Most couples face a conflict in terms of mismatched sex drives.
The majority in fact, my marriage included. This leads some people to believe that their sex drive, or the sex drive of their spouse, is the issue. But it’s not. It’s just a conflict, and conflicts are neither good nor bad.
The real problem is one of perspective. Generally one, or more often both, spouses fail to see the other’s side. They don’t try to understand how their spouse, thinks or feels, emotionally or physically.
It’s worse than that actually. We tend to demonize our spouse, choosing instead to put our energy into creating a belief that they are intentionally trying to hurt us.
For the sake of shorthand, I’ll be terming the spouse who desires sex more often as the “high-drive” spouse, and the one that desires sex less often as the “low-drive” spouse. However, please understand that sex drives are far more complex than a simple high or low. See here for more info.
The high-drive spouse
The high-drive spouse often uses sex as a barometer for how the relationship is going, and more specifically, how much their spouse loves them. Stereotypically these are the husbands in a relationship, however, I know there are many women (I think between 25-33%) who are the high-drive spouse in their marriage.
Sex is often (if not always) top of mind for these spouses. As such, they desire to initiate sex frequently, and generally will unless something is holding them back. Usually, the types of things that stop them from initiating are fear of rejection or feeling shame about how strong their desire for the spouse is.
For the high-drive person, when their spouse turns them down for sex, they often take it as a personal rejection. They feel like their spouse is saying “no, I don’t want you”. Likewise, if their spouse doesn’t initiate, they can feel unloved and undesired. A fear of getting naked translates into a lack of trust in them and being passive in bed feels like disinterest in them.
Now, rightly or wrongly, this is how they feel. In some cases, it has to do with beliefs and expectations, but it’s also often backed by hormones. Oxytocin and dopamine get released during sex. These hormones, respectively, make you feel loved and successful. So, when they initiate sex and are rejected, the lack of oxytocin and dopamine response can bring a chemically induced sense of lost love and failure.
The low-drive spouse
By contrast, the low-drive spouse, rarely, if ever, thinks about sex. They might never feel spontaneously aroused or be “in the mood”, or have it happen so infrequently as to count the number of times on one hand. Often these are women, but some men are like this as well. Their sex drive tends to be more responsive in nature, and so they don’t think about sex until after they are having it.
So, when their spouse comes to them for sex as asks “are you in the mood” the answer is almost always “no” because they’re not. Why would they be? You haven’t started yet. There’s nothing to respond to, so how can they be aroused? They need to feel something first in order to be in the mood.
For the low-drive spouse, when their spouse initiates sex often, they feel like the spouse is only interested in sex. From their perspective, there’s no context that would lead to arousal, and so they must only be interested in sex itself, not in the relationship. Initiating sex feels like their spouse is being selfish only caring about getting off. It can make them feel uncared for as a person.
Even when they try to have sex more often, it’s usually “not enough”. Their spouse still always seems to want more sex. This can cause them to believe that their spouse will never be satisfied with them.
The reality is that they’re both right, and they’re both wrong. They’re correct about how they feel, but they’re mistaken in how they think their spouse feels. And that’s generally the case with humans. We think we’re right and normal and anyone not like us is wrong and abnormal.
I can’t tell you how many people I’ve had contact me to say that their spouse is either perverted because they want too much sex or frigid because they don’t want enough. I don’t think I’ve had anyone yet say “We have different perspectives on this and we’re having trouble discussing them. Could we get some coaching to create a framework for that discussion?”
So, what’s the truth?
The truth is, the low-drive spouse rarely thinks about sex. They shouldn’t be expected to be spontaneously in the mood, to think like a high-drive spouse, or to desire sex or anything to do with it as much as their spouse. There’s a good chance they’ll be less interested in reading blog posts about sex or discussing new positions and activities. When they’re less interested in sex, it likely has less to do with their spouse and more to do with the context. It doesn’t mean they don’t love you, it just means sex is not their primary way of showing it nor likely their favourite way of being shown. They’re always going to push their spouse to find non-sexual ways to be intimate. That’s a good thing. The way they do that is not always so good.
High-drive spouses are going to think about sex more often. It doesn’t mean they love the low-drive spouse any less, or that “all they want is sex”. It means that this is how they experience love in a very real and tangible way. Initiating is a way of saying “I love you” and sex is a way to spend time with the love of their life without any barriers. They’re going to be more interested in making it better, having it more often and generally more excited about sex. It doesn’t mean that sex isn’t good the way it is. It just means they’re passionate about passion and are always going to be looking to improve that time of connection. And that’s a good thing. The way they do that is not always so good.
So, what are your discussions about sex drives like? Is it two partners sharing their perspectives? Or two individuals convinced they’re right and the other is wrong?
P.S. If you need help with this, contact me about coaching. I’ve helped many couples through this exact discussion.