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Normalizing Sexual Desire Discrepancy

It is a truth universally acknowledged that when someone desires sex, their partners are always game. Of course! That’s what true love is. And when we are NOT in the mood, of course our partners have no desires as well — right?

It is almost certain that if you’ve been in a sexually intimate relationship, you know this is not true. In fact, research shows us that this universal truth is a myth: 80% percent of couples have had stretches in their relationships where they and their partners just did not sync up sexually.

This is often referred to as sexual desire discrepancy (SDD): when one or more people in a relationship have more or less sexual desire relative to their partners. It’s an incredibly natural part of all sexually intimate relationships, so it’s almost certain that you — and everyone around you — has experienced this.

You might wonder to yourself, why and how does this happen? While causes vary, some of the reasons you and your partners may experience SDD include hormones, biology, stress, fatigue, certain medications, medical conditions (including pain during sex and erectile/ejaculatory problems), self-esteem, gender expectations, trauma and more. If you’re experiencing SDD in your relationships, it is also worth asking: what does sex mean to each of us? Is there an emotional dissonance causing an inability to be intimate? But know that SDD can be caused by any of these issues. More likely, it is a complicated conglomeration of multiple factors.

So what can we do?

First, know that only you have the right to decide when, how, and why you are engaging in sexual activity. If you are feeling pressured, this may necessitate a more comprehensive conversation with your partners about each other’s needs and may be helpful to discuss with your clinician as well.

Most of us just want to feel closer to our partners and tend to everyone’s needs. Some solutions to learning more about SDD in your relationship can include consulting with a doctor or psychiatrist (particularly if you suspect medication may be decreasing libido), increasing non-sexual intimacy and touch, planning sex (we’re taught this is not romantic, but if we think about sex as play, we often schedule times of play and other activities together — why should sex be so different?), masturbation or discussing ethical non-monogamy or polyamory (perhaps one partner cannot be responsible for meeting all needs). What most research shows us is that the best tactic to address SDD is communication. Shine some light on the problem and you may be surprised by what you find. Likely you may find a bunch of “shoulds.” For example, “Men should be having lots of sex!” or, “A happy marriage should be as sexually active as a new partnership!” What expectations might be holding you and your partner(s) back from the relationships you actually want and cherish?

Media recommendations:

@Queersextherapist at instagram

Come As You Are by Emily Nagoski

Relationship OCD by Sheva Rajaee


Sam Barklow is a second-year Masters in Social Work candidate at Boston College. She is a warm and empathetic counselor who believes that all of her clients have the knowledge and abilities to feel more at peace and balanced in their daily lives. She views counseling as an opportunity for both her and clients to explore different perspectives, talk through emotions and to connect with other people.

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