One of the most common sexual struggles in long term partnerships is managing mismatched libidos. At the beginning of a relationship, limerance (the state of being infatuated or obsessed with another person, also sometimes known as New Relationship Energy, or NRE) is running high, meaning the brain is pumping out large quantities of endogenous opiates. Limerence causes humans to become infatuated with new love interests, and while this is not inherently unhealthy, it does take intentional communication when limerence fades out of the relationship. This can especially impact people who have a naturally lower libido — they may experience a spike of sexual desire at the beginning of relationships. A byproduct of this can be realizing that you actually have different levels of desire than your partner.
In fact, two people with perfectly matched libidos are incredibly rare. This is a reality most sexually active people will come against at some point — simply because our libidos have a natural ebb and flow throughout our lives. This desire debacle doesn’t mean a relationship is doomed — quite the opposite. Instead, it is an opportunity to invite more intention and communication into your sex life.
Here are 5 ways to manage differing libidos in a relationship:
Redefine intimacy and sex.
The definitions we’re given around intimacy and sex are often fueled by the sex negative society we live in. Unfortunately, that often means that the definitions we are given are difficult to relate to. Take time to figure out exactly how you want to define intimacy and sex for yourself — maybe cooking a delicious meal with your partner is included in your definition of intimacy or cuddling naked is a part of what you consider to be sex. These very personal and sensual experiences are all yours to redefine and navigate in ways that feel nourishing for you.
Foreplay all day.
If you cohabitate with your partner or share different life responsibilities, it can be hard to feel sexy after a long day of just taking care of the necessities. Try to set aside at least one day a month where every interaction you share with your partner is infused with intimacy — have foreplay all day long. That means every text, conversation, or touch has an edge of flirtiness and playfulness to it. Conversation about the groceries and bills can go on pause for one day - the world will not come crashing down. Foreplay all day can build to you both feeling really sexy together at the end of the day.
Learn from ethical non-monogamy.
For some partners who experience mismatched libidos, exploring non-monogamy could be a great option. It allows the higher libido partner to feel sexually fulfilled and have their needs met. However, it’s also helpful for the lower libido partner as different sexual experiences may beget more desire or sexual exploration. If this is your first foray into non-monogamy because you’re trying to manage mismatched libidos, it could be helpful to do some research first or even find a polyamorous-aware relationship therapist.
However, monogamy is a valid relationship orientation and non-monogamy might not suit your needs. There are still lessons from polyamory which can be infused into monogamous relationships to enhance communication and connection. For this specific issue, seeking intimacy with others could be an incredible lesson to pull from non-monogamy. It doesn’t have to mean sex, but cuddling with friends, going out dancing without your partner, and cooking delicious meals with your community could be helpful for both people. Seeking pleasure outside of the relationship may cultivate even more desire for one another.
Explore the “why.”
People seek sex for many different reasons: to experience a rush of excitement, to feel connected, to relieve stress, to satisfy needs, to feel desired, to fall asleep more easily. The list could go on. So when the higher libido person is feeling the desire to have sex and the lower libido person is not, it can be helpful to ask yourself “why do I want to have sex right now?” If the answer is more along the lines of relieving stress or aiding in sleep — masturbation can be an option. However, if what the “why” is about connection and wanting to feel desired — communicate with your partner about other ways those needs can be met. You can work together to come up with playful and sensual acts that don’t revolve around sex for these exact moments.
Prioritize solo play.
Sometimes being in a relationship means we forget about masturbation, especially because our society often sends messages that solo sex is somehow less important or of less quality than partnered sex. The longest sexual relationship you will have is with yourself — that deserves nurturing whether or not you’re dating other people. Spend intentional time exploring your desires in the context of solo play. Treat yourself to a date night at your favorite dessert spot, take a bath to relax, give yourself a foot massage, pamper yourself. And end the date the way you might with a partner: sex. While your tried and true masturbation techniques are great, make an effort to spice it up and explore new positions or different toys every once in a while. Desiring yourself is vital to maintaining healthy sexual relationships with others.