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 isn't satisfied with the amount and type of sex she is having with her husband:
“I have been married for 11 years. We are good together, but our sexual drive, what I want, how I want it, and how frequently I want it does not match. Talking to him has not helped. I get frustrated. I masturbate but don't feel satisfied. What can I do?”
Thank you for submitting this question. It sounds like you are experiencing what sex therapists would call a sexual desire discrepancy, a situation in which spouses or partners prefer different amounts or types of sex. This is actually an incredibly common sexual problem. For instance, a recent national survey from Britain found that 27.4% of the women surveyed reported having a desire discrepancy.
In heterosexual relationships, sometimes it is the woman who wants less sex, but other times (as in your case), the female partner is the one who wants more sex. Of course, desire discrepancies can also occur in same-sex relationships. So we’re not talking about a gender issue here at all—this is a relationship issue.
In terms of how to address it, the first thing to ask yourself is whether this is a new issue or something that has always been present. If it is the former (i.e., his interest in sex has decreased over time), then it is possible we are talking about a medical or psychological issue (e.g., health problems, stress). For instance, in heterosexual couples, low sexual desire among the male partner often coincides with a sexual difficulty, such as erectile problems or premature ejaculation . So, if his desire has dropped off, some type of medical treatment might be in order.
In contrast, if this is a problem that has always existed in your relationship, then we’re probably dealing with something totally different that would necessitate another approach. One possibility would be to try some self-help strategies. In a new study published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine, women in long-term relationships were asked what strategy they adopted when their sexual desire was out of sync with their partner and how successful it was . The most common strategy reported was increased communication, and most of the women who tried it said that it helped. One woman who said communication was helpful noted the following:
“Separated our expectations of our sex life from our sex life itself, learned to appreciate what we have, and to respect our differences—and know that they aren’t judgments.”
I know you said that talking didn’t help in your case, and I should say that it wasn’t universally effective in this study either. So what else can be done? Other strategies that at least some women in this study reported as being helpful included scheduling sex, having date nights, and cuddling more.
Unfortunately, most of the women who tried these self-help methods said that they were only helpful to a degree or that they only worked temporarily. So if these things do not work, the best bet is probably to consult a sex therapist as a couple. A sex therapist will gather a lot more information about you, your partner, and your relationship in an attempt to really pinpoint the source of the discrepancy and, based on your unique circumstances, they will likely assign “homework” activities and intimacy-building exercises to help.
Please keep in mind that a desire discrepancy does not necessarily mean the end of your relationship and there are things that can be done. However, if you end up seeking sex therapy, I would recommend doing it together because, to address this issue most effectively, both partners need to be involved and committed to seeing it through.
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 Wincze, J. P., & Carey, M. P. (2001). Sexual dysfunction: A guide for assessment and treatment (2nd Ed.). New York: Guilford.
 Herbenick, D., Mullinax, M., & Mark, K. (in press). Sexual desire discrepancy as a reature, not a bug, of long-term relationships: Women’s self-reported strategies for modulating sexual desire. Journal of Sexual Medicine.
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