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.
18 thoughts on “Sex drive differences aren’t the problem”
Thanks Jay for helping my wife and I through a difficult time like you mentioned here. I did not realize there were so many others like us. Until I started reading your posts I thought most all marriages were happy ones sexually except ours. I assumed most divorces were over other issues.
Once again, great post. I can understand this from both perspectives which probably helps a lot. Thank you for giving me something to be able to show to him. It definitely is hard for both of us to understand that the other also has feelings and it’s not very easy to discuss something like this without thinking the other one just needs to be right when in all reality we both are acting this way.
to further compound the problem. If a high drive wants to talk about this, the low drive may perceive again “all you ever want to talk about is sex”
As always a good communication is the key, but not always is easy to talk…
I`m sure it would help lots of couples.
Thanks for sharing!!
I read your previous post in 2012 about getting antsy when your wife denied you and your labels of “high” and “low” sex drive. I admire your taking responsibility for being a jerk when you don’t get it but i have the following comments:
I am also a sexual person but during marriage -afte all the infinite responsibilities of bearing house chores and upkeep of the family come to fore do not consider these small nusiances. I had to deal with in laws, got pregnant right away and haf endless fights where we could never see eye to eye, which led to a dissolution of self confidence and sense of self worth.
To the point that sex was just another chore and obligation to fulfill.
When the husband activiely takes part in the wife’s life, shsres the burden of the work, stops dominating, blaming and controlling the wife… all your needs will be met because you will be on the same playing field.
I am a woman, most women are empaths, they require a lead in to sex and sense of intimacy to their partner to acheive a turn on.
Catching you watching and admiring other women and seeing porn on your phone does not help in the least and you’ll argue its harmless, but it erodes our self esteem. So you want me to be ready for sex all the time but you don’t want to comprise for me and abscond your addiction to porn.
So what’s fair? And when does a she stop having to feel like she has to fulfill the husband whim only untill its a crisis and she say no completely becuase she has to save herself and reclaim her sense of worth.
Men are visceral, women are emotional.
What have you done to understand what validates her before you ask to be validated through sex.
Once we stop looking at what’s being done to us and onserve what’s going on can we finally see the solution to our problems.
Good night Jay Dee!! Greville Constantine here!! Long time no speak!! The trouble with my Wife’s & my Sex life is NOT low libido or high libido so to speak, but just TOO MUCH EXHAUSTION to be as Sexually Active as we would like to be. We both work 60 hour workweeks, so when we are home, EITHER SHE IS TOO TIRED OR I’M TOO TIRED. She knocks out easily when she goes to bed, but many times when we try to stay up to be Together, I FALL FAST ASLEEP. Many times she is already in bed before me, I find myself unable to sleep after a while because we TRY to stay up Together. We believe that finding better jobs with SHORTER HOURS is the Solution to our Inability to have Sex Regularly. It does become a burden at times, but the few times on an Early weekend morning, or on a night when I am off from work and we can be Together, Sexually WE ARE MARVELLOUS!!
At what point is enough enough? I can’t initiate because that is pressuring her and I’m just some sort of pervert for even thinking about it, but leaving it up to her discretion results in NOTHING. We’re not talking low here because she’s exhausted, especially since I already do probably 90% of the cooking, cleaning, and laundry. Were talking NO interest. And talking about it between us just results in an arguement, but trying to show her third party resources just gets her defensive as well. What’s really hard to deal with is that none of this was an issue for first 23 years of our relationship, just the past decade or so.
It generally takes two people to have an argument. That is, both individuals are retaliating rather than responding. A person can’t have an argument with someone who refuses to argue, but rather keeps to discussion. So, I would think the next step would be to improve communication so that you can get to a point where you can have a discussion about it.
Doesn’t matter if the spouse improves the communication. It aint gonna help because as i said before the frequency of sex is always determined by the low drive spouse
As I said in the other reply, I know many marriages where this dynamic was changed through communication.
You are so correct. Frequency of sex is ALWAYS according to the low drive spouse. That is totally unfair
That’s not actually true. I know many marriages mine own included where the “low drive” spouse has realized that’s an unhealthy dynamic and no longer controls the frequency.
Not by me . I have tried every method, request , behavior, action, and all ideas that i have read or whatever you want to call it and it doesnt help. My wife says that we did it then to have kids and it was GREAT as GREAT can be. But that was then and now is now and we dont need it anymore. Help
I’d start with asking why she believes it’s not needed any more.
Been there done that. She has no desire to talk about, participate, go for counseling , nothing. Not even to let’s just have some quick satisfaction. That place is closed and out of business . This has been going on for over 15 years. Average of 3 or 4 times a year. Birthday and anniversary sessions are deleted from life a long time ago.
Then usually the next step is a bit more forceful. Something like “I’m booking an appointment to talk to our pastor about our marriage so he knows what’s going on and can pray for our marriage. I’d like for you to join me, but if you’d rather not I can go alone. I’m also booking an appointment with a marriage counselor. You’re welcome to join me there as well, but I need some help trying to figure out how to survive a sexless marriage.” It’s not a threat, but rather a realization that without sex, you need support so that your married doesn’t turn into something awful and you become jaded/cynical/hateful towards your wife.
Jay, thanks so much for your support and suggestions.
We have already talked about counseling and clergy. She does not want either. And never never never is there any shouting arguing or anger amonst us. We really really love each other. She just doesn’t want anything to do with sex anymore. Any other ideas?
Sorry, I was unclear. This step is less an invitation (though the invite is still, and always should be, there), and more of a “this is what I’m doing for us”. She doesn’t need to attend. If she won’t go, you still go. There are two reasons for this:
First, you, individually, need support, with or without her. Marriages weren’t designed to exist without sex, and it will take considerable effort for it not to eventually turn into a hate-filled relationship.
Second, darkness cannot stand the light. One of the reasons I’m willing to bet she doesn’t want counseling is because she knows she’s wrong, but doesn’t want to be convicted by it. She’s hardened her heart towards the topic, and this will harden her heart against the Holy Spirit. Letting her know you are going to be talking to people, starting with the pastor, is so she can’t hide her sin in the shadows anymore. While ideally this may have the affect of snapping her out of it and actually acting like a wife, the larger concern is that you cannot let her willful obedience to God go unchallenged. If you are both professing Christians, it is your duty to hold her accountable to the declarations she made to follow God. Failing to do so is being complicit in her choices. You can’t force her to stop what she’s doing, but you can force her to choose outright whether to follow God or not.
By bringing this sin into a more public space (starting with your pastor), this let’s her know you won’t help her hide her sin any longer.
Unfortunately, we have free-will, and that means she could ultimately choose to reject God as a result. That’s the risk. But I’d argue she’s already doing so if she’s choosing to live a life of sin like this.
For me, the risk here is less your sex life and more that she’s rejecting God, and that rejection will spread. To the rest of her life, and it may spread to you. As I said, sexless marriages often turn into hate-filled ones. It’s a foothold for Satan. Don’t give it to him. It’s time to shove him out by bringing this into the light.
So, I’d start with the pastor. After that, when people ask how you’re doing, tell them the truth. Start with “our marriage is in trouble and we could use prayers”. I’d say this right in front of her. You don’t need to go into details with everyone. The next step would be to start sharing the nature of the issue with people you trust. Make less and less comfortable to continue to live this life of sin. Make her do it out in the open rather than in secret. It comes with risks of course. If she’s already hardened her heart too much, she may just leave you.
It’s a difficult step. Most won’t take it. People find divorce or continuing to live with the abandonment of the marriage more tolerable somehow. Probably because they’re afraid of what might happen. I’m afraid of what happens if you do nothing. You’ll have to decide for yourself which is more frightening: the continuation of your marriage with you two slowly drifting toward hatred, or her getting really angry with the potential for serious positive change.