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Conflicting Sex Drives

I have been with my partner for over ten years. Our sexual relationship has been  positive and balanced until this last year when my wife’s sex drive has dropped to almost nothing. I am afraid to even bring up the topic because it just turns the rest of our relationship sour for days.   I know that this is not a fidelity issue, but I don’t know what to do. I am not ready to give up my sexual life and my sexual frustration can make me insensitive and even mean sometimes. What can I do?

Conflicting sex drive questions from both male and female partners may well be one of the most common problems that couples face in long term sexual relationships.  Sexual drive, a Freudian term, which is more commonly referred to as libido by sex therapists today is a complex and changing life energy force.  Freud considered this drive as a primary motivator of not only sexual instincts but passion for life in general. Couples who struggle with conflicting sexual drives will often look to professionals to prove what is normal and recently issues of low libido has been circling the psychiatric manuals as a new form of pathology.

Although the debate continues about whether low libido is something that should or needs to be treated,  most sex therapists and researchers would agree that the individual sexual drive that people experience is a complex interpretation of biological, psychological and social factors that is as unique as our finger prints. Finding yourself caught in a conflict with someone you love about how much sex, who wants it and who doesn’t is a deeply challenging and hurtful issue that has no winning side. Neither partner in this dynamic is walking away happy about the conflict they are in and working through it requires a willingness to open up conversations about your whole relationship, not just the sexual part of it.

I have long believed that our sexual conflicts are mirrors into other unexplored parts of our relationship. While this issue of mismatched sex drives may well be one of  the most long lived issues in coupled relationships,  finding resolution to it can shed light on other issues in the relationship that the partners are unaware of or have been unwilling to look at.  Conflicts about family, money, life/work problems often play out in the sex life of couples.  Not wanting sex is another way of saying that the relationship doesn’t feel safe and accusations of withholding sex out of spite only confirms this lack of safety.

Another common problem  associated with low libido that often goes unnamed  is the lack of information/education that most adults have at their disposal in their sex lives. Early mixed messages about sexuality can sometimes prevent one partner from being willing to explore their sexuality, experiment or open up at the same pace as the other. Not knowing or being able to discuss our discomfort or shame about sexuality can easily turn into a dying libido.  Sexual shutdown can and often does lead to hopelessness and the belief that change is not possible. This feeling of being stuck in a prolonged dead end often leads many couples away from each other in other aspects of relating as well.

For some couples,  the issue of different sex drives  is no more complex than recognizing and being willing to work with the baseline differences in the focus and importance you each place on sexual activity in your lives.  This is not a pathological problem as much as it is a problem solving situation where both partners need to become committed to exploring compromises and establishing agreements so that the gap between your drives is met on a bridge you build to each other.   Developing the art of negotiating and compromising in the whole of your relationship translates well into the bedroom.

The first step towards dealing with this issue is opening up the conversation about what is going on in your relationship.   You may need the help of a qualified therapist to explore the conflict.   The AASECT website is a great place to research resources.  Having the courage to explore the sexual aspects of your relationship will do wonders in building the trust and openness in the whole of your relationship.   Thinking of this conflict as a passage that will redefine your commitment to each other  is a good start.