Every Friday on the blog, I answer people’s questions about sex, love, and relationships. This week’s question comes from a female reader who is frustrated by the fact that she wants to have sex more often than her boyfriend does.
So I am 20, my boyfriend is 23, and I have a MUCH higher sex drive than him. We have been together for 3 years, and he took my virginity when I was 17. Almost every time I want to have sex and I "put the moves on him" he pushes me away and tells me he's not in the mood and I'm starting to get frustrated. Is there any way you could help me or point me toward some helpful literature even?
I’m glad you submitted this question, because there are a lot of other people out there who are in a similar situation and wondering what they should do. As it turns out, sexual desire issues are among the most common reasons couples seek sex therapy. When one partner has greater desire for sex than the other, this is known clinically as a sexual desire discrepancy. In heterosexual couples, people have a tendency to assume that such discrepancies almost invariably reflect greater desire among men and less desire among women; however, the discrepancy can actually run in either direction.1 So, your case is not unusual.
In terms of addressing this issue, my suggestions would be very different depending upon whether your partner’s sexual desire has seemingly decreased over time, or whether your partner has always had lower sexual desire than you. If we’re talking about a decrease in his desire, the key is to figure out what caused it, because you cannot resolve the issue until you know the source. It turns out that there are many possible explanations. It could be that he is just undergoing a lot of stress in his life right now (e.g., at work or with his family) or perhaps there are other, non-sexual issues in your relationship that are creating stress (e.g., are you arguing and fighting more than you used to?). It may also be that he has developed some type of sexual dysfunction. In heterosexual couples, low sexual desire among the male partner often coincides with a sexual difficulty, such as erectile problems or premature ejaculation.2
In contrast, if you have always had a higher sex drive than him, then we’re dealing with something totally different. In this case, it is important for both of you to recognize that there is huge variability in people’s sex drives. For instance, some people are content having sex a few times per month, while others want it daily. What you both need to realize is that there is nothing inherently abnormal about wanting a little or a lot of sex—one of these is not necessarily better or healthier than the other. They’re just different. So, you shouldn’t be thinking that there is something wrong with you or with your partner. It’s very possible that the two of you just have different sexual preferences and you need to figure out how to best meet both of your needs.
So what should you do? In the case of desire discrepancies, a sex therapist will usually begin by telling the partners not to blame one another because these discrepancies represent a couple-level problem, not a problem with one individual.2 The person with the higher sex drive will probably also be instructed not to pressure their partner into sex, because that can be a major turnoff and may actually make the problem worse. Instead, the therapist will probably assign some "homework" activities designed to increase sexual communication and intimacy in a relaxed, low pressure fashion. The key here is not to force sex on the low-desire partner, but rather to develop mutual understanding, to enhance your communication skills, and to really spend your energy thinking about the quality of the sex that you are having instead of how often you’re doing it.
A desire discrepancy does not necessarily mean the end of your relationship and there are things you can do to address it. My best advice is to seek sex therapy as a couple because you really need to figure out the source of the discrepancy. Also, to address this issue effectively, you both need to be involved.
For past Sex Question Friday posts, see here. Want to learn more about The Psychology of Human Sexuality? Click here for a complete list of articles or like the Facebook page to get articles delivered to your newsfeed.
1Davies, S., Katz, J., & Jackson, J. L. (1999). Sexual desire discrepancies: Effects on sexual and relationship satisfaction in heterosexual dating couples. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 28, 553-567. doi:10.1023/A:1018721417683
2Wincze, J. P., & Carey, M. P. (2001). Sexual dysfunction: A guide for assessment and treatment (2nd Ed.). New York: Guilford.
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