Source: Best Health Magazine, Summer 2008
You and your partner can disagree about how frequently to make mortgage payments or get in a round of golf, and it likely won’t negatively affect your relationship. But disagree about how often to have sex and you could be headed for trouble.
What do you do if you have mismatched libidos? First, understand what exactly is involved, says Robin Milhausen, a sex researcher at the University of Guelph. “Sex drive is a hormonal, physiologically based urge that men and women have to varying degrees. I think it’s more helpful to think about ‘sexual desire’ instead, which incorporates the emotional and psychological components.”
Sexual interest is affected by many factors: hormonal changes due to pregnancy or menopause, medication such as some antidepressants or blood pressure pills, fatigue, stress and, of course, relationship issues. But there are broader factors. “My research found about 115 factors, including setting and mood, but also what you learned about sex in school, attitudes your parents had, and how open your religious, cultural or ethnic background has been to you expressing yourself sexually,” says Milhausen.
Libido differences can create relationship havoc, with one person feeling rejected and the other feeling pressured. “It’s what I call the ‘shame-blame-flame’ cycle,” says Trina E. Read, a Calgary sexologist and author of the upcoming book Till Sex Do Us Part. “The person who wants to have sex feels unwanted and says something that makes the other person feel guilty or shamed. Then the shamed person blames the other: ‘Well, if you did such-and-such, maybe I’d want to have sex.’ And then comes the ‘flame’: anger, resentment and an argument.”
Separating fact from emotion is key. “If your partner is less interested in sex, usually it’s not a personal rejection,” notes Milhausen. And, advises Read, empathize as best you can. “Too often there’s a power struggle in which the partner who doesn’t want sex as often is seen as in control, and the other becomes the victim. That’s a negative emotional pattern to get into.”
A solution can be found in one of Milhausen’s favourite books, The Great American Sex Diet by Laura Corn: Partners share responsibility for planning regular sexual encounters. “The man is happy because it’s more sex than he was getting previously, and the woman is thrilled because her partner is taking initiative in a romantic sensual experience,” says Milhausen. “Plus, it disrupts routine, which can re-energize partners.”
The bottom line? Realize that sexual desire is complex. “How often in a relationship do both partners crave the exact same food?” asks Milhausen. “So why do we assume sex drives are going to be in synch at all times? We should think of discrepancies as the norm. When you don’t have such high expectations for sex drives to always match, both partners feel better.”
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