Desire Discrepancy

3 Strategies to Navigate Mismatched Sexual Desire

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June 8, 2023

I'm Alana
I'm a Couples and Sex Therapist. For over a decade I have been working with partners and individuals, just like you, on their journey to a stronger relationship, a more fulfilling sex life, and finding their true sexual selves.
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Struggling with mismatched sexual desire?

Don’t worry, a mismatch in your libidos is more common than you think!

In fact, research shows that between 15-35% of women across age categories report a discrepant level of desire compared to their partners.* And while it’s common, a lot of folks don’t understand how they ended up in this position.

In the honeymoon phase of a relationship, it’s very likely you couldn’t get enough of each other. It’s like you craved being around your partner, like you were addicted (and according to the research, you might have been!).

But after a while things… settled.

You settled into your life, your habits, your routines and, yes, even your desire for sex settled.

See, everyone has their own “desire style,” or a particular way in which their libido operates. And it’s very likely that if you’re experiencing a mismatch in how often you both want sex, you don’t experience sexual desire the same way.

That’s likely why you feel your sex drives don’t match up. Or why one of you thinks there’s something wrong with you or your libido.

So before we start down the path of blame and frustration and you get yourselves into a long-standing pattern of mismatched desire, what can you do about it? 

Here are three strategies that can help you and your partner navigate mismatched sexual desire.

1. Acknowledge Your Partner’s Position

You may be surprised to hear that while the experience of sexual desire may be discrepant, your feelings on the subject may not be.

  • Maybe both of you feel guilty for not wanting sex or wanting sex more often.
  • Maybe both of you feel angry or scared that this keeps happening and that your partner is unable to meet your needs. 

The real issue is not that you are having these emotional responses. It’s that neither of you feel safe enough to express all this junk!

Couple navigating mismatched desire in their sex life

When it comes to mismatched sexual desire, it’s crucial to acknowledge and respect your partner’s feelings on the matter.

This means listening to their perspective and understanding that their sexual needs and desires may be different from your own. It’s also important to avoid judgment or criticism, as this can create distance and make it harder to find a solution together.

Acknowledging your partner’s position requires empathy and understanding. It means recognizing that everyone’s sexual desires are unique, and that it’s normal to have different needs and preferences.

I often tell clients to ”listen with the intent to understand.” By validating your partner’s feelings and being open to their perspective, you can create a more trusting and communicative relationship. This can also help you work together to find a solution to the mismatch that works for both of you.

2. Find Your Stressors and Negate Them

Stress can be a major obstacle when it comes to sexual desire. I talked at some length about stress impacting your desire levels in one of my first blog posts, Addressing a Lack of Desire.

It’s worth repeating that unmanaged stress is a huge reason why you find yourselves on different pages in your sex life.

So I’d say it’s essential to identify the sources of stress in your life and find ways to reduce or negate them. This could include practicing relaxation techniques like meditation or yoga, prioritizing self-care, or engaging in physical activity.

Reducing stress can help you feel more relaxed and present in the moment, which can increase your capacity for desire and help you move through the mismatch more effectively.

If you’re the lower desire partner in your relationship, feeling more relaxed may not be the only thing you need to get your engine running. But it can give you the space to figure out what else needs to happen! 

It can also help you focus on the present rather than feeling overwhelmed by external pressures. By taking care of your mental and emotional health, you can create a more positive and intimate space for yourself and your partner.

3. Consider Scheduling Sex

While spontaneous sex can be exciting, it’s not always feasible for couples with mismatched sexual desire.

I got pretty saucy about why I think scheduling sex is one of the most important things you can do to improve your sex life in my very first post, 3 Reasons Why Scheduling is Sexy

And my point still stands.

Why you should schedule sex when navigating mismatched desire for sex.

Scheduling sex can help you prioritize intimacy in your relationship and create a routine that works for both of you.

You don’t have to stick to a strict schedule or take all the spontaneity out of your sex life.

But setting aside dedicated time for intimacy could do wonders for your ability to connect.

I would say making time for sex now that you’re in a committed relationship is, quite frankly, part of the process. It says, I’m carving out time for our sex life because I care about you and I care about us.

What’s sexier than that?

Scheduling can also help alleviate the pressure of feeling like you have to have sex every time you’re in the mood. It can create a more relaxed and communicative space for you and your partner, as you both know when to expect intimacy.

Of course, it’s important to be flexible and willing to adapt your schedule as needed.

The goal is to create a dedicated space to connect.

It’s not about forcing yourself to have sex at specific times.

When all else seems to fail, know that help is available.

If the problem feels immovable, like you’re destined to keep hurting one another through this misunderstanding, consider seeing a sex therapist that has experience helping relationships through the emotional turmoil of mismatched sexual desire.

Remember, mismatched sexual desire is a common issue in relationships, and it doesn’t mean that there’s anything wrong with you or your partner. By acknowledging each other’s position, finding ways to reduce your stress, and prioritizing intimacy, you can navigate this issue together. 

Alana Ogilvie, LMFT, CST Portland Sex Therapy

*Mitchell, K., Mercer, C., Ploubidis, G., Jones, K., Datta, J., Field, N., Copas, A., Tanton, C., Erens, B., Sonnenberg, P., Clifton, S., Macdowall, W., Phelps, A., Johnson, A. M., & Wellings, K. (2013). Sexual function in Britain: findings from the third National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles (Natsal-3). Lancet (London, England), 382(9907), 1817–1829.

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