• Sexual Desire Discrepancies and What To Do About It

    sex, sexuality, relationships, Dr. Gary Brown, Los Angeles therapist, individual therapy, relationship therapy, DrGaryLATherapist

    Do you feel like your partner wants sex all the time?

    You hate to say “no” (again), but then, why should you be having sex if you don’t want to?

    Sexual desire discrepancy is when one partner wants sex more frequently, yet the occurrence of actual intercourse doesn’t match the desire. “I’m sorry, honey, not tonight” is a common area of conflict for many couples. In fact, it’s one of the top reasons people seek counseling.

    Navigating differing desires can be an emotional landmine, but the way out is through, and with a little guidance, personal introspection and good conversation, you can be on the path to a happier, gratifying sexual relationship for both partners.

    Change happens

    As we move through relationship stages, our sexual compatibility may change. Our needs tend to change over time as we age and our relationship matures. It turns out that almost all couples, at various times in their relationship, experience some challenges around sexual compatibility. These struggles can occur at any time: while you’re dating, living together, married, postpartum, and at other stages later in your life together.

    All too often, in my practice, I hear some version of, “When we first met, we couldn’t get enough of each other, but now things are so very different.” Well, guess what? Change happens. This is completely normal during the course of even the best of relationships, but this doesn’t mean you have to give up on having a fulfilling romantic life.

    Look at it this way…Do you both agree on the same meal every night? Do you both want to watch the same television shows or movies every time? I suspect not. So why do you think your sex drive should always match? Right. They aren’t always going to align.

    That’s not to diminish the ongoing concern that one wants it more than the other or the feelings of obligation. We will address those further along.

    But if you’re thinking having sex once a month isn’t enough or that three times a week is too much, you’re off base…it’s completely normal. The frequency between couples is all over the place!

    Start the conversation

    First and most importantly, you need to create an environment where you both feel safe, even though you may be feeling some fear about discussing sex. That is completely normal.

    At first, you may find yourselves wondering if you can pull this off. It may feel very awkward – that’s because it often is. But, if the tone is right and the energy between you feels safe, you may be more successful than you think.

    Desire - Pillow Talk

    And remember, pillows are “soft.” They are gentle. And, so should your pillow talk be gentle. You’ll have a better time building trust this way.

    To help make it safe, be aware of the tone of your voice and the words you use. You can’t sit in judgment of your partner, blaming them, criticizing them, and expect to make much progress. Emotions can run pretty high on this subject.

    Inevitably, many couples having this conversation often wonder about what is considered normal. Here are a few thoughts to consider.

    What’s your normal?

    The only thing normal is a setting on the clothes washer! If you wonder about the number of times you and your partner have sex is normal to have a conversation with your partner about it. Talk about what you both want in the bedroom. Given your schedules, energy level, and emotional capacity right now, what number could be reasonable for both of you?

    Are your numbers far from each other? If so, don’t worry, and keep reading. I have some questions for you to explore together to see if we can move that number closer together. Are you talking about this with your partner?

    If you are afraid to have this conversation because you are thinking that your numbers will be too far off or if you’ve stopped having sex altogether and your desire is at an all-time low, most likely, there are issues around anger, distrust, resentment, detachment, a possibility of infidelity or at worst, the potential break-up or divorce.

    If any of those above scenarios sound familiar, I’d encourage you to get some professional support if you don’t want to tread these deep waters alone. Let’s continue.

    So, what is the right number?

    There have been countless studies on the frequency of sexual encounters between couples.

    Through a study conducted with more than 20,000 couples, Dr. David Schnarch found that only 26% of couples are hitting the once-a-week mark, with the majority of the respondents reporting sex only once or twice a month, or less!

    And in another study, it was reported that out of the 16,000 adults interviewed, older participants had sex about 2 to 3 times per month, while younger participants said they had sex about once a week. These are all averages that may or may not apply to your unique relationship.

    Here’s the bottom line: there is no “right” number of times to make love other than what works for you as a couple. Period.

    Rule out possible medical conditions

    Furthermore, there may be some physiological issues that men and women may need to address.

    Hormone changes, particularly for women, can drastically change your desire and create dryness that makes sex uncomfortable. This can be most prevalent postpartum and into menopause years.

    Perhaps you or your partner suffer from low estrogen, low testosterone, erectile dysfunction, impotence, vaginismus, frequent UTIs, or other medical conditions.

    If you suspect these issues to be at play for you, consult your healthcare provider.

    Otherwise, if you’re willing to have conversations with your partner, and work on your sexual relationship together, then it might help to playfully consider the time-tested adages, “use it or lose it” and/or “try it, you may like it.”

    Sex is good for your health

    Sex is a healthy expression of your love and relationship. It’s good for you in so many ways.

    Here are just some of the health benefits:

    • It can put you in a better mood
    • You may sleep better
    • It’s a stress reliever
    • Lowers blood pressure
    • Improved heart health – after all, sex is a form of exercise!
    • It boosts your libido
    • May decrease the chance of prostate cancer
    • Improves women’s bladder control

    Who initiates sex and intimacy the most?

    As a couple, it’s important to talk about how you like to be approached and what works for each of you. Too often in my practice, I hear that initiation is where the sexual relationship goes sideways and can’t even get underway.

    Most men feel stimulated (particularly with visual stimulation or thinking of sexual moments) and then their body responds with an erection. For women, it’s most often the opposite. Women need physiological arousal before they feel turned on and get their brain to play along. There is also a stronger desire for emotional connection for women. Therefore, it may take women more time and more emotional and physical contact to get turned on. While men oftentimes are “ready to go” it doesn’t work that way with most women.

    Touch, intimacy, sexual relationship

    Touch often plays a big part in initiation. It creates connection and intimacy that both men and women need. It’s a great way to get present to each other and get each other out of our mental states and into our bodies.

    Communication is another way to initiate. Let your partner know that you’re feeling frisky or that you want to “get physical” later tonight. For some partners, this is an incredible turn-on. What would happen if you whispered, “I want you” in your partner’s ear after dinner? Try playful dirty talk and see if that can get both of you in the mood.

    Conversely, communicating that you’re not in the mood because there is a work or family issue that you need to attend to may help your partner not internalize the rejection or take it personally. The most important thing is to communicate. But notice if there is a frequency or pattern of the decline. What is most common in the way of you saying yes? Is this something that you can address together, or is there a deeper dive for you to do?

    Questions To Ask Yourself and Your Partner

    Here are some additional questions about initiation for you two to explore together:

    • (Starting with a fun one…) Could you or your partner lean up against the wall and proclaim, “Let’s have sex, doll-face”? Could that (ever) be sexy, playful or attractive to your partner?
    • What would be an ideal approach that would have you say, “Yes!”
    • In what ways do YOU like to initiate sex? What is sexy to your partner and can you “try that on”?
    • What would make you feel sexy and powerful to create a “Yes!” for your partner?
    • How well do you know your partner’s body? Ask them what they like and what they don’t like. What feels good? What doesn’t?
    • Are you or your partner initiating sex in a way that evokes the kind of positive reaction you want?
    • Are you speaking your partner’s love language?
    • Is the discrepancy part of a power struggle in terms of who needs to control frequency?
    • What is sexy for you? What turns you on? Really think about that and discuss it.
    • Play “Remember that one time when…” and uncover what were the elements that really worked for both of you.
    • What could your partner do or say that would have you say “Yes!” What would have you interested in connecting with them sexually?
    • Are you familiar with your natural rhythms of “warming up” and when (and if) you are ever “raring to go?” What has your partner noticed about your patterns?
    • Are you open to trying new things (i.e., masturbating more/less, alone/together, snuggling, touching, planning different ways to make each other orgasm.?

    A book I highly recommend for my straight male clients is She Comes First: The Thinking Man’s Guide to Pleasuring a Woman. In it, the author, Ian Kerner, a sex therapist, says, “Sex isn’t always spontaneous; sometimes, kick-starting your sex life requires focusing on arousal over orgasms and just enjoying the moment and the buildup. I tell couples that for many people, sexual desire doesn’t always emerge at the start of sex but, oftentimes, more toward the middle.”

    Additionally, Kerner says, “You need to commit to generating some kind of arousal (through kissing, making out, dancing, reading erotica or watching porn) that may lead to desire. Be willing to generate arousal and see where it goes.”

    So, know that once it starts, it doesn’t always have to end in sex. This may be a long process of building trust and intimacy.

    Not feeling it

    Feeling obligated to have sex isn’t sexy. Having sex and not enjoying it isn’t sexy either.

    not into it, not tonight honey

    Stop having sex if you don’t want it. Most likely, you’re not in the kind of marriage where your life depends on sexually satisfying your husband. If you are in that kind of relationship, then please seek guidance or support immediately.

    In a loving relationship, sex should be mutually satisfying and joyful. It should be a source of satisfaction and pleasure for both of you.

    Only a “quickie”?

    Some women stop having sex with their partners because they feel like their partner just wants to have an orgasm. If this is so for you, then this could be a great conversation. Ask yourself, “Other than getting off, what does sex mean to me?” Then ask your partner the same.

    You can additionally ask yourself and your partner, “What’s going through your head when we’re intimate?” and “What has you initiate sex?”

    What you may realize is that sex is a way of creating the closeness and intimacy that you both need. It’s a way of spending quality time when you can exclusively focus on each other, which doesn’t always happen in the real world. Plus, sex can be fun and playful! Having this conversation may soften your resentment and open you up to the possibility of having sex more often. And it may remind your partner about the emotional side that is sometimes missing.

    And if that’s not where the conversation leads, then there may be some emotional work that needs to uncovered. And it is healthy to remember that you always have a choice as to if and how you want to be in this relationship.

    If you have been feeling obligated, have a conversation and see if reducing the amount per week would make a difference for you. If you were having sex three times a week, would you feel more comfortable at two times a week?

    A final thought

    Sexual compatibility is one of the most important aspects of a relationship. Know that it changes over time, but it’s important to communicate where you’re at with your partner and where you would like to be. With a few conversations, time, and attention in this department, you both can be more sexually satisfied. Oh, and sex can be more fun too!

    However, if you’re afraid to have these conversations or are feeling stuck in your relationship, I’d invite you to contact me or another professional to help you and your partner enhance your sex and love life. You both deserve to have a fulfilling sexual life that you love.

    sex can be fun, healthy sexual relationship

    Sex is always about emotions. Good sex is about free emotions; Bad sex is about blocked emotions.”  – Deepak Chopra

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