"My partner is constantly nagging me for more sex but I'm just not into it."
"My past relationship partners were always too tired or stressed to have sex with me... are they not attracted to me? Or do I have too much sex drive?"
These are all very common comments and questions we experienced or have received so we decided to reach out to our in-house expert Dr. Laura Vowels, an EFT relationships therapist and seasoned lecturer and researcher at the University of Lausanne for more answers.
Can you explain in simpler language what does it mean when there’s desire discrepancy in a relationship?
When there’s desire discrepancy in a relationship it usually means that one partner wants to have a different amount of sex than the other partner. For example, one partner maybe wants to have sex once a week whereas another partner would like to have sex every day. This creates a discrepancy between the two partners and can lead to difficulties in the relationship. Desire discrepancy can also mean, for example, that the two partners want different types of sex or at different times of the day. Maybe one partner wants sex in the mornings, but the other partner is only horny in the evenings. Or maybe one partner likes sex that is vanilla, what we might consider “normal” or mainstream in our society, and another partner would like something more adventurous. All these things can cause partners to be misaligned sexually and they may need to find ways to meet both partner’s desires.
What do you think causes desire discrepancy in a relationship?
There can be lots of causes to desire discrepancy in a relationship. Sometimes we simply have naturally different levels of sexual desire. But more frequently there can be other factors like tiredness or stress, certain medications, previous history of sexual trauma that’s either inhibiting or supercharging our libido, relationship issues, or the sex not being very good, so we stop wanting it. Often, it’s a combination of things in every relationship. What is important is to understand that it isn’t the person’s fault who wants less sex. There is no such thing as optimal or healthy amount of sex and couples need to find a balance that works for both partners.
Do you think desire discrepancy is inevitable in long-term relationships?
It is impossible for two people to always be in the mood at the same time so there will by necessity be desire discrepancy in long-term relationships. But this doesn’t mean that it becomes a problem. It usually becomes a problem if one person in the relationship always wants more sex than the other and they feel rejected and unwanted. Communicating is really important in times of desire discrepancy. It’s helpful to be very clear when one isn’t in the mood and reassuring that it isn’t the partner’s fault. Or if one partner doesn’t feel the sex is satisfying and thus avoiding sex, it’s important to talk about it and try to resolve the issue.
How does one realize that there is desire discrepancy in a relationship? Are there red flags we need to watch out for?
It’s usually quite easy to spot when partners want different amounts of sex but finding the reason why can be more complicated. Often we initially tell ourselves that one person is just tired or there’s a lot going on outside of the relationship and that’s the reason. It may be, but if the situation doesn’t improve it can become chronic and one partner may start to avoid not only sex but also any other signs of physical intimacy that might lead to sex and this often means that the partners lack affection in the relationship which makes it worse.
What suggestions do you give people in relationships in staying in sync emotionally, physically, sexually and more?
It sounds such a cliché, but communication really is the most important thing in relationships. Talking openly about why one isn’t in the mood or why one wants to have sex or discussing what to do if the sex isn’t feeling good anymore.
It can also be helpful to try to find alternatives to how one typically might have sex. For example, if a couple is used to having intercourse but one person isn’t in the mood for that, maybe mutual masturbation would be ok. Or maybe you agree that one partner engages in self-pleasure by themselves during those times. But it’s important to agree because if masturbation is done in secret when one person doesn’t like it, it can have a negative impact on the relationship and result in even less sex than before. Masturbation itself can be really good and healthy for both partners but it should be agreed on in the relationship.
We love that you mentioned in the study that there has been research done on multiple studies, are there top 10 tips you can share with readers on how to begin managing sexual discrepancy in a relationship?
Sure. Here are some suggestions in no particular order:
- Have a conversation about the discrepancy.
- Be open about your feelings around the discrepancy.
- Try scheduling sex. It isn’t sexy but it’s often the only solution for busy couples.
- Try having sex in a different way than usual.
- Try alternative physical sexual acts like oral sex or masturbation.
- Be physically intimate without sex like kissing or cuddling.
- Spend time together non-sexually to feel more connected otherwise.
- Sometimes having sex to maintain the relationship is ok. You don’t always have to be fully in the mood to start – desire can also build up as you get going.
- Try something new sexually that could be arousing for both of you like sex toys, watching or reading erotica, or role-playing.
- Don’t be afraid of masturbation and self-pleasure. As long as both partners agree, masturbation has been shown to have many health benefits.
What tips would you give people in relationships to bring up the discussion of desire and sexual discrepancy? Can you give concrete examples of quotes?
Of course. First, try not to bring the issue up in an argument as that often just leads to unhelpful blaming. You could start with something like “I’ve noticed that we’re having less sex lately and I miss having that connection with you. Do you think we could talk about what might be going on and if there’s something we can do together to help?” or “I feel I’m not in the mood for sex as often as I used to be, could we talk about what we can do to make the sex more interesting for us both again?” The important thing is to not blame your partner – and ideally not yourself either – and try to get both of you to work as a team to solve a mutual problem. That’s why I prefer to talk about a desire discrepancy. It isn’t that one person wants too little or the other too much sex, it’s just that the two partners want different amounts (or type) of sex and it’s the responsibility of both partners to work together to find the amount that works. If you can’t resolve the situation by yourselves, sex therapy can be very helpful in facilitating conversations about the discrepancy, finding the root cause for the issue, and also suggesting some tools and options that you can try to reduce the discrepancy.
Where can people find you if they’re interested in seeking help?
Here’s my website: https://www.lauravowels.com/. I’ve got quite limited capacity for new clients as I spend a lot of my time doing research and teaching but I can always take some time to discuss options with you and if needed refer you to a trusted colleague if I don’t have space.