What to Do if You and Your Partner Have Mismatched Sex Drives

It’s one of the most common complaints in a relationship: “We have mismatched sex drives.”

But just because it’s common doesn’t make it pleasant. Very frequently, “we have mismatched sex drives” is polite shorthand for a whole host of sexual issues, and not all of them bad. In fact, the very language used here can provide a productive starting point for finding a sexual dynamic that’s mutually satisfying. If we know that sex drives are mismatched, we can explore why they are mismatched. 

While NRE (new relationship energy) revs up sex frequency at the very beginning, we can’t coast on it forever. And we shouldn’t expect to: novelty is a huge component of sexual excitement, and after a year or so, an established couple is, by definition, no longer novel to one another. Rather than taking this as a sign that something’s wrong, we can consciously move into ERE, or “existing relationship energy,” in a number of constructive ways. 

So here are 4 ways to think about mismatched sex drives, to move your sex life in a positive, sexier direction:

1. Reframe the Conversation

…to be about quality, rather than quantity. Note: this does not mean you have to settle for one great sex session a month and call it a day. But, so many couples get tripped up on the frequency (“we only have sex once a week!”), failing to see that maybe, the less desirous partner is bored / wants to have sex in a different way / has evolved to seek something different from the sexual experience they had at the very beginning. Maybe they don’t know what they want and need permission to explore. 

Which isn’t to say that these are easy talks, of course. But it’s probably a more honest conversation than, “he wants sex all the time, she doesn’t, shrug!” Rather, this approach opens the door for curiosity and intimacy. Some good resources to start are the Yes No Maybe List (to help both of you explore different activities on the sexual menu), The Three T’s of Communication, and even this article on alternative relationship models. Note: these resources are all just data, so don’t worry if you’re not ready to make any big changes yet. But quality sex is an organic result of self-discovery, and that’s what we’re going for here. 

2. Seek Out the Erotic

Along the lines of reframing the conversation around quality, couples can enter into a more erotic frame of mind together, through activities that call forth their wildness and freedom…activities that don’t even have to be sexual. I love this quote from Esther Perel on eroticism: “It’s the thoughts, dreams, anticipation, unruly impulses, and even painful memories which make up our vast erotic landscapes. It’s energized by our entire human experience, layered with early childhood experiences of touch, play, or trauma, which later become cornerstones of our erotic life.” 

So, what puts you into an erotic headspace? The answer might be unique for each of you. Going dancing, playing a game, watching a provocative movie than having a rich conversation about it after…it’s all allowed. You’ll know you’ve landed on the erotic when you feel energized, anticipatory, and your senses come alive. Because at the end of the day, “the erotic” is guided by the body: a little unpredictable, a little hard to control, a little animal. It’s about quieting the mandate of productivity and allowing yourselves to play. 

Now, that may seem indirect (um…what does dancing have to do with my sex drive?), but it’s precisely this wild, uninhibited side that feeds into sex —hich you can see for yourself when you watch ethical porn, a porn genre-driven more by authentic performer chemistry than “acting.” Bellesa Plus is probably my favorite example of this, with narrative-driven storylines that forefront female pleasure, and tons of content that shows what it’s like to tie play to sex. 

3. Cultivate Non-Sexual Presence

There’s an awesome study that just came out from Ottawa University, where participants talked about the best sex of their lives—and, what made it so great. Can you guess what one of the top ingredients of hot sex was? 

Radical presence.

Think about it: so many of us disassociate when we have sex because, for whatever reason, we’re not entirely…there. This isn’t to say that we’re not into our partners. Rather, we live in an age of constant dings, notifications, reminders, and to-do list a collective “monkey mind” that makes it exceedingly difficult to drop into the present moment. But when we train our aptitude for a presence outside of the bedroom, we can bring that same skill inside the bedroom. “Despite the different ways each participant actually had sex, at the very peaks of the experience, everyone was feeling the same kinds of things: total absorption at the moment, deep connection with their partner, and openness and a willingness to take a few emotional risks,” says the study. How did they get there? Presence.

So start observing your surroundings on a day-to-day basis, going by sense. How does the wind feel on my face? What sounds do I hear, when I step outside? And by the way, you can absolutely make sense-observation a part of the sexual experience as well. System Jo makes a bevy of flavored lubes that each of you can slather on for oral…turning your genitals into a delicious, sensory treat. 

4. Expand Your Definition of Sex

Aka, it’s not always about penetration. When we get super caught up in “finishing,” we’re back to the old, goal-oriented mindset of productivity, aren’t we? Just because someone had an orgasm doesn’t mean it was erotic. And on that note, the orgasm gap is very much a thing for cis-het couples, which is often why in the “mismatched sex drives” conversation, it’s the vulva owner who’s less enthused. (Probably because she’s having way fewer orgasms!) 

So let’s toss off the sex scripts we’ve inherited, and make things more exploratory. How about a sex sesh where no one penetrates? What other ways can we explore our bodies, and foster a sense of discovery? Our map of nerve endings, and the brain that awakens them, is so very mysterious…why not treat “sex” as an open-ended treasure hunt? To that end, you can switch it up entirely with a brand new set of sex steps, and give mutual masturbation a whirl. For this one, I strongly recommend the classic sex toy, the Magic Wand. Everyone needs one! Like the “little black dress” of personal massagers, it’s also historic—it came out 50 years ago and continues to be one of the most popular toys in America. 

Know This: Hot Sex is Powered By Curiosity

Sure, hormone changes might be the culprit for a plummeting sex drive, in which case a visit to the doctor could be helpful. But so much of the time, “mismatches” are simply a clue that our curiosity has gone underground. Our partner has become familiar, and there’s less to discover…or so we think.

By taking each of these four methods to address mismatched sex drives, you’re each going to grow as people, opening up new, internal landscapes for each of you to explore. So enjoy! And take this time to return to erotic—together.