What To Do If Your Partner Has A Different Sex Drive To You

Sex can be awkward - especially if you're not having it. We asked a therapist how to tackle the common problem of having a different libido to your other half

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Woody Allen once said "the difference between sex and love is that sex relieves tension and love causes it." Sometimes, the longer you're in a relationship, the more you start to think he might be onto something.

We're realistic enough to understand the honeymoon period can't last forever and sometimes it is good if that intensity drops a little so you've got time to, you know, go to work or have a wash. But what do you of if your sexpectations (sorry) somewhere along the line really aren't being met? Or what if they never were?

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We all have very individual libidos that are constantly fluctuating, so it is only natural then that a lot of relationships will end up with conflicting sexual needs. The stereotype is that women have a lower drive than men but the reverse is also common and something that makes many men feel inadequate.

We spoke to Denise Knowles, a relationship and sex therapist at Relate, who outlined some ways of dealing with mismatched sex drives that are more practical than just 'learning to communicate' and less severe than ending it for good.

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Firstly though, do talk it out

Although arguing about sex is common, "it is very uncommon for couples to be able to discuss it rationally," Denise says. Even with someone we love sex is often something we would rather not openly dissect. After all, it's awkward to casually discuss our fantasies, urges and desires as though running through a shopping list.

Denise explains the problem with talking about sensitive issues is we tend to "avoid hurting the other person so much we don't pay attention to the hurt we are causing ourselves." To communicate effectively try to be as explicit as possible about the specific things you need or don't want and avoid talking in clichés or indirectly. "Take ownerships of how you feel," she suggests, "regardless of whether you are the one with the higher or lower sex drive." 

If it is difficult to know where to direct your conversation, address the following three areas first.

1. Figure out whether sex is actually the problem

It isn't necessarily a bad thing if all you want to do when you've got a night home alone is watch Stranger Things and hammer a bowl of carbonara. But if getting it on has become the last thing on your mind, first of all work out whether the sex itself is actually the problem.

"Often there can be issues in the daily grind of a relationship that contribute to bedroom problems but they aren't being discussed," Denise explains. "Work, money issues, children, not feeling supported; all of these things contribute to one person not wanting to have sex as much as the other." If one of you is having a sex slump, work out the reasons that are putting you off. Addressing anything outside the physical relationship is crucial as this is often the real cause.

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2. Look at what physically influences your sex drive

"Usually, your sex drive is very fluid," explains sex therapist Emma McMannon, "going up and down all the time depending on energy levels, stress, hormonal contraception and general health."

Denise explains that exercise can change your libido: "Some people see a massive increase in their sex drive after exercise and others, totally the reverse."  Similarly a heavy weekend of drinking can really affect your mood and feelings of self-worth, which unsurprisingly makes you less horny. 

I spoke to Lara, a 23-year-old who works in advertising who told me that her sex life was suffering because of her boyfriend's partying. "It would get to Sunday and we would argue because he was hungover and low about work and the last thing he wanted to do was sleep with me." They agreed to be more flexible by having sex before he went out, swapping a night out for a date on their own or not mentioning sex if he was hungover. 

Be aware of how your body reacts to these activities and try and balance sex with Negronis and weightlifting if you need to.

3. Look at what emotionally influences your sex drive

The other areas to examine are emotional issues like stress, anxiety, depression or even niggling worries like being able to maintain an erection. "Whoever has the lower sex drive might have got messages from past relationships that mean they have a different attitude to sex," Denise says. "The messages we receive about sex have a big influence on us in later life. We have to eliminate all those kind of things because we need to find the root of the problem."

You might have had your bedroom skills rubbished by an ex and now subconsciously dread the whole thing. You could feel distracted and stressed about work and not want to get intimate. These are the sort of emotional issues that can contribute to not wanting to get it on. Talk about these with your partner or if you feel embarrassed confide in a family member or friend.

If talking doesn't change much, take practical measures

If you're missing out on sex in your relationship a lot of the tension goes unspoken and becomes the elephant in the room.  One way of taking the awkward silences out of your wind-down routine is to plan having sex in a specific routine so you don't have to discuss or ignore it. 

Denise explained a sex schedule can take away the tension but stresses the importance of getting the frequency right for both people. "You need to both be comfortable and not feel extra pressure from a schedule," she recommends, "Whether you decide three times or once a week, check in with each other."

To see if a sex rota could really work, I spoke to Matt, a 27-year-old musician who told me his sex life with his fiancée was rescued by introducing one.

"It sounds really Victorian and unromantic," he tells me, "But it saved us from the tension of wondering whether we were going to have sex each night which I found a lot of pressure when going to bed." Matt and his fiancée agreed to have sex every other night which worked for her higher and his slightly lower sex drive. "We wouldn't really discuss it," he explained, "Now, apart from when sex isn't feasible it is just scheduled in our minds so we don't get upset or argue about it."

Experiment with other ways of being intimate

One recurrent problem Relate see in couples struggling with their sex lives is having a linear view of what being sex is. "I can't stress the difference between intimacy and intercourse enough," Denise says. "Explore other ways of pleasuring each other or yourself, be it through masturbation, oral sex or even just kissing each other."

She has found that in many relationships one partner withdraws from the other when they are kissing or touching for fear of letting the other down when they then refuse sex, "This means one person feels rejected from even basic acts of intimacy," she explains. "Rediscovering these acts can really boost your sex life and how you feel about each other."

Try not to get too worked up - everyone is not doing it more than you

"There is this urban myth that men are always up for it," Denise says, "And it really isn't the case, nor that women want sex less." If men feel their sex drives are relatively low, they often obsess about being inadequate and fixate on their deficiencies.

It is important to remember, not everyone is having a constant sex fiesta whilst you cry into your pillow. Whatever routine works for you remember, your sex life only needs to please you and your partner, not the whole world.