Dealing with mismatched sex drives is a common issue in many romantic relationships. This type of problem is among the main reasons why couples seek out therapy. 1
Despite how difficult mismatched sex drives can be to manage, the good news is that there are steps you can take to deal with mismatched sex drives and build understanding.
In this article, we’ll take a closer look at some key strategies for handling mismatched sex drives.
Intimacy in relationships is crucial. Discover how to build it and why good communication is essential for it with our comprehensive guide.
Understanding mismatched sex drives
Sex drive refers to the sexual motivation that involves longing for sexual activity and pleasure. 2 It serves as an indicator of how intensely or how often someone craves sexual experiences.
Mismatched sex drives, also called sexual desire discrepancy, refers to when partners in a relationship desire different levels of sex. 3 When we talk about someone having a “higher” sex drive, we’re typically referring to a person who experiences more intense or frequent desires for sexual activities. 2 This could mean they think about sex more often or that they seek out sexual activity more regularly compared to someone with a lower sex drive.
On the other hand, someone with a lower sex drive may experience fewer or less intense sexual desires than their partner. This doesn’t mean they don’t desire sex at all - just that their desires may not be as frequent or as strong.
There are numerous reasons for mismatched sex drives, including lifestyle patterns, medical conditions, hormonal levels, or relationship dynamics. 4
How do differences in sex drive affect a relationship?
When there is a difference in sex drives, it can cause tension and frustration in the relationship. The partner with the lower sex drive may feel neglected or as if their needs are not being met. On the other hand, the partner with the higher sex drive may feel rejected or alienated from their partner.
In one study, researchers looked at how differences in sexual desire influence the satisfaction of women and men in relationships. They found that when there’s a significant difference in desire levels, it can lead to lower sexual satisfaction for women. For men, on the other hand, these differences were more likely to affect their overall relationship satisfaction rather than their sexual satisfaction. 3
Another study focused on 1,072 women in same-sex relationships. The results showed that when couples had problematic differences in sexual desire, it led to less frequent sexual activity and lower sexual satisfaction. 5
These studies highlight the importance of understanding and addressing differences in sex drive to maintain a happy and fulfilling relationship.
8 Tips for dealing with mismatched sex drives
Mismatched sex drives are a common challenge that many couples face at some point in their relationships. The good news is that there are many ways to handle these differences and maintain intimacy.
Here are 8 tips for managing mismatched sex drives:
1. Remember that differences in sexual desire are normal
Understanding that differences in sex drive are normal can help you reframe the issue and focus on finding solutions. It can be reassuring to know that you are not alone and that many couples experience this.
Research shows that sexual desire usually peaks at the beginning of a relationship and then tends to lessen over time. 6
Having realistic expectations about how sexual desire can fluctuate throughout a relationship and knowing that these ups and downs are normal can help couples better navigate the challenges that differing sex drives can pose. 7
It’s a reminder that your relationship isn’t unusual or flawed just because you and your partner may not always be on the same page when it comes to intimacy.
2. Open communication
When it comes to handling differences in sex drives within a relationship, open communication is key. Talking with your partner about these issues in an open, non-judgmental way can go a long way toward understanding each other’s needs and finding creative solutions.
It’s important to create a safe space for these conversations by being respectful of your partner’s feelings. This will help you discuss the issue openly without fear of criticism or rejection.
Discover how communication can save your sex life!
3. Identify the source of the mismatched sex drives
When you’re dealing with differences in sex drives, it’s important to know that several factors can be at play. Understanding these factors can help you and your partner find solutions.
For example, stress in daily life, certain medications, mental health, or simply the fact of being in a long-term relationship can all influence sexual desire. 6 8 9 10
By identifying these potential sources of mismatched sex drives, you can take steps to address them. Whether it’s managing stress, working through conflicts, adjusting medication, or simply understanding how long-term relationships evolve, recognizing the root causes is a vital first step toward finding solutions that work for both you and your partner.
3. No-judgment zone
It’s important for both partners to feel safe and comfortable expressing their feelings and desires without fear of judgment. Create a non-judgmental environment where you can openly discuss concerns and expectations so that you can both understand each other’s needs.
The best way to do this is by staying away from language that blames or shames either partner. Instead, use “I” statements to express your feelings and focus on how you can work together to bridge the gap between you. 11
Here are essential tips for creating a safe space in your relationship.
4. Work together to find a solution
The key to solving any problems in romantic relationships is cooperation, especially when there’s a need for change. 12 While it may not always be easy, working together as a team to come up with solutions is crucial for maintaining a strong relationship.
Start by communicating your individual needs and expectations before brainstorming ideas for how to bridge the gap between you. It could be anything from scheduling date nights, talking more often about sex, or switching up your usual routine - there’s no one-size-fits-all solution!
One way to do this is by setting aside time each week for relationship check-ins where you discuss issues, needs, and changes that need to be made. These regular discussions will create a safe space where both of you can express your feelings, allowing you to navigate differences in sex drives with understanding and empathy.
5. Take the pressure off sex
It’s easy to get caught up in the idea that having sex is the only way to express intimacy, but this isn’t always the case. There are other non-sexual ways to show your affection for one another and build connection and closeness.
Exploring different activities that you both enjoy can help take the pressure off sex and allow you to share quality time together. This could be anything from a romantic dinner, a movie night, going out for drinks, or even just cuddling up on the couch and talking.
Whatever you choose to do, it’s all about finding activities that both of you enjoy - after all, connection shouldn’t always have to revolve around sex!
6. Engage in alternative forms of intimacy
As mentioned before, there are alternative forms of intimacy that can help bridge the gap between mismatched sex drives. These could be anything from holding hands, cuddling, or engaging in activities such as massage or sensual touch. All of these can create a physical connection without the expectations that come with sex.
You can try Sensate Focus, an effective sex therapy technique developed by William Masters and Virginia Johnson in the 1960s. The main idea of this technique is to engage in structured touching and exploration exercises. 13
However, it’s not about trying to achieve any specific sexual outcome or pleasure. Instead, it’s all about tuning in to the physical sensations you experience when you touch and are touched by your partner. 13
Imagine it as a journey where you and your partner take turns exploring each other’s bodies without any pressure or expectations. The goal is not to turn them on; it’s about fully experiencing the sense of touch. There’s no right or wrong way to do it, and it’s all about being curious and experimenting with different touches and sensations.
7. Schedule sex
It might not sound romantic, but if your sex drives are mismatched, scheduling intimate time can help you both feel more connected. Having a set schedule takes away the stress and pressure associated with trying to make it happen spontaneously. Plus, by having something to look forward to, you can help build anticipation and excitement.
A study found that having more sex made partners more satisfied with their sex life. Also, being more satisfied with their sex life led to having more sex. So, it’s a bit like a positive feedback loop - more sex leads to more satisfaction, and more satisfaction leads to more sex. 14
However, you don’t have to force yourself into something that doesn’t feel right, so it’s important to note that if you both don’t feel like it on that day, just do something else - like cuddling, talking, or simply lying together.
Here are more effective tips on how to rekindle your sex life.
8. Seek professional help
If you’re unable to find a solution on your own, it’s a good idea to seek professional help. A couples or sex therapist can help you identify the underlying issues and provide effective strategies and advice to help you both manage mismatched sex drives.
This is especially important if the issue has been causing conflicts or tension in your relationship - working with a therapist can help you both break down barriers and create a safe space for open communication.
Having mismatched sex drives doesn’t have to spell the end of a relationship. With understanding, communication, and empathy, you can work together with your partner to find solutions that meet both of your needs.
Improve your relationship further with our communication guide for couples, which covers everything from dealing with conflicts to understanding love languages.
The ultimate guide to intimacy: Books for improved sexual health, greater love, and more satisfaction in your life
Intimacy is one of the most important aspects of a relationship, but it can be difficult to achieve and maintain. These books offer guidance and advice on creating and sustaining intimacy in relationships. From overcoming common obstacles to creating new and deeper levels of intimacy, these books can help any couple improve their relationship.
- Relationship Goals: How to Win at Dating, Marriage, and Sex
- The Friends With Benefits Rulebook: How to Get in, Get Laid, and Get Out With Dignity (and Even a Relationship)
- She Comes First: The Thinking Man's Guide to Pleasuring a Woman
- How To Talk Dirty: 157 Dirty Talk Examples Guaranteed To Drive Your Lover Wild & Give You Ultimate Pleasure & Excitement Tonight
- Sex Without Stress: A couple's guide to overcoming disappointment, avoidance & pressure
Baumeister, R. F., Catanese, K. R., & Vohs, K. D. (2001). Is there a gender difference in strength of sex drive? theoretical views, conceptual distinctions, and a review of relevant evidence. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 5(3), 242–273. doi.org ↩︎ ↩︎
Mark, K. P., & Murray, S. H. (2012). Gender differences in desire discrepancy as a predictor of sexual and relationship satisfaction in a college sample of heterosexual romantic relationships. Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, 38(2), 198–215. doi.org ↩︎ ↩︎
Biesen, J. N., Schooler, D. E., & Smith, D. A. (2016). What a difference a pronoun makes: I/We versus you/me and worried couples’ perceptions of their interaction quality. Journal of Language and Social Psychology, 35(2), 180-205. doi.org ↩︎
Birnbaum, G. E., Kanat-Maymon, Y., Mizrahi, M., Recanati, M., & Orr, R. (2018). What fantasies can do to your relationship: The effects of sexual fantasies on couple interactions. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 45(3), 461–476. doi.org ↩︎ ↩︎
McNulty, J. K., Wenner, C. A., & Fisher, T. D. (2014). Longitudinal associations among relationship satisfaction, sexual satisfaction, and frequency of sex in early marriage. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 45(1), 85–97. doi.org ↩︎