Navigating different sex drives
Written by Alice Child, Somatic Sexologist
Sydney-based Somatic Sexologist and Sex & Intimacy Counsellor Alice Child gives her top tips for navigating different sex drives in a long term relationship.
This guide contains general advice only. If you need more tailored advice, please book in a session.
Don't sweep it under the rug and think it will go away on its own. It won't.
Navigating mismatched libido and/or different sexual desires and needs is a really tricky situation and it’s one of the most common reasons couples come to see me.
In fact, it is something that most sexual relationships will go through at some point in life. Think about it - sex drives are always changing, so what are the odds that your sex drives will stay exactly the same year after year?
Navigating these different needs will be really important for the future happiness of both of you. Don't sweep it under the rug and think it will go away on its own. It won't.
Over time sex might become more and more pressured and couples feel forced into one of two sides (see venn diagram!). Connection & open communication are key to help both people find their middle ground and get both their needs met. Don't wait until your sexual dry spell has lasted 6 months, or even 6 years.
Often, once couples have had these conversations they have far more in common than they think! For example:
Both feeling pressure when it comes to sex
Both feeling rejected/ disconnected / unsatisfied / sad
Both craving more connection / missing their partner
Both avoiding initiating
Both feeling like their needs don’t matter
Both wanting to feel like your partner cares about them
Both wanting more novelty / excitement/ newness again
When you realise this, it’s time to lean forward, open up the communication, and come up with some ideas for what you are both needing!
Here are some initial tips to help you get started when it comes to mismatched libido:
Tip 1: Remember that your needs matter
Everyone has different emotional, sexual, physical and intimacy needs. Whether you have a higher or lower sex drive don’t convince yourself that your sex & intimacy needs don’t matter or aren't as important.
Sex, pleasure, desires and intimacy are healthy & normal. Sex can improve mental health, physical health and relationships.
Other married friends might tell you ‘it’s normal to stop having good sex’. Don’t listen to them. You deserve great, consensual, pleasurable, connected sex and intimacy.
Tip 2: Remove pressure (on yourself and your partner)
Never have sex out of obligation, guilt or pressure. It will only make you resentful of sex & intimacy and make you desire it even less. Instead, suggest other ideas for physical or emotional connection.
On the other side, never try and convince your partner to have sex, or guilt your them when they are not in the mood. Learn to respect their 'no', and instead be curious about what else might feel fun for both of you.
Consent and respecting boundaries is always the most important thing for a long and happy sex life together. Pressure is never sexy.
Tip 3: Foreplay is the whole relationship
Sex drive changes depending on how many brakes and accelerators are present:
Brakes like stress, tiredness, conflict, busy mind, low self confidence, disconnection, pain, and boring/unsatisfying/ predictable sex all lower libido and desire for sex
Accelerators like quality time, romance, self-confidence, date nights, compliments, feeling like a priority, novelty/adventure/ new things often increase libido/desire.
This is why foreplay is the entire relationship. What might be affecting your desire(s) for sex right now? What might you be needing more/less of?
Tip 4: Get needs met in new ways
We all crave sex for different reasons. Often our sexual, emotional, physical or emotional needs can be met in lots of different ways without any pressure for penetrative sex. For example:
“I need physical release / stress relief / dopamine hit” - Try masturbation, exercise, or other self care/ self pleasure
“I need intimate physical touch” - Try suggesting massage, dancing, sharing a bath/shower, cuddles
“I need to emotionally connect to my partner" - Try suggesting massage, dancing, sharing a bath/shower, cuddles
“I need to sexually connect to my partner" - Share nudes, read erotica, dirty talk, watch porn together, give/receive erotic massage, masturbate together. Sex is lots of things - get creative.
Tip 5: Think deeply about your side of mismatched libido
Before having ‘the talk’, reflect on your side. Some questions you could reflect on:
What is stopping me from initiating sex?
What is stopping me from initiating non-sexual intimacy?
How does the topic of sex make me feel right now?
How long have I felt this way? When was it different? Why?
What do I/did I enjoy about sex /intimacy with my partner?
Right now, I need more..... and less......
What do I miss about being sexual /intimate together?
What is my/their love language?
What do I want more of in my relationship (not just in the bedroom)?
I love it when they....... It makes me feel........
What do I not enjoy about sex / intimacy at the moment?
What helps get me/them in the mood?
What do I find most attractive about my partner?
How often do I masturbate? What is that like?
Tip 6: Seek understanding
When you’re ready, chat openly about what’s going on for each of you. Try to understand your partners side with curiosity, empathy & love. This has probably been really hard for them.
When people feel heard and understood, navigating a middle ground for both your needs becomes possible.
Never judge or shame your partner for their higher or lower desires. Differences are very human, and very normal.
Having a higher sex drive does not mean they are a ‘sex pest’/‘deviant’
Having a lower sex drive does not they are ‘frigid’/ ‘not attracted to you’
These conversations can be really tough. Open up the communication and remove any defensiveness/criticism. Book in a session if you need support.
Don't dismiss your partner. Listen to them with empathy. Take off the pressure. Often, once they have had these conversations couples have more in common than they think!
Tip 7: Connect non-sexually
Bring back intimacy, connection, flirting, adventure, quality time, playfulness, physical touch, fun & excitement. These are rocket fuel for attraction, chemistry and intimacy.
Try my ‘12 days of romantic connection' worksheet on my online store. Find out what each others love language is and learn how to speak it daily.
Take the pressure off sex for a bit, and instead make connection and learning new things your goals.
See each other as lovers again (not just flatmates/friends). Schedule time for date nights, adventures, and learning new things together.
Tip 8: Improve your sex life!
Life is too short for average sex. Stop settling for routine sex and instead prioritise your pleasure! Be curious, try new things, and educate yourselves about libido, bodies, desire and sexual communication.
Consider booking into my couples sex and intimacy programs. You will learn what you like, how to ask for it, how to navigate differences, and get lots of ideas for trying new things together and getting both your needs met.
Know that you won’t always get it right – and that’s okay! Create a safe space for experimentation, learning and play in your sex-life.
Alice Child - Somatic Sexologist, Sex Therapy & Sex Counsellor - helps people achieve happier and healthier sex lives through 1:1 sex coaching, couples sex counselling, hens parties, and workshops. Book a session here.