Mix or Match: Sex with Mismatched Libidos
Whether you’re not experiencing sexual intimacy as often as you like, are tired of giving into sex you don’t want, or are emotionally exhausted from regularly rejecting a partner’s sexual advances, mismatched libidos can be frustrating and demoralizing for everyone involved.
It is normal for couples to experience fluctuations in desire throughout their relationship and for partners to have different ideas of what an ideal sex life looks like, including frequency. This doesn’t need to be a sign of problems within the relationship. Life changes, stressors, hormonal shifts, and more can influence one’s libido. However, assuming that you and your partner(s) are finding your current situation problematic, consider the following ways to support one another.
Ways to support a higher libido partner
We shouldn’t shame a partner’s higher sex drive. We should recognize that partners are not responsible for one another’s sexual appetites. This doesn’t mean, however, that we can’t make room for creative forms of intimacy. These will help satisfy higher libido partner(s) without draining lower libido partner(s).
Create personal porn/erotica
Support a higher libido partner in feeling connected with a lower libido partner by offering them some personal porn or erotica that they can use while masturbating. This can include recording clips when you have sex, taking sexy photos or videos of activities, actions, or body parts your partner loves, and writing out/recording you reading sexy stories or scenarios for them to get their imagination going. The personal touch can take an otherwise solo activity and make it into one that feels more connected and intimate.
Try assisted masturbation
Sometimes participating in sexual activities feels exhausting but supporting a partner in their masturbation is easier. This support could range from cuddling them, kissing them, teasing their body, talking dirty, or even fully masturbating them. It depends on how much energy the supportive partner has and what they feel good doing in that moment. Like personal erotica, assisted masturbation takes an otherwise solitary act and builds connection through a shared experience.
Open up the relationship
A third option to explore is ethical non-monogamy (ENM). Don’t use ENM as a Band-Aid for a struggling relationship. But when thoughtfully explored, it can, among other benefits, alleviate the sexual pressure that can occur between couples with mismatched libidos while still leaving room for intimacy within one’s existing relationship.
Ways to increase libido IF that is a goal
Just as it is important not to shame a higher libido partner, we also shouldn’t shame a lower libido partner. Some people do not experience sexual arousal, others experience ebbs and flows throughout their life, and some experience life events that impact their libido. If someone is not interested in increasing their libido, they should seek out ways to support their partner (like the above suggestions) but shouldn’t feel required to become more sexual. However, if you are looking for tips for increasing libido, keep reading!
Play with fantasy
A low sex drive can sometimes be due to a lack of enjoyable sex, causing someone to not respond to sexual stimuli that have been unsatisfying in the past. Despite what porn teaches, sex is so much more than the physical mechanics. The brain is your second largest sex organ and deserves to be fully engaged as part of your sexual experiences. Lower libido partners should consider what types of scenarios, acts, or conditions seem sexy to them. You might want to try bondage, role play, dirty talk, sex in a new location, or something else to bring back the excitement. If your fantasy feels sexy in your head but is not something you actually want to act out, imagine it while warming up and/or having sex, have your partner describe it, or watch/read erotica based on it as part of foreplay.
Lengthen the warm up & be creative
Responsive arousal is when someone becomes aroused in response to sexual stimulation and stimuli. Some people who are perceived as having a lower sex drive just have responsive desire. Therefore, they require support and action to become aroused (rather than getting started because they are aroused). This can include engaging in mental stimulation through flirtation and sexy exchanges, spending time naked, receiving or giving massages, extended sessions of teasing touches, and more. If sex feels goal-focused or one-sided, this will not inspire someone who isn’t enjoying sex to do it more. Concentrate on creating a pleasurable experience for all involved. It may lead to more interest and responsiveness over time. Also, while you’re at it, learn new skills, try new toys, and be creative! Novelty in sex can help restart one’s sex drive when it feels flat.
Sex can feel daunting when we’re exhausted. Even if you know that you enjoy sex, it takes time and requires bodily exertion. If one partner is feeling particularly stressed or overworked, they might not have the energy to get aroused. If one partner is doing more than their fair share of work in a shared home, this can build resentment. That definitely reduces happy and sexy feelings. A higher libido person taking on more chores or supporting a lower libido partner by learning practices for reducing their workload (in a way that doesn’t stress them out further), can help free up energy for sexy time.
Plan your sex (or intimacy) time
Knowing that you are setting aside time for intimacy, whether you decide to use that time for sex or not, can help build your connection with your partner. Try to choose times when the lower libido partner is more likely to have energy. Maybe that’s in the morning before work or after an afternoon nap. There is no rule where sex must be at night after a long and tiresome day!
Here’s another hack for choosing sex times: let hormones be your guide. For people who have a monthly menstrual cycle, there are days where your body is more likely to be responsive to sexual stimuli. Figure out when those days are for you and plan to have sex then. For people with penises that have active testosterone production, there are daily patterns, and therefore peaks and valleys. Those can help determine the best time of day for some sexy fun. There is no reason to battle your body. Learn its rhythms and ride the waves.
Relationships require a give and take because our needs don’t always match up in the most ideal ways. It can be frustrating when you feel you are the only one initiating sex and can feel disheartening when your partner regularly turns you down. It can be equally frustrating when you feel disinterested in sex, but your partner regularly requests it and you either give in or repeatedly reject. Be open to supporting your partner(s) without harming yourself. If you are struggling with figuring out how to find a balance in which you and your partner(s) feel satisfied and supported in your relationship(s), consider speaking with a sex/intimacy/relationship coach or therapist for support.
Yael R. Rosenstock GonzalezSex Educator, Researcher, Author, Speaker
Yael has been engaged in workshop development and facilitation since she joined the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) as a teen peer reproductive rights educator at 15 years old. Since then, she has served as an educator with children ranging from 10 months old to adults in their 70s with different organizations and communities. In her work as first Program Coordinator, then Director of Programming, and finally Associate Director of the Center for Ethnic, Racial, and Religious Understanding, Yael developed and led events, workshops, and programs with an intersectionality lens.