Dealing with Mismatched Libidos

Is there an 800-pound gorilla in your bedroom? There might be, if you and your partner can't agree on sex. As a researcher at Indiana University Bloomington's Center for Sexual Health Promotion, I'm familiar with all the ways couples can differ in their sexual needs. One of the biggest mismatches? Your sex drives.

Sure, we've all had times when we don't feel up for sex: You're tired and cranky from a long day at the office, you've got  heartburn from that massive plate of wings at dinner or maybe you really do have the proverbial headache But what happens when her libido is always skyrocketing while yours can't even get off the launch pad? Houston, we have a problem.

You're not alone. In fact, some experts estimate that one in every three couples deals with mismatched sexual desire at some point. If you're thinking that your libidos used to seem a lot more compatible, you're probably right. Early in a relationship, you're so caught up in the excitement of a new sexual partner that all that novelty -- and those raging hormones -- hides what your sex drives are really like. But once things settle down, that mask falls away, and your normal libidos return.

The typical result: One of you often isn't in the mood, and the other is left feeling not just unsatisfied but rejected and resentful. Those emotions may be even stronger when the guy is the one with the lower libido. After all, we've all been fed the stereotype that men are insatiable. If you aren't, your girlfriend or wife may start wondering what's wrong with her. And when you don't address this mismatch, those hurt feelings can snowball into blame, anger and even infidelity.

That's why the first step I recommend to couples is to talk about your sex drives. If you've got less desire, explain to your partner why you aren't craving sex. Are you unemployed, worried about finances or dealing with other sources of stress? All can strike a blow to your libido.

If you're the friskier person, put yourself in your partner's shoes. Our sex drives aren't set in stone. As life presents us with work changes, illness, aging and even parenthood, our libidos can wax and wane right along with them. You may be horny now, but someday in the future, you'll probably be the one wrestling with less interest in sex. Treat your partner as you want to be treated. Other ways to get your libidos into alignment:

• Go solo. If you've got a stronger libido than your partner, use masturbation as a tool to help equalize -- and satisfy -- sexual desire. It's perfectly fine to take matters into your own hands!
• Redefine sex. Intercourse doesn't have to be your only option. Take the pressure off by focusing on fun, flirty activities that don't involve penetration or even orgasm, such as kissing, hugging and cuddling.
• Compromise. When it comes down to it, you've got to address your different sex drives as a couple. If you're dealing with a lower libido, make the decision to give in to sex every now and then as a way to please your partner. Maybe you're not in the mood at first, but you just might find that your desire rises as you get into it.

Kristen Mark, who holds a Master of Science, is a contributor to Good in Bed. She is currently completing her doctorate in health behavior with concentrations in human sexuality and statistics at Indiana University. Mark's research is largely focused on sexuality in the context of relationships, maintaining sexual desire and sexual quality, pleasure and satisfaction.

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