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What Causes Different Sex Drives in Relationships?

Reasons for Discrepancies in Sex Drive in Long Term Committed Relationships

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Updated April 15, 2008

It is common for couples in long-term, committed relationships to get to a point when they don’t have the same level of sex drive or desire to have sex. Discrepancies in sexual drive or sexual desire in a long-term, committed relationship might be the result of a range of factors. Here are just a few possibilities:

Conflict in other parts of your relationship play out in your sex life. So, you might really be fighting about money or family or work/life obstacles, but you end up playing out the fight in your sex life. Sometimes, one partner is blamed for doing this and told he is “withholding” sex out of spite. This may be the case, but the accusation can also be used as a cop out. If one of you is feeling genuinely angry or hurt or isolated, not wanting to have sex seems like a reasonable response, and not simply something done out of spite.

Lack of information or education about sex. If one or both of you were raised with little or no information about sex or with negative messages about your right to experience sexual pleasure, that history may get in the way of you taking your sex life to a more creative or deeper level. This isn’t about finding the right sex position or the perfect vibrator. But, a lack of sexual creativity can be sexually stifling, and this can lead to frustration and eventually a feeling of inevitability that your sex life won’t ever change.

Psychological issues unrelated to your partner. We all come to relationships with our histories and these histories become part of our relationships. One or both of you might be struggling with issues related to any number of factors (such as sexual identity, orientation, problems with physical or mental health, medical or recreational drug use, previous trauma, etc…) and these struggles can leave us without energy or interest in sex.

Difference in baseline sex drives. While our sexual desire and drive isn’t a fixed quantity, at any given time we all have our baseline interest in sex and a sense of how important sex is in our life. You and your partner may simply have different baseline sex drives and/or may prioritize sex differently. This difference may not reflect some deeper issue or difference; it might just be what it is.

Too much intimacy, not enough passion. Another important possibility, one that is the focus of therapist Esther Perel’s excellent book Mating in Captivity, is that the intimacy you have developed in your loving relationship is actually putting out the fire of eroticism that fuels your sexual relationship. Perel suggests that the pressures and expectations we put on our intimate romantic relationships can directly work against maintaining passionate and erotic sexual relationships.

Problems with discrepancies in sex drive can also be the result of many factors. Instead of considering the above possibilities a point of comparison, try to use them as a starting point to think about your own relationship and what you think might be going on. You can also share this article with your partner and see how they feel about it.

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