Whether it's higher or lower, here's how to cope—and find that happy medium.
You and your significant other share a close connection and a ton of interests in common. But if your sex drives have drifted out of sync—you want more action in the bedroom, for example, or you're just not in the mood for sex as often as your partner is—your relationship can suffer.
“The term for this is sexual desire discrepancy, and it’s very common,” says Sunny Rodgers, a clinical sexologist and certified sex educator. If left unaddressed, differences in sex drive can be a source of resentment, guilt, and feelings of rejection. “One partner will eventually feel pressured to have sex, while the other will become frustrated,” she says, adding that is not the foundation of a healthy relationship.
Just for the record, it's not always the male partner who wants sex more often. “While most people I speak with believe the stereotype that men have the stronger libido, I find that it’s the women in a relationship who actually crave more sex play,” says Rodgers.
As frustrating as it can be, mismatched libidos are not a relationship death sentence. Rodgers says it’s pretty normal to want more or less sex than your partner. But if there's a significant difference in sexual desire that lasts for a long period of time, the situation must be confronted. "Libidos do ebb and flow during the span of a relationship," she says, and "there are ways to help get both partners better balanced.” These five pointers can help get you there.
Rule out a medical issue
If you once had more evenly matched sex drives but suddenly one of you changed, it may be the result of illness or prescription drugs. “Medication, stress, and the overwhelming pressures of life can create havoc on libidos," says Rodgers.
For men, stress and some meds can cause erectile dysfunction by interfering with hormone levels; he may be avoiding sex because he can't perform. Women who take hormonal birth control might also experience lower desire, says Rodgers. Pregnancy and menopause can also alter female libido. And for both sexes, certain antidepressants are known sex drive sappers. If you suspect it's a medical problem, a visit to a physician is in order.
Broaden your definition of sex
Rather than thinking of sex solely in terms of intercourse followed by an orgasm, incorporate a wider range of sexual activities into your bedroom routine that can be satisfying and arouse desire: intimate touches, deep kissing, mutual masturbation, even porn if you're both okay with it. Be open about a fantasy you'd like to live out that can get you in the mood more often, and encourage your partner to be open about fantasies as well—then do what you can to make them happen.
Take turns scheduling sex sessions
It might sound unsexy, but there are advantages to penciling in a specific time for sex on your calendar—especially if you agree to take turns. Knowing when your next sex session will happen can help a partner with lower desire ease into a sexier mind-frame beforehand, and be more conscientious of finding a frequency you're both okay with. The spouse who wants more frequent sex will know when it's going to happen for sure, and that can dial back feelings of anxiety and rejection.
Also, with both partners working and taking care of family issues all day and evening, spontaneous sex just doesn't always happen. If you wait for both of you to feel like getting it on, you might be in for a long dry spell. Planning a time that you both agree on, however, makes it a priority.
Consider that it's a relationship issue, not a sex one
“Research shows that couples experiencing desire discrepancy are usually dissatisfied with their relationship overall,” says Rodgers. The sex drive mismatch could be causing that dissatisfaction, or maybe a non-sexual problem with your bond is manifesting itself in the bedroom. It's hard to talk about, but be honest about whether something else is upsetting you, and encourage your partner to be honest as well—so you can address the conflict and get back on the same page in the bedroom.
Says Rodgers: “Step back and look at your relationship: What are possible reasons your libido or your partner’s libido is low, or high? And, most importantly, where do both of you see your partnership going, and what needs to happen to make that a reality?”
Should you ever give up?
“As long as a couple is committed to their future, there are always ways to work together toward a mutually happy sexual partnership,” Rodgers says. However, if a conflict outside of the bedroom can't seem to be solved, or you were always a sex drive mismatch from day one and no matter how hard you try, you can't seem to find a happy medium, it's possible that going your separate ways may be the best option. Talking to a counselor can help you navigate this.
Jenna Birch is author of The Love Gap: A Radical Plan to Win in Life and Love (Grand Central Life & Style).