Managing Mismatched Sex Drives

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It’s incredibly common for partners’ sex drives to be out of sync. Add stressful jobs, family responsibilities and aging to the mix, and it’s no wonder so many Americans are in sexless relationships.

“It’s completely normal for sexual desire to wax and wane,” says Phillis Mims-Gillum, M.D., senior staff physician in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Henry Ford Health System. Perhaps early in your relationship your sex drives were the same and now they’re different; maybe kids came along and things changed; or maybe a stressful life event or illness put a damper on your bedroom activities.

Whatever the reason, desiring more (or less) sex than your partner doesn’t have to be a recipe for disaster. In fact, managing these changes is an important part of any healthy relationship. Here, Dr. Mims-Gillum offers 5 tips to help you—and your partner—strengthen your sexual connection:

  1. Start dating each other again. Sexual desire for every one can vary throughout their lifespan and can be affected by a lot of factors. It is both normal and reasonable that two people in a relationship may have times when they are not in sync. At the start of a new relationship, the mystery and excitement of new love may keep you sexually motivated. But as life happens and couples settle into a comfort zone, gaps in sexual desire may happen or become more obvious. Returning to the things that were enjoyable when you first started dating can be helpful. Touch intimately and affectionately in a nonsexual way. Leave each other notes or sexy texts to create excitement. Schedule time and make plans for when you are together. Remember that every intimate encounter does not have to end in intercourse, but quality intimate encounters can be important in setting the stage for fulfilling and mutually enjoyable sex.
  2. Be honest. Be honest with yourself—and with your partner—about your desires and needs when it comes to sex. Be open to hearing your partner’s desires and needs as well. If there are differences, it’s important to address them but not in the heat of the moment. Instead, pick a time when no one is asking for sex and no one is denying it. Acknowledge the desire discrepancy and work together to find a solution that is reasonable, satisfying and fulfilling for both partners.
  3. Make time. With busy schedules and competing demands, it’s easy for sex to fall off the priority list. But who says sex has to be spontaneous? Schedule a time when sexual intimacy is the priority. Try not to put sex off until bedtime when it’s easy to scrap it. In fact, consider having sex first and then going to the movie or concert.
  4. Set the tone. Foreplay should happen all day. It doesn’t have to wait until you are in the bedroom. A simple phone call or text, a note on the dashboard on the way to work, arranging childcare and meeting for an impromptu after work cocktail before heading home are all good ideas to set the stage. Most importantly, remember the mind is a powerful aphrodisiac. Pick a light topic for conversation, share a fantasy or deliver a compliment. If you know your partner is very busy, offering to help take something off his or her to-do list
  5. Get help. Mismatched sex drives are common in part because sexual desire is complex. Countless factors can cause one or both partners to periodically shy away from sex. It can be worth seeking out a therapist or counselor to provide a road map, especially if the problem has been going on for a while.

Most importantly, understand that sex is a way to emotionally connect. It’s not just a physical act. Even if the idea of intercourse is off-putting, just cuddling and canoodling can lead to greater attachment.

Still having issues? Discuss your concerns with your doctor to rule out any physical or health issues that may be affecting your or your partner’s libidos, or a talk to a therapist for more help.


To find a primary care provider or make an appointment online, visit henryford.com. Or call 1-800-HENRYFORD (436-7936).

Dr. Phillis Mims-Gillum is an OB/GYN who specializes in sexual health and sexuality counseling, and sees patients for these conditions at Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital. Call (248) 661-6425 to schedule an appointment.

Categories: FeelWell