Couple sitting on opposite sides on the bed with differences in Sexual Desire

Takeaways: It’s very common for couples to have differences in sexual desire, or one partner with a higher sex drive than the other. But these differences can take a toll on your relationship if you don’t know how to manage them intentionally. Understanding why you and your partner have different libidos, what these differences mean (and what they don’t mean) for your relationship, and how to navigate mismatched sex drives can keep your connection strong.

Are Differences in Sexual Desire Creating Problems in Your Relationship?

In all honesty, we’ve all been there – and it’s entirely normal for differences in sexual desire to bring up some pretty big questions in a relationship. Sometimes, it can even cause us to jump to conclusions that just aren’t true or are misunderstood.

“My wife hates sex.”

“My husband is always bugging me for sex.”

Sound familiar? 

As a professional couples counselor and sex therapist, I know that desire discrepancy or mismatched libidos can affect any couple, both heterosexual and same-sex attracted. Even though it is an extremely common issue, and every couple experiences this at one time or another during their long-term relationship, if unaddressed differences in sexual desire can cause significant problems.

Most intimate relationships start exciting, passionate, and with balanced levels of desire and chemistry between partners. Your partner is sexy, new, and desirable, and while you might not meet each other’s exact needs, you are generally satisfied with your sex life. 

However, in almost all long-term relationships, life happens… and you start noticing the differences between how often you and your partner desires/initiates intimacy. This period comes at different times for each couple and can be caused by a variety of things. Differences in sexual desire are also associated with reduced overall relationship satisfaction.

Fortunately, help is available, and sex therapy or intimacy coaching can help you and your partner get back in sync with each other.

Common Causes of Differences in Sexual Desire.

  • In today’s society, it is more and more common that each partner comes home stressed and tired from their job. This is not exactly the sexiest frame of mind, and it is very understandable how this feeling does not give space to desire.
  • Substance use and certain medications have been known to reduce desire. Some medications addressing depression and anxiety can have side effects which reduce libido and sometimes lead to entirely sexless relationships.
  • The responsibilities of having children and raising a family and the everyday tasks related to that may also cause low levels of energy and prevent participation in sexual activities.
  • Self-esteem and body image issues can make a person feel undesirable, which therefore reduces the likelihood of initiating an intimate connection with the partner.
  • Acute or chronic illness, hormone imbalances, and pain during intercourse can also be detrimental to a person’s libido.
  • Relationship difficulties could cause desire discrepancies. However, in some instances, it is difficult to tell which came first, the chicken or the egg.

 [More on: What to Do When You Don’t Want to be Touched]

Tips If You Want Sex More Often Than Your Partner Does:

If you have higher levels of desire in your relationship, it can be difficult to deal with your partner’s lack of interest and engagement. It is easy to take it personally and interpret their reduced interest as rejection. When your partner rejects you sexually it may create feelings of doubt, anger, disappointment, and even sadness. You may also feel like any advances, including hugs and kisses, may be misinterpreted therefore, you eventually avoid physical intimacy altogether (See my article on “the bristle reaction,” which is a very common issue!)

There are a few thoughts to consider if you feel like you are not sure what to do anymore to reconnect with your partner.

  • Are you being affectionate with your partner in a non-sexual way? This includes hugs, kisses, holding hands, and cuddling, without wanting it to lead to sexual intercourse.
  • Are you being attentive and complimenting them at other times other than when you want sex?
  • Do you help them out around the house and help them relax so they can take time to let the day go and have some time for themselves?
  • Do you share your feelings and thoughts with your partner? Do you ask them about theirs? Do you know what is going on in their lives outside of you?
  • Do you try to help them relax and ‘get in the mood’ before sex?
  • Do you give them time to ‘get in the mood’? For some people, especially women, arousal takes a while, and it is associated with emotional arousal, not just physical. Interestingly, under ‘everyday circumstances’ it takes about 20 minutes for women to be physically ready for intercourse.

When you stop focusing on sex or the absence of sex and start paying attention to other aspects of your relationship and your partner, the pressure to satisfy each other’s sexual needs can reduce. 

I suggest you start putting energy into finding new ways to connect that are not sexual. Find out what is causing the lack of interest in sexuality for your partner and try to reconnect on an emotional level. 

I highlighted a number of things above, and if you feel like you are lacking in certain aspects, try to invest some energy there, as it has been shown that emotional intimacy and non-sexual physical affection can increase desire and interest in sexual activity in the partner who has low desire levels.

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Tips If You’re Not Feeling Interested in Sex:

Often when sex becomes an issue in a relationship, the person with the lower sex drive in the relationship can find themselves avoiding general intimacy as well, as they may fear that participating or initiating cuddling or kissing will indicate “let’s have sex!” to their partner. 

This may create a vicious circle in that you avoid non-sexual affection to avoid sex, but by avoiding affection, you also create more distance between you and your partner, causing even less desire to be intimate.

Society tells us that good sex should be spontaneous, you should want sex with your partner on a regular basis, you should be turned on by your partner easily, and if you don’t, there is something wrong with you. Wrong!!! 

While spontaneous sex is great, it is not easily achieved and is not realistic on a regular basis. For some reason, more often than not, it is the person with the lower sexual desire that goes to therapy as it is suggested that they are the ones who have the problem. It takes two to tango! 

It is a team effort, and you got in this situation together, so you need to work together to get out of it.

In the meantime, there are a few things I would like you to consider.

  • Have you been experiencing a lot of stress lately?
  • Have your life circumstances changed recently?
  • Are there aspects of your life that you worry about excessively?
  • Do you have any symptoms of depression, or are you taking any medication for depression?
  • When you do engage in sexual activity, do you find it pleasurable and wonder why you do not pursue it more often?
  • Do you find yourself hesitant to initiate or accept your partner’s advances?
  • Do you make time for yourself and look after your own needs and pleasures?

It is important to take stock of where you are in your life at this moment, and what you think might have caused your low desire levels. Reflecting on your needs and what you want out of your relationship, not only regarding intimacy but in general, can help you find some answers.

Find out what is causing the lack of interest in sexuality for your partner and try to reconnect on an emotional level. 

It may also be useful to think back on times when you did have sexual desire and reflect on what was happening in your life at that time. How was it different? Did you have more emotional intimacy? Did you experience less stress? Did you do more things together? Assessing the differences can provide extremely valuable insights into how to reduce the desire discrepancy currently present in your relationship.

It’s also helpful to pay attention to small hints of desire, stay with it and follow it. While this may not be an overwhelming urge to be sexual with your partner, acting on these small impulses can not only lead to a quite rewarding sexual experience, but can increase your overall libido. Sometimes the most difficult thing is to get going, however making a commitment to initiate intimacy, even if you are not really in the mood, can very often result in a fulfilling sexual experience for both of you.

You may also consider how and why you refuse the advances of your partner. If the refusal is due to the way the advances were made, you need to let your partner know. They won’t be able to change if they don’t know what is going on. 

Furthermore, if your rejection is purely for sexual intercourse, you also have to let your partner know, so they know you are not rejecting them; it is just how you are feeling at that moment. 

If this is the case, you should try and arrange another time when you know you won’t be this tired. As I have mentioned before, striving for spontaneity is not always helpful. Making a conscious effort to plan out times when you can be intimate can have great results, as you will have time to prepare, relax and get in the right frame of mind.

Lastly, ask for what you want! Communicate to your partner how you like to be touched, and what sort of stimulation you enjoy. Telling them what you enjoy may not only be pleasurable for you but could also be a huge turn-on for them as well.

Tips To Help Both of You Get Back in Sync Sexually: 

Have a discussion about your sexual relationship. What are each partner’s preferred environment, preferred frequency, what does sex mean to each partner, likes, dislikes, desire enhancers or inhibitors, and so on… 

Having this discussion could be immensely helpful in rediscovering your own and each other’s sexuality.  

While I hope this article gave you some insight into the potential causes and resolutions for managing desire discrepancy in your romantic relationship, please don’t hesitate to seek help if you need further guidance or assistance from a professional sex therapist. If you’d like to do this transformative work with me, I invite you to schedule a free consultation.


Dori B., MS, SAS, MACA

P.S. — You can find more free advice on building a satisfying sex life in our “emotional and sexual intimacy” collection of articles and podcasts.


  1. Frankenbach J, Weber M, Loschelder DD, Kilger H, Friese M. Sex drive: Theoretical conceptualization and meta-analytic review of gender differences. Psychol Bull. 2022 Oct 13. doi: 10.1037/bul0000366. Epub ahead of print. PMID: 36227317.
  2. Friedmann E, Cwikel J. Women and Men’s Perspectives on the Factors Related to Women’s Dyadic Sexual Desire, and on the Treatment of Hypoactive Sexual Desire Disorder. J Clin Med. 2021 Nov 15;10(22):5321. doi: 10.3390/jcm10225321. PMID: 34830603; PMCID: PMC8623679.
  3. Dewitte, M., Mayer, A. Exploring the Link Between Daily Relationship Quality, Sexual Desire, and Sexual Activity in Couples. Arch Sex Behav 47, 1675–1686 (2018).

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