Mismatched libidos
May 14, 2005 6:24 PM   Subscribe

I've been in this relationship for a while now, it's good, she's my best friend and I love her dearly. However...

... we seem to have completely opposite attitudes and desires regarding sex. I see physical imtimacy as deeply important in a relationship, she doesn't seem to have the same feeling. She enjoys sex, and is not prudish or anything, she just doesnt really have a sex drive.

I, however, have a very strong sex drive. Constant rejection from her (e.g. I'm too tired, busy, etc) leaves me depressed and resentful. It gets to the point where I prefer not to have physical contact with her at all because it is maddening.

Every day that passes with nothing happening I find myself getting into a more and more introspective thought loop, getting irritated, depressed and resentful. This thought pattern eats away at me more as time passes. It feels foreign to me because I'm normally very cheerful. This thought loop clears up straight away after sex.

She has said things like `you know what it's like when you just don't feel like sex?' and my answer is, in all honesty, `No'.

What I guess I am asking here what anyone here in a similar situation does. I can get myself off to dampen the physical aspects of the issue, but it's not just about release, it's about the whole physical contact issue.

Am I being petty? I think sometimes I am making too big a deal out of this.

I'm in my late 20's, she's a few years younger than me. We live together, and I think that there should be more than maybe a once a week quickie. Am I wrong?

Any advice, opinions or insight gladly accepted.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (32 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

No, you're not wrong. Something needs to be done about this as it's a very serious issue. I won't offer (bad) advice other than, yes, you need to definitely resolve this, and, no, you're not being unreasonable. I think she might have intimacy issues.
posted by wackybrit at 6:39 PM on May 14, 2005

You're not being betty, but it's also not necessarily her fault. You're different people.

The best thing you can do is see a sex therapist, who can help you find a middle ground.
posted by Jairus at 6:44 PM on May 14, 2005

I second the therapist idea - IMO though it doesn't have to specifically be a sex therapist. Either way, you do need a professional third party to help both of you understand the causes of the problem (at deeper than obvious levels), repercussions and develop possible solutions or least understanding.
posted by forallmankind at 6:57 PM on May 14, 2005

You may be able to find some compromises with physical intimacy (cuddling, basically) that doesn't lead to sex. It could make you feel the closeness you only get with physical contact, but not make her feel like she has to "perform."

Most sex guides also address this problem -- it's fairly common. You might want to check them out for more concrete ideas.

On preview: Wanting sex only once a week is not necessarily "an issue." She may, and probably does, simply have a lower sex drive than you do. It may be caused by birth control pills, or stress, or the fact that you don't do the dishes when you say you will, or any other number of factors, but it's not necessarily some deep dark psychological secret that only intensive therapy can cure. It's a pretty common problem -- most of my female friends would fall into the "once a week is fine, thanks" category.
posted by occhiblu at 7:02 PM on May 14, 2005

I can get myself off to dampen the physical aspects of the issue, but it's not just about release, it's about the whole physical contact issue.

As a small note, you may be able to get yourself more action by making it clear that not every expression of affection has to culminate in sex. It leaves space for you to not feel rejected and for your partner's desire to blossom on its own. Nothing can destroy a libido faster than being expected to perform.

More generally, yeah, for some people sex once a week is all they want. It can change over time. Sometimes you really are just busy. It can stay the same too. Some people just don't care that much. Personally, I'd try some straight-up honesty to find out what's going on between the two of you before jumping to therapy.
posted by dame at 7:12 PM on May 14, 2005

Why Your Wife Won't Have Sex With You. Look at the right sidebar and read all of it. It makes a tremendous amount of sense to me, as a woman... from your SO's perspective, it's possible (though not necessarily so) that the pressure from your stronger sex drive makes her less enthused about sex, or makes her feel used for sex, or the depression/resentment/irritation makes her feel less enthused about sex. So it can be self-perpetuating.

It's not that either one is wrong, I think it may just be one of those asymmetries that tend to occur between men and women and complicate relationships.
posted by Jeanne at 7:48 PM on May 14, 2005

There is certainly a level of comfort that a healthy 20 year woman ought to have, sexually speaking. There ought to be a sex drive there with her.

It could possibly be you - that she's not into you, that she's been pressureed into the living with you, that she thought she thoguht that the good friendship would develop into something else, and she's truly unhappy.

But, I do wonder...is she the victim of some form of sexual abuse when she was younger? This often causes problems with sex.
posted by filmgeek at 7:56 PM on May 14, 2005

Response by poster: In addition to all the other advice, do you pay attention to her needs during sex? Does she orgasm, do you do foreplay, cunnilingus and whatnot? Sometimes a lack of interest in sex can be due to not knowing what good sex is like.
posted by Anonymous at 8:18 PM on May 14, 2005

multiple possibilities:
a) she may just naturally have a low sex drive;
b) she may just naturally not be that turned on by you;
c) she may have a specifically caused (ie, childhood trauma, etc) low sex drive;
d) she may have a specifically caused (ie, you pissed her off) reason not to be into you.

Sex means different things to different people (someone on the other side) and can have different levels of importance in different times of life or different relationships. But, it is clearly an important part of sexual relationship, so you need to be able to communicate to her what it means to you. If you can explain it in emotional terms, it may make more sense to her. Does she take any comfort in verbal or symbolic intimacy? (I.e., does she like being told you love her, or getting flowers or anything?) Try to explain that for you the physical intimacy is that kind of confirmation of what you have together.
posted by mdn at 8:18 PM on May 14, 2005

Is she on medication?

Sometimes the more you push, the less she will want to be intimate with you so you may want to back off.
posted by euphorb at 8:30 PM on May 14, 2005

This isn't a rare problem, and, let me tell you, it all comes down to her attitude.

If she sees this as a mutual problem -- i.e., she is authentically concerned by her lack of desire, or your lack of satisfaction -- than there's plenty of hope.

If, on the other hand, she sees this as your problem, i.e., you're free to request and she's free to say no, and that's the end of it, forget about it. That situation will never be remedied. You have to decide if you love her enough to mark it down in the column of things you're willing to put up with. If not, move on.
posted by MattD at 8:55 PM on May 14, 2005

Women in their early twenties also do have much lower sex drives than men in their twenties - it's not just you or her, it's just differences. (I have been the woman in a situation just like this, so I have great sympathy for you both.)

That said, there are things that you as a couple can do:

Birth control pills can kill a woman's sex drive; I switched to a diaphram with contraceptive jelly, and my fiance is much happier. If this is applicable, she could try alternative birth control methods (diaphram, cervical cap, but not progesterone pills or Depo Provera - this is worse for sex drives - I got menopause.)

Make sure she has enough sleep and help her reduce stress. Give massages (without expectation) - they may have a good effect; encourage her to have a warm bath - maybe you can join her. Think about getting together on a lazy afternoon when neither of you are worried about work - personally, I feel much more awake and interested in the afternoon than at night.

Try letting her seduce you - be utterly passive. This can be a big turn on, and lets her control the speed of everything.

Your situation will be unique, of course, but I found my big problems were that a) I did have a different sex drive, but especially b) I let birth control pills, lack of sleep and stress eradicate what drive I had. I think this happens to a lot of women (which is why children affect sex between couples so much).
posted by jb at 8:57 PM on May 14, 2005

Yes, as people say above, pressure isn't good - it makes you feel like you need to perform, and then you worry you won't be capable (women have perfomance anxiety as well) - but it's better for the whole relationship that she isn't having sex because she feels she must, or it will become a chore and that would be really bad.
posted by jb at 9:00 PM on May 14, 2005

One more thing - do you find that you become much closer to her in orgasm? Male friends have told me this happens to them - that they "pattern" on the woman they're with when they orgasm. This isn't true for me - do other women experience this? Anyway, if you do, you should let her know - it would go a long way to explaining why sex is important to you in an emotional as well as physical way.
posted by jb at 9:05 PM on May 14, 2005

Please, please don't assume "there's something wrong with her" because she's different from you. It's quite possible that sex just doesn't do that much for her.

Or maybe it is the pressure. I just ended a 5 year relationship, in small part because of this issue, Let me tell you, the more I was pressured to have sex, the less I desired it. In a lot of ways it made me feel slutty. I gave in to please my partner because they'd get irritable if I didn't. My partner had a pretty cride approach to things at the end, approaching me while I was reading and saying "Ya wanna come to the bedroom with me?" Ugh. Doesn't work. And I was very honest and very clear about the fact that it didn't work and what would. Nothing ever changed.

I'm not saying you're like that way, but maybe the approach just doesn't work for her. Maybe sometimes she really is just that tired, or just that busy.
posted by aclevername at 9:36 PM on May 14, 2005

A male friend told me he becomes more emotionally attached to the woman he's looking at when he orgasms - he didn't like porn so much for this reason, because it took away from the connection of a real relationship. He described it as "patterning".

I don't experience this - I don't know if it's a sex difference or not. But I know that many women talk about being disconnected from sex - I've experienced that. I wonder sometimes whether the sex drive differences aren't as much emotional as they are physical. They certainly are physical though.
posted by jb at 11:06 PM on May 14, 2005

There've been a number of other AskMes about this. Just FYI.
posted by callmejay at 12:06 AM on May 15, 2005

Increased emotional attachment immediately after sex is quite normal, it's due to increased oxytocin levels in the brain that occur after orgasm (the levels in the male brain climb from about one tenth that of normal female levels, up to roughly an equivalent level). Oxytocin is a hormone which induces bonding / nurturing feelings.
posted by tomble at 4:23 AM on May 15, 2005

A male friend told me he becomes more emotionally attached to the woman he's looking at when he orgasms

Isn't this what people stereotypically say of women? I.e., that women can't have meaningless sex because they get emotionally attached by the act, whereas for men it's just fun? Not that I think that's true; it's just funny that people try to make it a gender-specific thing - but for each gender! Maybe it's just that certain people get emotionally attached by sex, and others don't, and it's not really that much to do with being male or female.
posted by mdn at 6:11 AM on May 15, 2005

As a small note, you may be able to get yourself more action by making it clear that not every expression of affection has to culminate in sex. It leaves space for you to not feel rejected and for your partner's desire to blossom on its own. Nothing can destroy a libido faster than being expected to perform.

this was exactly my experience as the "non-sexual" male partner. her continuous pushing made me resent the act so much that to this day, i still get skittish about demands.
posted by fake at 6:31 AM on May 15, 2005

Not only are you pressuring her to have sex, but you're pressuring her to have sex so that you can be emotionally fulfilled. It's not just that you want to get it on, you want to satisfy an emotional need for intimacy. That's a hell of a lot of pressure to put on somebody who isn't particularly horny to begin with.

Your partner, feeling pressured by your neediness, feels even less like having sex, which makes you even more needy and put even more pressure on her which makes her even less into sex with you... and on and on and on.

I don't think it's fair to put the burden of your need at the feet of your partner and then throw your hands up in despair if she is comfortable meeting it. Sex is fun. Meaningful emotional sex with someone you love is one of the best things in the world. Turning every sexual encounter into something fraught with meaning and emotional healing is burdensome and exhausting and kind of creepy.

Is it possible you're trying to turn every sexual encounter into an epic lovemaking that will echo through the ages? And your partner is trying to compromise by having sex when she's not really into it (see vicious cycle above), making her involvement is rather perfunctory? Which then makes you feel bad and need more sex as an emotional balm and look! Another vicious cycle!

Figure out if there are other ways you can get this emotional need met and understand that sex is not the only way that your partner can show you that she loves you. And understand that if your partner isn't interested in sex right this minute, that doesn't mean she doesn't love you. Once you understand that she truly loves you regardless of the perceived inequities in sex drive, you will take the pressure off her to demonstrate her love through sex, and take the pressure of yourself to fulfill your emotional needs through sex. That will free you up to pay attention to the physical needs of your partner, and I think you will be pleasantly surprised at the increase in her libido.
posted by jennyb at 8:47 AM on May 15, 2005

First thing is to figure out whether she wants to have a higher sex drive. If she is happy with the way things are/doesn't want a change, then there's really nothing you can do.

But if she feels her life or the relationship would be improved by more sex, or if she's willing to try to increase her sex drive for your sake, then there is hope. But in determining this, you Must Not pressure her. Just broach the topic gently, and make it clear that you care about her, and that you are only trying to improve the relationship - don't allow her to feel your love is contingent on sex.

IF she wants to increase her sex drive, here is my advice:

1) Take the pressure off. Performance anxiety exists for women too.
2) Is she getting enough sleep and eating well? These make a big difference.
3) Medications? My libido vanished on birth control but came back somewhat when I went off it.
4) Time of day? Before bed isn't always best - I for one am often too tired then. Afternoon might be better, or in the morning.
5) Allow enough time for plenty of foreplay and general intimacy beforehand, and don't assume that all intimacy must lead to sex. Learn to enjoy other stuff, like just cuddling, making out, showering together, etc. Increasing general physical intimacy will often spark more interest in sex.
6) Stress. If she has a lot to worry about, it may distract her from focusing on sex. You could help her deal with things like housework (you live together - are you doing your share?) and errands.
posted by mai at 3:36 PM on May 15, 2005

It sounds to me a lot like you've just got too comfortable and started taking her for granted. "Best friend" or not, you can't just drop everything you did to get her interested in the first place and expect that she'll still feel like having sex with you. This is the easiest pattern in the world to fall into, fortunately it's also not all that difficult to fix, you just need to show her that you're still excited about being with her and that you're still prepared to go out of your way to make her feel good.

You know how to do this stuff, it sounds to me like you've just got a bit complacent. However I would like to stress one thing, and that is to give 100 percent of your attention to what you're doing during cuddling, massages, hair-stroking etc. This makes a ton of difference to how good it feels for her and you'll feel a lot closer to her as well. I find maintaining a just-perceptible awareness of my breathing to be helpful in getting into this state.

In summary, there's nothing wrong with her, and there's nothing wrong with you except that you need to start putting in a bit more effort again. You'll be fine.
posted by teleskiving at 3:24 AM on May 16, 2005 [1 favorite]

To all those who cite pressure: yes, yes, yes! It's not necessarily performance anxiety, though. When you just don't want to have sex, you don't. By now your wife probably does think that any physical attention means you want sex. I just ended a 3-year relationship where I felt a lot of pressure, and after a while it did get old. A while back I tried to have a no-sex month or so, and the guy was deeply hurt. It's not that I didn't care for him and like him physically, or that I didn't want sex. It's just I wanted to feel like not all roads lead to sex, that there was more, or other things we could do to bond, and most of all I wanted to avoid the pressure. He didn't get it, and so I cut the "experiment" short to avoid hurting his feelings and, well, there's another instance of pressure forcing my hand. Here's my advice:

Have no-sex days/weeks. During these times give your wife massages, cuddle, be physically affectionate, but not sensual. The pressure is off for her, and make sure she knows that. Also, personally I get turned on when my SO is somewhat unavailable. These no-sex periods should be strict. Even if you both want it a LOT, you just can't have sex.

Ahem, however, if you violate the no-sex rule, you add three days on at the end, or you have to clean the whole house top-to-bottom, or whatever. Violating the rule should never be at your request though, only if your wife says "I can't take it! We'll spend all day tomorrow fixing up the garden and lawn, just fuck me now!"

Also I realized that we did get complacent in bed. Now that I'm back on the market and still reading meta, I saw a lot of advocacy for "The Guide to Getting it On." Bought it and it's great. Read the chapter on cunnilingus. Repeat. Repeat. Try it out. Read it again. The book is like a manual, it's great. Also, get a book or video on massage, and try that out on the no-sex days. Try out sensual massage too.

Please please don't expect an increase in frequency though. That's more pressure! Once a week is enough, the other times you can be intimate but not sexual. In time her libido may raise, or it may not. In time yours may lower, or it may not. BUT make the once a week count. Make it not a "quickie" but rather an event. Whatever she likes - candles, massage, move slow (alternatively comfortable handcuffs and light touch).

Also what mai says. And communication! Before doing any of the above (including buying books/tapes) talk to her and see if it sounds like a good idea to her mind. Of course, there's nothing wrong with stopping by the library for your own edification... :).
posted by lorrer at 7:14 AM on May 16, 2005

wife = SO, sorry I can't read.
posted by lorrer at 7:15 AM on May 16, 2005

I am disgusted that the majority of posts here seem to support the idea that the lower-libido person should have the say about how much sex goes on. WTF?

A good relationship requires both parties to compromise. "No sex for a month" is a childish and stupid response to a partner's sexual needs.

With the display of selfishness in this thread, I'm not surprised a bunch of you are in failing relationships. Gahd.
posted by five fresh fish at 11:20 AM on May 16, 2005

I agree with Five Fresh. Both parties are going to have to come to some kind of agreement to make this work. I don't think either party has it any easier than the other when these kind of problems arise.

If my wife tried to instigate a no sex for a month policy we would have a BIG problem. Just like if I were to try to instigate a sex twice a day edict. That's not working out the problem, that's you saying your needs, or lack thereof, are more important than theirs.
posted by trbrts at 3:32 PM on May 16, 2005

Only one person is asking the quesion. We have access to only that person. Our saying "Your girlfriend should to have sex more often" doesn't accomplish anything.

You can only change your own behavior, and often by changing your own behavior, you can get the desired result. Backing off sex may lead to the SO feeling more comfortable with sex which may lead to her wanting more sex. Pressuring the SO to "meet his needs" may lead to her equating sex with resentment which will probably lead to less sex. See how that can work? You can't just make demands all the time because you think the other person should compromise. Sometimes you have to compromise first. Asavage had a great example of how doing exactly the opposite of what you want to do in an argument can sometimes make both people happier in the end.
posted by occhiblu at 8:25 PM on May 16, 2005

Anon, it sounds like you are thinking about this as a long-term (life-long?) relationship? It may be possible to change the dynamic, as most people in this thread have suggested. Based on my personal experience, I think that's unlikely.

I would assume that your gf is not going to change, at least not permanently. She may ratchet up the interest level for a while to make you happy. But ultimately, if she's not interested in much sex, her mind and inclinations will not go in that direction.

Part of me wants to just say "get out now, while you still can!" But what I'll say instead is, "stay in the relationship if it's great for all those other reasons, and if you are OK giving up sexual satisfaction as one of your life goals." I truly think that's what it comes down to.

If sex is as important to you as you say it is, maybe you should find a partner who is equally into sex. They do exist, believe me. And if you choose to stay with your current partner, you should steel yourself to accept her as she is, and the reality of what that means for your life.
posted by alms at 6:44 AM on May 17, 2005

Am I being petty? I think sometimes I am making too big a deal out of this.

No, you're not being petty.

It is a huge deal.

What do you think "to have and to hold" means? It means fucking. Fucking is the body-side of the relationship, and it's equally as important as the emotional side or the mental side or the moral or spiritual or financial side.

After all, you can have all kinds of fulfilling emotional, spiritual, and financial relationships in this culture, but you only get to fuck your partner (exceptions noted). So you have to be damn sure your partner is someone who fucks you right.

I've been in your situation OH MORE THAN ONCE and had to learn it the hard way over and over again. Sheezus. No more of that.
posted by scarabic at 12:03 PM on May 18, 2005

I realize this thread is aging, but I signed up just so I could tell you the following:

When I first read your post I had to ask a friend if I had actually written it and forgot for some reason. It sounded a lot like EXACTLY how I would describe my problem if you asked me a month ago.

This is not a nut that ad-hoc advice from freinds or mefi posters (with all due respect) can crack if you have already tried the following:
1 talking about it
2 doing more non-sex activities together
3 talking more about it
4 being patient

These are the most likely things to help without knowing more intimate details about whats going on between you and your woman. Add to that list all the other things I've tried and I still feel I haven't made any progress at all in the year since I noticed things had tapered off.

Now, assuming you haven't fixed this or ditched her yet, you and I have exactly 2 options:
1. Counseling (and lots more patience)
2. Leave her and rip two hearts out, knowing that; a. you may never love someone that much again and b. you might not have sex again for months or even years in a worst case scenario.

Its been a rough day, so I'm sorry if my outlook is less-than-peachy.
posted by cbecker333 at 1:50 PM on May 26, 2005

Is she on an antidepressant by any chance? They can kill a sex drive like nothing else. As others have mentioned, this Pill can do this too...and sometimes the change is permanent because the pill alters your hormones.

Like your girlfriend, I had a much lower sex drive than my ex. He wanted, and virtually demanded, that we had sex every day. I carried a lot of resentment about this, and needless to say, the relationship didn't last.

The worst thing about it is that he didn't put that much effort into pleasing me. HE would always have orgasms, yet I never did. He also had a very difficult time lasting beyond one minute! This made me feel used...our sex life didn't please ME yet he wanted me to want to have sex with him daily. This wasn't an issue with others I dated who I enjoyed sex with more and who made more of an effort to ensure I was satisfied. I mean there are all different ways...hands...mouth, etc, even if you "jump the gun," you know? Don’t just roll over once you’ve been satisfied…there’s still work to be done!

I think he would have gotten a very different response from me if he had put more effort into improving the quality of our sex life rather than focussing so much on the quantity.

I am not saying this is the issue with your girlfriend, just sharing my experience. But I would say that if you take the EXPECTATION out of your interactions and focus on pleasing her without any expectation or pressure as far as quantity, it is likely that you will get a better response…and that she’ll be the one begging for more.

Lastly, it is important to understand that some people truly have a lower sex drive than othersIf you love her, you'll decide if you can accept this. Being in a relationship doesn't mean you can't masturbate sometimes. I don't think it's fair to expect your significant other to fulfill all of your needs all of the time...just as you probably don't fulfill ALL of her needs ALL of the time…in all different areas, not just sex.
posted by mintchip at 9:45 AM on February 12, 2006

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