounds to me as though you’re fearful that your guy will assume there’s something wrong with you, because she suggested that only traumatized women have a robust sex drive. (Sexual trauma can lead to acting out sexually or fear of intimacy, neither of which seem relevant here.)
Therapist Megan Fleming, PhD, discussed this issue on my podcast recently and said that men shouldn’t be expected to morph into superheroes in the bedroom. (Love that! So true.) Similarly, women shouldn’t be expected to be less-sexual damsels. Our sexuality is unique and worth expressing in whatever healthy ways we wish.
Have a heart-to-heart with your boyfriend—not to discuss your history, per say, but your emotions surrounding these issues. Have one with yourself as well. Do you resent him on some level? If so, kick that toxin to the curb. Resentment festers, deepening angst and hurting those we cherish most.
The more honesty and emotional intimacy you cultivate in your relationship, the stronger your physical bond will be. Will you have sex more often as a result? Maybe. But I can almost guarantee that the sex you do have will be more fabulous.
Remember that your sexuality is a gift to embrace and then share, as desired. Don’t expect your guy to fulfill your every sexual need. There’s a heck of a lot of beauty and wonder in self-stimulation and fantasy. Respect both of your needs and preferences, knowing that sexual want and quantity aren’t what make us spectacular people and partners. Care and authenticity do.
Cheering for you,