Why do I desire sex more frequently than my partner?

When one partner has a higher sex drive than the other, this is called a desire discrepancy. Desire discrepancies are one of the most common sexual complaints seen by sex therapists. Actually, some sex researchers argue that a discrepancy in sexual desire between partners should be expected and is just one feature of a long-term relationship, not an indicator that something is broken in the relationship.

For many heterosexual couples, one partner simply just has a higher sex drive due in large part to biological reasons. That is, we know that testosterone is a major player in driving sexual desire and men have substantially more testosterone than women. Women have about 1/10th the amount of testosterone than men and as they get older, this gradually declines. If you’re in a heterosexual relationship, then perhaps for biological reasons (hormones) you and your partner have different levels of desire.

Then why didn’t we have a desire discrepancy in the beginning of our relationship?

The first 12-36 months of a relationship is called the Limerence phase or the honeymoon phase. This is the period when you and your partner can’t get enough of each other and sex is no exception. This Limerence phase is wonderful, but the wonder typically lasts no longer than 12-36 months. Actually, most couples I work with identify that this honeymoon period declines around 6 months. It’s in this honeymoon phase that both partners typically to have similar levels of sexual desire. The relationship is novel, the sex/physical connection is exciting, the chemistry is powerful. This doesn’t last and soon the couple enters what I call the Sweatpants phase. During this phase, novelty wears off and the discrepancy in desire starts to become apparent.

Sometimes the desire discrepancy doesn’t appear until after major life changes (job promotion, house renovation, or having kids). This suggests that whatever these life changes were, they hit the brake pedal on desire.

If biology plays a big role in desire, can’t my partner just take testosterone?

Some people take testosterone to increase desire and this could be an option, but there isn’t good research on how much is safe and for how long. There are even stories of women taking testosterone and they grow facial hair, have acne, experience balding, and their voice deepens. More importantly is that biology can’t explain a desire discrepancy entirely. Sexual desire is complex and it is driven by a combination of biological factors (hormones, medications, health), psychological factors (mood and anxiety), relationship factors (how much do you even like your partner?), and other sociocultural factors (culture, religion, values). Some of these factors hit the gas pedal and increase desire (for example, if you really find your partner attractive) and some of these factors hit the brake pedal and decrease desire (such as certain medications like antidepressants).

How do we get our desire on the same page?  

First off, you’re not going to get on the same page if you pressure or demand sex from your partner. In fact, that’s a major turn off for most people and will make the desire discrepancy even worse. If you’re pressuring your partner for sex or getting angry when sex is denied, stop! This is not helpful.

The best option is identifying what biological, psychological, relationship, and sociocultural factors are turns-ons (gas pedal) and what factors are turn-offs (brake pedal). The more turn-ons and the less turn-offs in your daily life, the better you can maximize the responsive desire of the lower desire partner. Responsive desire is a type of desire that isn’t there initially, but when the right ingredients are in place (more turn-ons than turn-offs), the desire will respond.

But let’s say the desire of the lower desire partner is as high as it’s ever going to be and there is still a discrepancy. If that’s the case, then it’s about finding ways to close the discrepancy gap that are acceptable to both partners, but perhaps not ideal to both (a compromise). This can include scheduling sex, finding ways for the lower desire partner to be engaged in the solo sex of the higher desire partner (for example, lower desire partner cuddles the higher desire partner while he self-stimulates), the higher desire partner masturbating as a sexual outlet, or finding alternative ways to be sexually/sensually intimate that feel good for both partners.

Sex therapy can help identify the turn-ons and turn-offs, facilitate communication between partners, and help couples come to compromises that can close the discrepancy gap.