Whether you’re having fun with hookups, steadily dating around, or in a committed romantic relationship, having mismatched libidos with your partner can be a stressful, shameful, and frustrating situation. But just because you feel insatiable or couldn’t care less about sex compared to your partner doesn’t mean your sex life is doomed. According to sexperts, you have options for regaining intimacy with your partner and guaranteeing your own sexual satisfaction.
Examine your feelings about the situation
One thing you should always keep in mind is that there is no “normal” when it comes to sex, especially your sex drive. Your sex drive can fluctuate over the course of a day, month, or year. It can also evolve throughout your life and a relationship. Shamyra Howard, a licensed clinical social worker and sexologist, says that mismatched libido is one of the most common complaints she hears from couples in her practice, On The Green Couch. Stress, family responsibilities, work, medical issues, and relationship issues can contribute to a change in sexual desire, she explains. Sometimes, partners having mismatched libidos is no big deal. Other times, this incompatibility can negatively affect your relationship.
Typically, Howard says, “[Mismatched libidos] makes the higher desire partner take on the role of sole initiator, and the partner with lower desire becomes ‘the distancer’ in the relationship.” This dynamic can cause tension in your relationship — and not the arousing kind. “The initiator begins to feel consistently rejected and inadequate, and the distancer begins to feel disgusted and guilty,” she explains.
Howard adds that couples who redefine what sex is for them can deal with their differences better than those who ignore the issue or blame each other.
What to do if you and your partner have different sex drives
See a sex therapist
“Attending sex therapy is a great way to get clarity on managing mismatched libidos,” Howard says. A sex therapist can help you and your partner figure out the reasons for your mismatched libidos and help you distill wants and needs so you can meet in the middle in a way that feels comfortable and sexually satisfying. A sex therapist can also help you or your partner find ways to increase libido, if that’s wanted. If you’re not comfortable seeing a sex therapist, Howard suggests taking a page out of her book Use Your Mouth to learn the ways building intimacy outside the bedroom can improve your sex life.
Talk to your partner about both of your needs
Dr. Jess O’Reilly, a resident sexologist for Astroglide and co-author of The Ultimate Guide to Seduction and Foreplay, suggests sitting down with your partner and each writing down on a piece of paper how often you want to have sex. “Do you want it once per week, once per hour, or once per fiscal year? Be honest. You are allowed to want it every day and you are also allowed to not want sex at all,” she says. Then, draw a line below your number and write down how often you think your partner wants sex.
“Share your papers, have a laugh, and then have a discussion about how you can find some middle ground,” O’Reilly says. “You might be on the same page as your partner and you might feel as though you are still a world apart. Either experience is OK,” she adds. “You can cultivate compatibility if you are both willing to put in the effort.”
Figure out what gets you two in the mood
Another exercise O’Reilly offers is making a list of interactions, feelings, and behaviors that decrease or increase your desire for sex. For example, O’Reilly says, “Perhaps you are more interested in sex when you exercise, dance, cook at home, get a good night’s rest, spend time alone, read a book, listen to a specific song, finish the laundry, wake up early, stay up late, stand up for yourself, or enjoy a glass of tea.”
Or, O’Reilly adds, “Perhaps you find you want sex more frequently when you kiss, cuddle, read together, share a bath, laugh, take a break from chores, fantasize, eat candy, or decorate your room with flowers from the garden.” On the flipside, she says, the news, scrolling through social media, playing with your kids, talking to your roommate, working late, or eating a heavy meal may zap your sexual interest.
In a similar vein, Ruby Rare, a sex educator and ambassador for sexual health organization Brook, suggests giving your partner a heads-up if you are or aren’t going to be feeling sexy when you see each other. That way you’ll be on the same page.
Experiment with different kinds of intimate touch
Rare recommends that even if sex is off the table for the time being, you can find ways to be sensual together. “A lot of what we get from sex in terms of connection is actually sensual, so being able to enjoy touch and intimacy in non-sexual ways is very important for lots of people in relationships to feel connected,” she says.
You can also compromise on sex. When you’re horny but your partner isn’t quite in the mood, they can still hold or kiss you while you’re masturbating. “Being involved in the action without actually doing anything can be something that works well for people,” Rare says, emphasizing that everyone should be giving enthusiastic consent.
Be patient with your partner (and yourself)
Finding ways to get on the same page about sex, and how often it happens, can take time. There’s lots of communication and methods to try. But if you or your partner simply have a naturally high or low sex drive, and one or both partners don’t have a desire to change that, it can be frustrating, If sex is not the priority to stay in the relationship, it’s important to approach your partner (and yourself) with patience and compassion. We can’t help the fact that our bodies are all built differently. So, no matter what solutions you and your partner choose to explore, keep in mind the extent of your healing and sexual satisfaction can vary, and will ebb and flow over time.
Take matters into your own hands
If your sex drive and your partner’s libido continues to diverge, focusing on self-pleasure is a viable option. “Even if you’re in a relationship, you should hopefully still be enjoying solo sex and having a part of your sexuality be personal. If you’re doing that, you have agency over that completely,” Rare says. “You can find sexual pleasure by exploring yourself through masturbation, reading and listening to erotica, discussing your fantasies, and even watching porn,” Howard proposes.
You can even go the extra mile and intentionally carve out time for masturbation. “I think if we give ourselves a chunk of time to really just explore and indulge, that can be lovely. And that doesn’t [necessarily] mean sexually stimulating yourself for two hours,” she explains. “That means giving yourself an hour or even more to ease in and out of enjoying pleasure.”
Gain fresh perspective on your relationship
Again, there is no “normal” with sex. Everyone prioritizes sexual compatibility differently in their relationships. That being said, if you need to break up with your partner because of your mismatched libidos, or if your partner is not willing to put in the effort to improve your sex life, that’s OK. If you need to explore other forms of your relationship, like consensual non-monogamy, that’s OK, too. Your relationship is yours to define and different things work for different people.
“There is a lot that comes with a non-monogamous relationship,” Howard says. “No pun intended.” For this reason, she suggests seeing a therapist or sex coach to help navigate this shift. Rare says looking into podcasts or books on non-monogamy — Howard recommends Opening Up by Tristan Taormino — can prove helpful.
“Allow yourselves to be playful,” she says. You may try a threesome or attend a sex party before you decide to have sex with other individuals on your own. While there are no “right” or “wrong” ways to experiment with non-monogamy, Rare says, you should be doing what’s best for you and your partner.
Ultimately, figure out what works for both partners
Doing what’s best for you and your partner should always be the objective when you’re problem-solving together. When it comes to mismatched sex drives, you can’t go wrong if you slow down, listen to your partner, reflect on the information presented, and collaborate with your partner on solutions for regaining intimacy. See sexual satisfaction not just as the goal, but a pleasurable journey and an opportunity for exploration.