Disparate Desires

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In thinking about the issues that routinely come up in my therapy with clients, I realized that there are a few recurring themes. Disparate desires – when the partners have different sexual appetites – is a common problem, and one that can destroy an otherwise happy and healthy relationship.

Having disparate desire is a difficult problem to address because there is so much pride and vulnerability involved. Both parties truly believe the other is acting intentionally, that the other is wrong. The core of the issue, aside from the obvious sexual negotiation, is power.

Whoever wants less, has more power.

I understand that this sounds backwards. Let’s tease it apart and it should become clear. If I want to have sex once a week, and you want to have sex once a month, then I am going to be horny and frustrated three weeks a month. You, on the other hand, let me know when my advances will be accepted, or perhaps you even initiate sex, but on your terms. I am usually, by that time, grateful if not downright desperate. I begin to wonder if you want me at all, or if you are bestowing ‘mercy sex’. Still, having sex with you, believing that everything will be all right now (we humans are a hopeful lot) encourages me and re-connects us. The problem is that the cycle gets repeated, and repeated, and repeated. I feel…

Powerless, which eventually leads to Resentment.

Now let’s view it from the other side: When we first got together, you were so romantic, attentive, and sexy. I couldn’t keep my eyes off you…or my hands. We fell in love, and this process was fuelled by long sessions of look-into-your-eyes lovemaking. We became a couple, and the importance of life crept into our fairy tale romance. A trip to Home Depot became more practical than passionate. If kids came along, you can bet our sex lives changed along with everything else. But I know in my heart that we are solid and safe and I love it when you cuddle with me. Trouble is, every time we touch each other, you want to have sex. I’m beginning to wonder if you even notice who I really am anymore. I know you want sex (I’m not so sure if you really want me), so I can’t risk approaching you because I’m afraid you’ll interpret it as a green light for sex again. Why can’t you be satisfied with leisurely lovemaking a couple of times a month? What’s wrong with you?! I feel devalued and objectified, which in turn makes me feel…

Powerless, which eventually leads to Resentment.

For those of you who are nodding your heads in recognition, I regret that I have no magic elixir, no snappy psychobabble that will ‘fix’ either one of you (you see, there’s nothing wrong with either of you). This is truly a thorny, complicated, and sensitive issue. There are solutions, but not every couple are able to make the necessary changes and accommodations to ease the tension. Sometimes, the problem is just plain temperament.

Some of us like sex (or classical music or hockey) a lot; others don’t. Different, not right nor wrong. But when we mate with someone whose sexual desires vary greatly from ours, we easily have a problem on our hands we don’t know how to address. There are some things you can do to assess your differences and hopefully bring them closer together:

– take turns initiating sex and monitor the intervals
– establish regular ‘date nights’ (for more, see “Mate Dates” article) where thoughtful, indulgent lovemaking can occur
– inject sex with something new: toys, positions, costumes..
– evaluate, separately and together, the role of sex in your relationship

If, after trying to address the disparities in your desire levels, you are still stalemated, consider getting the help of a professional sex therapist. This is a difficult problem and sometimes the perspective and skill of another person that you don’t have to live with can help to clarify the issues and create options you’ve missed or not thought of at all. We all deserve to feel loved, cherished, and appreciated by our mates. It’s vitally important to stay clear about the value of sex and love and to try every avenue to regain and maintain that magic that helped us find each other in the first place.