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What to do when you have different sex drives

By Melody Tan 4 min read
Sunday, August 16, 2020

When it comes to solving the problem of having different sex drives without either party feeling rejected or used, there is a rather surprising and countercultural solution.

Has the sexual activity in your marriage plummeted in recent years? Perhaps the reality is that both you and your partner's sex drives have been different right from the beginning.

While popular media would have you believe a supposed "lacklustre sex life" could spell the end of your relationship, the truth is that having mismatched libidos is a very common problem—and something many couples successfully navigate around.

"It's almost to be expected that no two people have identical sex drives," says Dr Patricia Weerakoon, sex therapist and a Christian sexologist.

On top of that, it's the very definition of "sex drive" or "sexual desire" that's causing more issues in marriage than the actual act of intimacy itself.

"It's about finding out what each person is actually desiring—what feels good for them," says Dr Patricia. "Is it intercourse? Kissing? Cuddling? A body massage? It's actually saying 'I would like more of—insert choice of desire here—and then trying to meet somewhere in the middle."

When it comes to solving the problem of having different sex drives without either party feeling rejected or used, however, Dr Patricia has a rather surprising and countercultural solution.

Sex after baby

It's often perceived that in a relationship, male partners are the ones with the higher sex drive and the women are often left feeling pressured to have sex.

This is certainly exacerbated by the fact studies have found that for about a year after childbirth, women experience lower libido compared to before their pregnancy, especially in the initial 4–6 weeks.

For sleep-deprived mums whose entire world is now consumed by a child (both in good and utterly exhausting ways), it's easier to understand why. When all you really want is some time to yourself and to sleep, the last thing you want is to have sexual intercourse.

Dr Patricia warns against pigeonholing men and women when it comes to sexual desires, however. "We think it's always the man who wants intercourse, but that's not always true."

5 tips to deal with mismatched sex drives

So what happens when you're on different wavelengths when it comes to your sex drive? Dr Patricia has five solutions, the last of which may not be what you expect.

1. Communication

"Take the time to sit down, or lie down, or lie on top of each other, and talk about what you do enjoy," says Dr Patricia. "Communicate with each other what you really desire and enjoy, and work together to help each other get what they desire."

2. Be honest

Sex, love and acceptance are often so intertwined, rejecting sex can sometimes be mistaken as a rejection of the person. Take care to avoid that. Dr Patricia recommends saying something like, "I really love you, but today I don’t feel like full-blown intercourse. How about we try something else today, but on another day . . . "

3. Focus on sensuality

There are many things couples can do to address sexual desire that have nothing to do with sexual intercourse but are related to sensual activities. "Forget about intercourse, enjoy the journey and the sensuality," Dr Patricia says. This could mean anything from sharing a shower together, giving each other massages or even tickling. Dr Patricia has an entire list of sensual activities couples can engage in in her book, The best sex for life.

4. Build up intimacy

For those who want to increase their libido, Dr Patricia cites the science of neuroplasticity that makes it possible, but warns that sex drives cannot be forced.

"You can't expect your wife to want to have sex with you if you haven't touched her all week," Dr Patricia quips. However, there is more than one type of intimacy that must be met, in what she terms, "whole of life intimacy":

  1. Physical intimacy: Touch
  2. Recreational intimacy: Having fun together
  3. Intellectual intimacy: Talking
  4. Emotional intimacy: Sharing your feelings
  5. Spiritual intimacy: Praying together

"Be intimate in every other way and soon you'll have sexual intimacy," she says.

5. Give in

In today's world where everything is focused on how others can please us and what makes us happy, telling someone to go along with what the other partner wants can sound rather old-fashioned, especially when it comes to sex. However, Dr Patricia shares a different perspective.

"Intercourse becomes an act of serving: To serve each other when you’re not in the mood, because you know this is the person you love and you are serving them. A Christian marriage is about believing that together, we are serving God. So how can I serve my partner and serve God?

"It's much like when your partner likes a certain food and you cook it for them, that’s another act of serving.

"Sometimes, it’s about one partner going along with what the other partner wants because they know their partner loves them, their partner wants to be there for them and their partner will also do something that they enjoy in return.

"It's about giving more than trying to take. Besides, you will probably enjoy more whatever it is your partner wants to do, knowing that your partner will also do whatever it is you enjoy. Knowing that you’re serving could also put you in the mood!"

When it comes to the intercourse, Dr Patricia also advises: "Sometimes it’s a drive-through at McDonald's, sometimes it's a three-course meal. Either works."

External factors affecting sexual desires

In her video, "Desire: Science, the world and the word of God", Dr Patricia also advises that "there is a waxing and waning through life" when it comes to sexual desire. This means your libido can change for any number of reasons.

While having a baby is often one of the main reasons for a drop in interest in sex for both mums and dads, and while there are many practical solutions on how you can address this mismatch in libidos as listed above, Dr Patricia warns there may be other external factors involved as well. These include:

  • Pornography. If you use porn, you’ll no longer have desire for your partner. Porn use is a block for desire.
  • Exhaustion. Being a mother is tiring in itself. Try adding in work and housework.
  • Mental health. Depression and anxiety, especially in our current COVID-19 climate.
  • Past history of abuse.

These external factors are very serious problems which need to be addressed as they will cause low sexual desire.

"But in most instances, just talk [to each other] and enjoy the ensuing intimacy," says Dr Patricia.

Melody Tan is project manager of the Mums At The Table multimedia initiative. She lives in Sydney with her husband and their preschooler son.