If you’re struggling with your desire for sex, or it looks like your partner is struggling, you’re not alone.
For better or worse, this “desire discrepancy” is THE most common thing I see in my practice.
Most of us desire connection, intimacy and sometimes sex in our romantic relationships. But what happens when the desire for intimacy starts to fade? What happens when your libidos feel mismatched?
Whether it’s due to busy schedules, stress, or just inevitable mundanity, our desire for sex can change, fade or disappear over time.
The first thing I want you to know is that THIS IS TOTALLY NORMAL! Having lower desire, or your partner having lower desire than you, happens naturally in all long-term relationships.
But just because it’s normal doesn’t mean you have to live with it. There are ways to rebuild your desire for sex!
So if you are someone who values intimacy in your relationship, I’ve got some ideas for reigniting those dying desirous flames.
Here are 5 ways you can add a little oomph to your libido:
1. Take care of your basic needs
It’s difficult to feel close to someone when you’re not taking care of yourself.
The truth is, if you’re not feeling good in your own body, it’s going to be hard to feel good about being intimate with someone else’s body.
So make sure you’re taking care of yourself physically: eat right, get enough sleep, and exercise regularly! When you’re attending to your own physical needs, you can give yourself a fair shot at rebuilding your desire.
Related: If you want more on this, check out Addressing a Lack of Desire
2. Address inhibiting factors to desire
If there are things in your life that are preventing you from wanting intimacy, you’ll want to address them head-on. I tend to put factors that impact our desire for sex into five categories:
- The Physical – things like illness, injury, the medications you take, chronic conditions, etc.
- The Past (Psychological) – trauma, values and beliefs about sex, and your role models for affection and intimacy.
- The Present (Psychological) – if you’re feeling depressed, stressed or anxious you’ll be a lot less likely to feel desirous of physical intimacy.
- The Interpersonal – what’s going on between you and your partner? Big fights, old wounds, emotional disconnection and unresolved conflict are killers for desire.
- The Environmental – if your immediate environment is too cold, or the door is open and the kids could come bounding in at any moment, the likelihood of you feeling sexy is definitely (negatively) impacted.
As illustrated, anything from an injury, to fighting with your partner, to a history of trauma can inhibit your libido at any moment.
That’s why addressing these things in the short and long-term can up your desire immediately and help you to maintain it over time.
I would recommend sitting down and making a list for yourself of the factors that come up in each category. Maybe ask yourself, “What tends to lead me away from sex or act as a barrier to my desire?”
The clearer you can be with yourself about what’s standing in your way, the clearer you can be with your partner about how to tackle this issue as a team.
3. Incorporate encouraging factors for desire
Once you’ve addressed the inhibiting factors, it’s time to start adding things into your life that will encourage intimacy. And you can think about these using the same 5 factors I mentioned above!
Letting your body heal, resolving conflict with your partner and going to therapy to deal with your personal traumas are all ways of encouraging your desire for sex!
The easiest way to figure out what might encourage your sex drive is to think about the opposite of the inhibiting factors you identified. For example, if I know that my house being untidy is a HUGE inhibitor to my desire, upping the encouraging factor could look like tackling chores around the house, especially if it’s something you and your partner can do together.
Related: Check out How to Get the Spark Back Into Your Relationship where I outline 6 more tips to up the romance in your partnership.
4. Pump the brakes
Let me try to explain what I mean.
There’s this phenomenon in long-term relationships where more pressure on the act of sex leads all other forms of physical intimacy to fade away.
Sex therapists call this a variety of things, I just happen to call it…
What tends to happen is this- as you both start settling into your life together, you begin to realize that there’s this discrepancy in how much you both want sex. This is the Realization Stage of Intimate Breakdown.
In this stage, it may seem like one of you is higher and one of you is lower in your desire. Frankly, it’s becoming harder and harder to match up.
And while being different from your partner isn’t a bad thing, it has the potential to put you at odds. The person who is higher in their desire for sex often becomes the sole initiator of sex. The person who is lower in their desire for sex becomes the primary gatekeeper (the person responsible for saying yes or no to any sexual advances).
In the early stages of our relationships this difference is barely noticeable. It might feel like initiating and responding is more equal. But if this negative pattern of initiator vs. gatekeeper becomes chronic and fixed in your relationship, your intimacy breaks down.
This is because the act of sex, which is now being associated with rejection, guilt, and pressure, is also being associated with all the forms of intimacy that come before it. (Whether it’s affectionate, sensual or emotional).
Sex doesn’t usually start with penetrative intercourse, it starts with activities like cuddling, making out or taking a shower together. But for a relationship in the sexual slump, all of these forms of intimacy carry the heavy burden of rejection and guilt. Their association with the act of sex has tainted them and made them more likely to be avoided due to the message engaging in them might give off.
So here’s the deal, the problem is not that you have initiation and gatekeeping in your sexual relationship. No, it’s that you’re not sharing the load when it comes to the roles you’re both in.
What exactly does that mean?
If you’re the initiator of sex in your relationship, your job is to get the process going. You’re like the gas pedal. If you’re more of a gatekeeper, your job is to slow us down so we can move through physical intimacy in a way that works for everyone. Aka the brake pedal.
The long and the short of it is that as soon as intimacy broke down, you lost your brake pedal. Now every initiation, every makeout sesh, every back rub carries the heavy burden of sex. And if neither of you has any guarantee that you can pause or stop the situation, then you’re never going to actually start.
No one would get behind the wheel of a car if you knew your brakes had been cut.
The good news is, the solution is simple: pump the brakes!
Check in with each other by saying something like, “Is this working for you?”. Ask if your partner wants to move on to something else, “I’m having a great time, want to take this upstairs and shed some clothes?”
Or if it’s just not working for you, come to a full and complete stop in a way that validates everyone’s feelings, “That was fun babe, I love connecting with you this way. I think that’s all I’m interested in tonight.”
The safer you both feel to tap the brakes, the easier it’s going to be to keep your sexual experiences moving (now and in the future).
5. Hit the gas
Speaking of which, sure the brakes are a very important part of your vehicle, but so is the gas pedal. Without it, you’d never actually get where you want to go.
But I’ve noticed couples in Intimate Breakdown aren’t doing things that are going to rev their engines. If you’re actively fighting or there is long-standing conflict between you, you’re probably experiencing less affection, less physical touch… less connection in general.
So by the time couples make it to my office, their idea of initiating sex falls into one of three categories:
- The scheduled and obligatory approach
“Hey, it’s Saturday, which means it’s time to have sex”
- The impulsive and immediate approach
“I want sex now, let’s hop in bed right this second”
- Or The “no one is approaching anyone right now” approach.
While (some of) these approaches serve as temporary solutions, they fail to cultivate the necessary build-up of desire that makes sex truly fulfilling.
I like to describe it as starting a car in 3rd gear.
Because if you’re skipping the necessary warm-up, you could be causing engine damage instead of reaching your intended destination.
In the realm of intimacy, initiating sex without building the anticipation can hinder the overall experience and leave both partners feeling unsatisfied.
For example, it could lead to pain with penetration for partners with vaginas. It could lead to erectile dysfunction or ejaculatory issues for partners with penises. And, let’s be honest, it’s harshing the romantic vibes we’re trying to put out. (Do we say that anymore…?)
By deliberately engaging in foreplay and prioritizing affectionate and sensual experiences, you’re creating fertile ground for desire to flourish.
It’s the equivalent of starting the car in 1st gear. You’re starting from zero, gradually building up momentum, and ensuring a smoother and more enjoyable journey toward sexual fulfillment!
So, before jumping straight into the act of intercourse, remember to rev your engines with affection, sensuality, and connection.
Embrace the pleasure, anticipation, and desire that come from engaging in the “fun stuff.”
In conclusion, (makes grand sweeping gesture with arms) rebuilding your desire for sex in a long-term relationship is a challenge many couples face. Remember, this is a normal part of relational “settling” that occurs the longer you’re together.
But while it may be common, you don’t have to accept it as a permanent state.
There are ways to reignite the flame of desire and reconnect with your partner intimately.
Now you have 5 ways to do just that!
If you take these to heart, I imagine you’ll be well on your way to rebuilding your desire for intimacy. Just remember to go at your own pace and to be gentle with yourself.
And if you’re looking for more guidance on navigating desire in your relationship, consider visiting my Resources Page. There you’ll find worksheets, book recommendations and further information on the topic!
By implementing these strategies on your own and with your partner, you can rebuild your desire for sex and enjoy a more fulfilling sexual relationship!