Dear Sexologist,

My husband (let’s call him “Paul”) has a higher libido and wants sex more often than I do. I usually go along with it even when I don’t initially feel like it. But lately between that and motherhood, I’ve been feeling exhausted and touched out. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy sex with him. But sometimes it feels like sex is a chore or obligation I’m forcing myself to fulfill. What should I do if I don’t want to have sex? Paul’s love language is physical touch, and I want to show him affection, but I’m afraid that turning him down so often will send him the wrong message and hurt our connection. 


Worried about disconnection  


Dear Worried,

This situation can be confusing and delicate, and you’re not alone in it. Most couples have differing libidos at some point in their relationship, if not the full duration of their relationship. And differing libidos can easily result in a mismatch in craving sexual intimacy. The lower libido (LL) partner often feels pressured to have sex or guilty when they turn down their partner’s advances. The higher libido (HL) partner commonly feels needy and insecure, wondering whether their partner is attracted to them. With the added obstacle of being touched out, it sounds like you are due for a conversation with Paul. 

Effective communication, such as a soft start-up, is a key part of tackling almost any issue you might come across. Talking about intimacy will help you both understand your sexual needs and align your expectations, which will ultimately help resolve the problem. Consider the following questions to guide your chat:

What is the high libido partner seeking from sex?

People have sex for a multitude of reasons: procreation, physical pleasure, emotional security, intimate bonding, a form of celebration, or even an answer to boredom. When Paul is craving sex, perhaps he can pause and think about the underlying need he is hoping to fulfill. 

Let’s say you’ve both been busy and haven’t had time for each other. Maybe initiating sex is Paul’s way of reconnecting with you, but you aren’t feeling up for intercourse. Being intimate doesn’t have to include having sex—consider other forms of intimacy. Swap hand massages while planning something fun for the weekend. That way, Paul gets physical touch to scratch his love language, and you still share quality time to reconnect. 

What does the lower libido partner need in order to feel more comfortable saying yes to sex?

As explained by Dr. Emily Nagoski in her book Come As You Are, you have turn ons and turn offs. Knowing and communicating your turn ons and turn offs can significantly help align sexual expectations. For example, if you have spent all week with your kids without a break, be clear with your partner that you’ll need a night of “me time” to recharge before giving more of yourself to anyone else. In this scenario, Paul will learn that he may want to hold off on future advances if you haven’t had time to yourself. Instead, he might opt to take over kid duties while you can spend time by yourself, knowing you might be more inclined to enjoy connecting with him later on.

Keep in mind, though, that even if Paul does this, you still might not feel like having sex or being intimate. That’s perfectly acceptable! Consent is not conditional. I’d caution you to rethink having sex when you don’t feel like it. Of course, there are times when you want to try, thinking you’ll get in the mood once you start. But if you really aren’t into it, please do yourself a favor and stop. If you have sex when you don’t want it, you are not truly consenting to it. Instead, you are conditioning yourself to correlate sex as something you don’t want. Consent is only given with a sane, enthusiastic “yes.” 

Reestablish boundaries as necessary.

Because sexuality evolves throughout life, it’s a good idea to revisit your boundaries and make edits as necessary. If any boundaries have changed or new ones need to be established, communicate them to your partner. Trust and intimacy grow within boundaries, so it’s imperative to check in with yourself and make these clear to each other. 

Keep talking about intimacy.

Communication is a skill—you have to keep practicing! Some couples benefit from scheduling regular check-ins about their love life to discuss what’s working and what’s not. Other couples prefer to keep the conversation open and bring up concerns as they arise. Whatever you find is best for you, just keep talking to each other about intimacy, and you will find yourselves more sexually connected. When the door is open for discussion, the door is open for resolution. 

If you would like assistance with navigating discussions around intimacy or sexual disconnection, our professionals are ready to help. Whether you have concerns with mismatched libidos, or you need help managing expectations around getting your sexual needs met, give us a call to find your solution.

Our practice offers in-person appointments in Charlotte, NC. Liz can provide virtual sessions for individuals and couples regardless of location. Contact us to get started.

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