Gettin' it on
November 26, 2014 8:19 PM   Subscribe

How have you reconciled differing sex drives?

I am looking for stories and anecdotes about how you (and your partner) have reconciled your seemingly incompatible sex drives. As the person with the lower drive, what has helped you to compromise and have more sex with your partner? As the person with the higher drive, what have you done to better deal with and accept a frequency lower than you'd prefer? Tips on communicating about this issue, things that have improved the situation, mental hacks for accepting the state of things, all are welcome. If things worked out, and how; or if things didn't, and at what point you realized it was a losing battle.

posted by little beast to Human Relations (11 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

Low end of things here, so things that worked in my relationship: long-term taking the pressure to perform off, acceptance that each of us is responsible for our own bodies (so he can masturbate as much as he pleases, I'm not the be-all-end-all for sexual pleasure), masturbation, removal of all hormonal birth control/medication, no 'obligatory' (or emotionally coerced) sexual contact*, continuous and continual physical affection regardless of sexual outcome, acceptance that this is our individual relationship and setting our own standards, and enormous amounts of respect on either side.

Oh, and lots of therapy for rape-related PTSD.

*This was not a feature of my current relationship and I am not sure how one would recover from that - it certainly had been a feature of a previous relationship of mine and had done significant amounts of damage to me.
posted by geek anachronism at 8:43 PM on November 26, 2014 [2 favorites]

As the person with the higher drive, what have you done to better deal with and accept a frequency lower than you'd prefer?

Two things, in order of importance:

1) "Am I doing anything that lessens how often you'd like to have sex?" (and change that thing) and "Is there anything I can do that, without pressuring you, would make you more likely to be more interested more often?"

2) Masturbation.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 8:44 PM on November 26, 2014

Is polyamory any remote sort of option for one person in this scenario? Because I know everyone *has* to be monogamous and you're mine all miiiiiiiiiiiine even if I don't want to fuck you, but I think it takes a big load off the sexual pressure if there's another option besides the not interested person to get sex from.
posted by jenfullmoon at 11:36 PM on November 26, 2014 [3 favorites]

I've been in both situations, though usually I have the higher libido, and have had it work out in some cases and not in others.

The most extreme situation for me was where a partner wanted sex only every few months even though things were otherwise great between us and she described our sex life as being like nothing she'd ever experienced before, in a good way. She just had a very low libido. I found her incredibly attractive and she was extremely adventurous when she was in the mood, but it was so rare. I wanted to bring her great pleasure and do things like spend all day in bed but it just wasn't the same for her and I found it quite hard to deal with. Rightly or wrongly, it felt like a really important part of who I am was not accepted and valued by her. When she was not interested, anything to do with sex was out of bounds for her, so I just had to put my sexuality away for long periods. It was not easy. She ended up deciding she needed to live thousands of miles away and I couldn't follow her, so that put an end to that, but, in retrospect, it really was a dealbreaker for me and I would have accepted that eventually.

In my marriage I would have been up for more, but I dealt with that largely by reminding myself that the quality of the sex we did have was truly outstanding and awesome sex a couple of times a month was a lot better than what many people have. My wife was also generally supportive and non-judgemental about my need for more sex, so she was often open to me doing things like masturbating with her while she said erotic things and just generally not being a downer about it.

I've had one partner with a very high libido and I dealt with this by just trying to be as open to her advances as I could possibly be. She was just an incredibly sexual person and I loved that about her and and loved having sex with her, so, even if I wasn't in the mood to begin with, it was not usually difficult to become aroused. If I couldn't get there she was usually cool with it, but occasionally got shitty with me. She didn't deal with it very well at those times and was coercive and aggressive on occasion. Obviously a very bad way to deal with things.

To me, the way to make any of these scenarios play out best is to be generous of spirit and open to your partner's needs and desires in a way that is never judgemental or negative, if at all possible. Even if you really can't get there yourself, to at least be open to and supportive of the other person's desire really helps to make sure they don't feel too rejected. Even if I'm not up for it myself, I very rarely find it onerous to bring my partner to orgasm in whatever way she wishes. And, if I'm really not in the mood, I can at least hold her or whisper sexy things in her ear while she helps herself or something. To me, that's just part of being a supportive partner, though I appreciate that sex isn't quite so trouble free for everyone and that feeling or being pressured to have sex can be really horrendous.

The things that I've found hardest to deal with, and that I think can poison relationships, is for the lower libido partner to criticise the other for wanting (more) sex. Especially if the lower libido partner redefines the boundaries so that what was once welcome and nurturing is now unreasonable. Things change obviously, but I think it's important to own the changes and hopefully look at healthy ways of accommodating them rather than blame the other for not getting in step.
posted by mewsic at 12:45 AM on November 27, 2014 [8 favorites]

Scheduling sex. I resisted the idea for years, thinking it would kill the mood, turn sex into a chore, etc. But I found the opposite to be true. Scheduling meant he stopped feeling rejected (no more repeatedly trying to initiate and getting turned down) and I stopped feeling pressured (I knew what to expect and when). It in fact helped our sex life because when we knew it was going to happen that night, it would raise anticipation, helping me get in the mood. As long as you can agree on a frequency (for us it was twice a week), it might work out nicely for you.
posted by yawper at 6:50 AM on November 27, 2014 [5 favorites]

The things that I've found hardest to deal with, and that I think can poison relationships, is for the lower libido partner to criticise the other for wanting (more) sex.

Too true. But this has a corollary, which has also been mentioned in the answers, that the higher libido partner putting pressure on the lower libido partner, can absolutely destroy the lower libido partner's desire for sex, because it then becomes a chore. Especially if the higher libido partner is not sensitive to the things the other partner finds sexy - perhaps even dismissing them as not sexy enough.
posted by glasseyes at 8:25 AM on November 27, 2014 [4 favorites]

The short answer is "no." The relationship ended after two years, during which we sincerely tried to find a happy balance. I think she was content with those efforts, but I just felt... lonesome, honestly. Not rejected or unappreciated, just lonesome. There are certainly ways other than sex of creating feelings of intimacy and connection; but, for me at least, those things proved to be an imperfect substitute. If you had asked me at the time if this was going to be a deal-breaker, I'd have said "no way" -- how can two caring, mature, communicative people who really love one another NOT find a way to work things out? But one day I realized I was at the end of my rope - and that actually caught me by surprise. But I knew I had to end it.

I have no idea if my experience has any bearing at all on what you are going through - situations that appear similar on the surface can turn out to be completely different. I just wanted to point out that sometimes there's just a mismatch, and there's not a whole lot that can be done about it. And if you keep trying and trying, yet still finding the situation feels not quite right, you can run the risk of one or both parties feeling like "is there something wrong with me?" for what you want (or do not want). And that does no one any good.
posted by fikri at 9:32 AM on November 27, 2014 [4 favorites]

Oh also... nonsexual intimacy. Snuggling, little touches here and there. But, and this is important for the higher-sex-drive-person, not leading to sex.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 9:54 AM on November 27, 2014 [2 favorites]

I'm the partner with the much, much lower sex drive. Low libido to start with, combined with the deadly combo of anti-depressents and birth control.

Seconding the scheduling sex suggestion. It sounds unsexy as heck, but you know, once you actually start into the foreplay, it rapidly becomes Best Idea Ever. Regularly scheduling it after a "date night" seems to have the best effect.

Also seconding the nonsexual intimacy. Daily thoughtful touches and hugs are what helps keep a relationship warm and loving. Also, as the lower libido partner, I will say that sometimes it does lead to sex. I might be totally not in the mood, but my husband will walk into the room and give me a hug and suddenly it's like the "OMG you smell so good SEX NOW" switch is thrown in my brain. Don't expect it to happen too often, but be grateful when it does.
posted by sharp pointy objects at 11:32 PM on November 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

First, both people need to understand that a low sex drive isn't anyone's fault: it's just the way someone is wired or because of meds, etc (unless someone is withholding sex to manipulate and control, but that isn't the issue here).

My wife and I both had huge sex drives until she started strong bipolar and anti-depressant meds. We went from sex two times a day, every day (even after 10 years of marriage and two kids!!) to sex once a month, overnight, cold turkey, once her meds kicked in. It was devastating for me, but we just learned how to work with it.

For us, I have to do all the work, but we have learned that I just need to find her positive triggers. In her case, I have found a very specific story (naughty for us, anyway) that I re-tell, and it gets her going every time. It's the ONLY thing that gets her going, though, but it works. It took a better part of a year to figure this out, though.

It's exhausting to be 100% responsible to get us going (and, oddly, she does complain if I don't try often enough), but I remind her and myself that her low sex drive isn't her fault.
posted by TinWhistle at 6:46 AM on November 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

Applause for the love and care and imagination people are showing their partners. Just starting a new relationship here and... Kind of refreshing my thoughts.

I haven't been active enough on MF to actually know anyone here, but gosh darn it you are good people. Keep bein' good to each other.
posted by aesop at 11:48 PM on November 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

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