As convenient as it might be to have a regular and consistent sex life, it’s just not always possible given the normal and expected changes people can experience around their libido. Libido, or one’s sexual desire, can either be relatively consistent or it can fluctuate, which can alter the frequency of sexual activity within a sexual relationship. This is where learning how to talk about mismatched libidos can be beneficial for couples.
When it comes to matters of sex, some couples understand struggle with communicating their concerns with each other. Sex, especially when there may be some sexual challenges, can be tricky waters to navigate. In this episode of the Modern Intimacy podcast, Dr. Kate Balestrieri talks with Modern Intimacy Clinical Associate, Elena Bahar, LMFT about mismatched libidos, how couples can navigate desire discrepancy together, and thrive.
What Does it Mean to Have Mismatched Libidos?
When a couple experiences mismatched libidos, they are essentially experiencing discordance in their respective desires for sex. For example, one partner might have what might be considered a high sex drive when compared to their partner who has a lower interest in sex. The higher sex drive partner is typically the person who is initiating sex more often than the lower libido partner.
Overtime, a couple might start to feel like they are not on the same page and realize they are facing mismatched sex drives. While mismatched libidos can be challenging, it’s also an opportunity for couples to get more curious with each other and explore their individual and collective sexual needs together.
Why Do Couples Experience Mismatched Libidos?
There are many different reasons why mismatched libidos occur in relationships. It’s important to note that one partner’s libido isn’t “better” than the other. When couples can address desire discrepancy with patience, empathy, and curiosity, finding a solution can become less of an obstacle and more of a shared exercise in exploration.
One common reason couples might experience mismatched libidos can be due to demanding relationship expectations. A common catalyst for mismatched libidos in heterosexual relationships is weaponized incompetence. In relationships where a female partner is expected to take on more physical and emotional labor, it’s not uncommon for her libido to drop while her male partner’s libido remains where it’s been.
Additionally, some believe that men inherently have higher sex drives than women, which is not true. The reason why so many believe men to be more sexual is due to gendered socialization where men are allowed to display and explore sexual needs whereas women tend to be shamed and made to feel as if their sexual exploration is “bad” or “impure.” This misunderstanding of sexual arousal often results in heterosexual couples striving to match the male partner’s libido, rather than working to explore and understand what the female partner might be needing in order to desire sex more often.
Those in long term relationships might resonate with the feeling that sex can have the tendency to become too formulaic. People tend to like novelty which is why at the beginning of a new relationship, sex tends to happen much more frequently. Long term couples often have to do the work to keep excitement alive and a lack of stimulation can take the allure out of sexual intimacy. This can be a fun problem to have as it allows a couple to try new things, explore fantasies, and experiment together.
Due to sex being a complicated topic for some couples to address, some struggle to discuss what might not be working in the relationship dynamic. It’s very common for the higher libido partner to feel rejected when their partner doesn’t want to have sex and the lower libido partner often feels guilty that they can’t meet their partner’s needs. Both experiences are valid, and it takes a couple to identify and process those feelings together as a team to make changes, however, it often feels more comfortable to retreat or avoid the issue and thus it continues to linger.
Need for More Education
Many grow up with no or inadequate sex education, resulting in many sexually active people being unaware of how things like arousal and desire operate physiologically. Learning about concepts such as the dual control model as well as spontaneous vs responsive desire can be great starting points in understanding human sexuality and creating contexts for enjoyable sex. Additionally, working with a Certified Sex Therapist can provide guidance, intervention, and education needed for your unique relationship and sexual needs.
Elena Bahar, LMFT, is the Clinical Director at Modern Intimacy in Los Angeles, CA. She earned her Master’s Degree in Counseling Psychology from National University (NU) with a specialization in Marriage and Family Therapy (MFT). Elena is very passionate about working with individuals and couples who are looking to heal and grow, build a sense of meaning and purpose in their lives, and reintegrate with their true selves.
Elena has special training and skill in interviewing and diagnosing clients, then counseling them and treating any mental and emotional disorders within the context of marriage and family. As a Marriage & Family Therapist, Elena performs counseling and emotional support to help families navigate relationship and behavioral issues, while seeking to secure a long-term solution to mental and emotional disorders and a wide variety of relationship issues.
Significant conditions treated by Marriage & Family Therapists include marital conflict, dysfunctional behavior, communication issues, and mental illness.
Dr. Kate and Elena talk about Mismatched libidos in a relationship. When one partner has a high or low sexual desire and the other has the opposite, It can create frustration, feelings of rejection, and inadequacy.
They talk about the importance of communicating one’s needs and help to avoid making this a wedge in the relationship.