Ask the Loveologist: 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 wifeís 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 donít 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 issues for 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 have been circling the psychiatric manuals as a new form of pathology.

Although the debate continues about whether low libido is something that should be 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 doesnít, 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 doesnít 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. 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.

111 comments

Valerie Van Den Broeck
BLABLA B.5 years ago

My girlfriend doesn't want sex, but I do.
Or maybe she does want's it, but I don't dare to ask.

Jewels S.
Jewels S.5 years ago

On the lighter side I would suggest something men (at least most I have met) don't understand that women get in the mood differently than them and they just keep trying the way that works for them. I saw a book at the card store called "porn for women"
It had pix of men cleaning the house, putting the flowers in a vase that they bought, drawing a bath all while saying something ultra sweet like "I know you have had a hard day. Can I draw you a bath my love?" It has to be sincere for that to work on me but faking it til you make it would probably do the trick as well. Peace.

Danielle W.
Danielle W.6 years ago

how sad

Rita M.
Rita M.6 years ago

I think the first thing you need to do is work on being compassionate - there is a reason your wife's sex drive has dropped. Find out through open safe communication i.e. create an environment where she feels safe to speak truthfully without the repercussions of you being insensitive or mean. Those two traits will push her ability to communicate to total silence and most likely draw your relationship further apart in all aspects. Preface your conversation with how much you love her and that your desire is to help her through not pressure her or make her feel like she is less than and mean it! What is your wife's age? Perimenopause can start as early as 35 - drop in sex drive. Sex is about both people not just your desires.

Harry Z.
Harry Z.6 years ago

Great Summary. Thanks for de-mystifying the subject.

Jane H.
Jane H.6 years ago

Very good article. I appreciate it.

kristin l.
kristin L.6 years ago

I think for a lot of women when they feel less connected to their mate they feel less "in the mood"...As long as I get some good talk time in, things are good in the bedroom :)

Karen Tucker
Karen Tucker6 years ago

Lower sex drives in EITHER the man or the woman is sometimes caused by stress, prescription meds, problems with family members, jobs (or loss of a job), hormones (as they change when a person reaches a certain age sometimes), or it could mean some kind of undetected illness. Lots of reasons can cause the sex drive to go down. The wife is this article needs to go to a dr for an exam to see if something is wrong with her. The husband needs to chill and understand there may be a problem with the wife that is undetected and IF he loves her he will NOT be hateful or mean to her. Sounds like they BOTH need to see a marriage counselor too.

Ashley Jager
Ashley Jager6 years ago

thnx for the information :)

Diana S.
Diana S.6 years ago

Many prescription drugs, vital to one's health and longevity, are also libido-killers. Meds for high blood pressure and diabetes, for example, have a lot of men running for Viagra prescriptions. Other drugs and hormones affect women's libido. So, in a substantial number of cases, it's NOT "all in your head" - ie: not psychological in nature.

Ultimately, though, isn't that what masturbation is for?!?!?