When it comes to complex human interactions, sex is RIGHT up there. Sure, it’s one of the most enjoyable experiences in life – but it can also make you anxious, frustrated and generally feel horrible. So it makes sense that when it comes to relationships, your sex life with your partner can be fraught with issues. And sex drives that don’t match up is a huge one.

You relationship doesn’t have to be over because one of you wants sex more often than the other. There are things you can do to manage the issue – we asked Clinical Psychologist and founder of The Equilibrium Collective Gemma Cribb for her advice.

Understand What Your Partner Is Feeling

One of the first things you need to do when dealing with the feelings arising from mis-matched sex drives is to have empathy for your partner.

The high drive partner can feel disappointed and rejected at first but that feeling can grow to become more angry and demanding.  The low drive partner can feel disinterested, annoyed and sometimes guilty that they don’t want to have sex and that feeling can grow to become more contemptuous over time.  Over time, this ‘pursuer-distancer cycle’ can cause serious emotional wounds for both partners and can even lead to the breakdown of the relationship.

Understanding what your partner is actually feeling can help you from running down a negative mental path of assumed intentions.

Talk About It Without Blame

The best way you can get an idea as to how your partner feels about your sex life is to talk to them, obviously. But with something so delicate, it’s important to chat honestly but avoid getting angry or upset and throwing criticisms or blame around.

Be honest about your needs and feelings and speak about them without blame or criticism. E.g. “I feel like I need some space and am not interested in sex tonight” as opposed to “You are only ever after one thing!”. 

Gemma also says speaking from the “I” is key.

This means owning your needs and feelings as yours without pressuring the other person to take responsibility for them: “I’m feeling really hot for you,” “I’m disappointed you aren’t into it tonight.”  Also making sure you try to take the other person’s perspective and express understanding can help stop unhelpful communication patterns: “I understand you are tired and don’t feel like it tonight.”

Compromise Is Good But Make Sure It’s Not Coercion

The most complex element of sex drives that aren’t matching up is the risk of coercion and manipulation. Are you expressing your interest in sex with your partner or are you trying to manipulate them, and if you have the lower sex drive, are you having sex with your partner even when you don’t feel like it because you want to regardless, or because you feel pressured into it?

Willingness is an important concept when it comes to mismatched libido as well as self-responsibility.  The lower drive partner does not need to want sex themselves, but they have to be willing to engage in it for their partner (rather than doing it out of obligation or resenting it). Similarly the high drive partner has to be willing to satisfy themselves on some occasions rather than expect their partner to be available and gagging for it every time. Frustration can lead to blaming our partner which is also where manipulative behaviour comes from. Once a person feels pressured into sex, willingness is replaced by obligation and sometimes even fear and the line of consent is crossed.

The key to avoiding manipulative behaviour is understanding that your needs are your responsibility, not your partner’s.

Self-responsibility means recognising that your needs are your own and it is NOT your partner’s responsibility to guess them or to meet them.

It’s Likely Your Sex Drives Will Match Up More In Future

Don’t feel like you’ll be forever mis-matched – Gemma says sex drives change over time. It’s also likely that a lot of your mates are experiencing similar complexities in the bedroom, actually.

Most people have mis-matched sex drives and sex drives change over time, so you will always experience some mis-match in every relationship even if you start out well matched.  The deal breaker comes down to how each partner manage differences like mis-matched libido in the relationship.  If someone can’t accept your difference, can’t communicate without criticism, contempt or defensiveness or can’t problem solve THAT should be the deal breaker.

Basically, don’t look at your sex drive as the relationship deal-breaker, look at how you and your partner address it. It’s also important to go easy on yourself.

Recognise that just like your hunger and your need to sleep your sex drive is a natural part of your bodily functions.  Sex drive changes over time and is very affected by things such as stress.  You are not bad for wanting sex or not wanting sex, it is just an urge your body has or doesn’t have.  You are also not bad for asking for this urge to be respected, nor is your partner bad if he or she has different needs at the time.

Image: The CW