22 Experts Reveal: How to Deal with Sexual Incompatibility

How to Deal with Incompatible Sex Drives

Sexual satisfaction of both the partners is extremely important to have a fulfilling married life. But what happens when the partners have unmatched libidos? Should the people with a higher drive compromise on their sexual needs or should they seek sexual fulfillment outside of their marriage? Should the partners with the lower sex drive give in to the sexual requests of the other partner unwillingly? Whichever may be the case, there is bound to be resentment and conflict in the relationship, that can ultimately lead to the end of the relationship. Does that mean a relationship is doomed if the sex drives of both partners are sexually incompatible?

Sexual incompatibility is a big problem, but there are some good solutions for that. Experts reveal how to deal with incompatible sex drives and still have a happy and fulfilling marriage-

1) Take a team approach to improve sexual happiness Tweet this 

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Sexual incompatibility is fairly common human experience.  It should not be a deal-breaker UNLESS that incompatibility causes you heartache.  When I work with a couple keen on saving or improving their marriage, I treat incompatibility as a function of natural biological differentials that can be balanced to build a healthier relationship.  The only exception is when incompatibility causes so much underlying friction that one or both partners can’t or won’t do the work.  If it’s deteriorated into a Mexican stand-off, divorce should be on the table.  But, depending on your commitment to the marriage (and taking the welfare of any kids you have into account), you can accommodate most sexual differentials by building new skills and creating new rules and boundaries that keep you both satisfied. This may include negotiating more time to pursue erotic appetites in safe, acceptable ways, such as viewing porn or masturbating if you are monogamous.  Or, if you lean towards the adventure, it might mean discussing a poly arrangement or an outlet for kink/fetish fantasies. 

2) Taking the pressure off the partner with a lower sexual drive Tweet this 

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Incompatible sex drive, or mismatched desire, is the most common issue I see in my work with couples. This isn’t too surprising as it is rare that two people will want sex with the same frequency at the same times throughout the course of their relationship. Often a pattern emerges of one partner asking for sex and then feeling rejected which can cause a further divide. My recommendation is for the partner with the higher sex drive to cultivate a steady masturbation practice to take the pressure off of the lower drive partner. I am also a big advocate for scheduling sex in advance. This takes the guesswork out of “when are we going to have sex?” and builds anticipation, which is very sexy.

3) Finding a middle ground Tweet this 

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“Sex is not just about vaginal-penile intercourse, it can encompass many different layers of sexual activities such as solo masturbation, kissing, engaging in foreplay together, or co-masturbation. If one partner desires sex more frequently, how often is intercourse desired, versus, other sexual acts? It’s about finding a middle ground so that both partners feel heard and respected for their desires. If partners can discuss their needs openly and honestly, and commit to finding a compromise, they can focus less on their incompatibility, and more on finding sexual activities that satisfy both of them.”

4) Flexibility, respect, and acceptance Tweet this 

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Some couples put together individual lists (called sexual menus) of what they would like to do and how often, then compare notes with each other.  Each person could rate the items on their list red, yellow,  green according to their desire and willingness to do them. They can also rate frequency and time of day the same way, then compile a list of things each person has given the green light to.

5) Both partners should be willing to make efforts Tweet this 

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Couples should think about the difference between being turned on already vs the willingness to be turned on. A lower libido partner who is not yet ready to be intimate but willing to arrive at that place creates more flexibility in the relationship. Similarly, I encourage higher libido partners to expand their ideas about what it means to be “intimate” – does it have to be a sex act? What about hugging, holding hands in bed and talking, being emotionally vulnerable. Finding ways to feel connected that aren’t just around sex reduces the tension that arises in couples where this has been a source of frustration.

6) The 3 step method to reconcile incompatible sex drives Tweet this 

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In order to keep the sexual element of your relationship healthy and prevent the formation of negative emotions, (ie frustrations, resentment, guilt, contempt) when you have differences in sex drive, here are some things you can do:

  1.  Compromise with your partner about the frequency of sex.  For example, if one partner likes to have sex once a month, and the other wants sex a few times week, negotiate an average frequency (i.e. 1x/week or 4 times a month).
  2. Schedule sex.  Even though scheduling sex may seem counterintuitive; a sex schedule reassures the high drive partner that sex will occur.  It also provides the lower drive partner reassurance that sex will only happen during the designated times. This tends to relieve the stress/tension of both partners.
  3.  Make time for nonsexual encounters-  cuddling, kissing, holding hands will increase couples’ intimacy overall.  Couples tend to be happier when they make time to spend together and perform these physical acts.

7) Bridge the gap between libidos with willingness Tweet this 

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It’s not a matter of drive, but of willingness. There are two types of desire: spontaneous and responsive. Spontaneous desire is the type we feel when we fall in love and are infatuated with someone; spontaneous desire is what we see in the movies: two people exchange a heated glance across a room and then next they’re falling into each other’s arms, unable to even make to the bedroom. But in long-term relationships, spontaneous desire often transitions to a responsive desire for one or both partners. Responsive desire means just that: desire responds to something that comes before it. This is a radical notion, because for most of us if we don’t feel desire then we’re not going to have sex. But if desire doesn’t come first in a responsive desire model, then you might never have sex. You might end up being the sort of person who says, “I want to want sex, but I just don’t want it.” This is why it’s not a matter of drive, but of willingness. If two people in a relationship have discrepant libidos, then it’s not a matter of showing up with desire, but rather of accepting that desire is not spontaneous but responsive. In a responsive desire model, what comes before desire is arousal (in the form of physical touch, psychological stimulation, and emotional connection) and what couples need most is the willingness to show up and generate some arousal together, in the hope and understanding that it will lead to the emergence of desire. We’re taught to first feel desire and then let ourselves get aroused, but actually, we need to reverse this and first generate the arousal that will lead to desire. If you and your partner are experiencing a libido gap, then bridge that gap with your willingness”

8) Mix and match your desires to have a fulfilling sex life Tweet this 

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When couples are sexually incompatible, then both the individuals should write a sexual menu.  This is a list of all the sexual experiences they would like to share with their partner or would enjoy on their own.  For instance, for one partner it could be:

  • Explore new positions in bed with sex
  • Watching a sexual instruction movie together
  • Shopping at a sex toy shop together
  • Role-playing
  • For the other partner it could be:
  • Walking hand and hand when we go out
  • Tickling each other
  • Spooning together in bed

The desires look very different, but the couple can then see if they can meet in the middle with some.  For instance, start by spooning in bed and slowly move to another position.  See how that feels.  Or when they go out they can walk hand in hand, not in preparation for anything else, but for its own experience.  Perhaps they can go online together to shop for a sex toy that would feel playful.  Couples often think that sex is only about performance rather than intimacy.  Being able to find ways to appeal to each partner, the couple builds their intimacy by honoring the differences, while appreciating the moments when you share sexual pleasure.  Maybe this will be different than you anticipated, but it will be valuable, nonetheless.

9) Full commitment to give them all you have to give Tweet this 

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Incompatible is as incompatible does.  It is difficult to believe that two people who find each other physically repugnant would ignore every signal sent them by their pheromones and stay together long enough to wonder how to keep their relationships healthy.

Intimacy and sex are often lumped together and then we are off to the usual litany of, “I want to have sex every day and s/he wants it once a week”

How do we measure success?  Orgasms per time period?  Percentage of time spent in postcoital bliss?  Percentage of time spent in some sort of sexual contact?

It is possible that rather than measuring success, we measure frustration.  As in, I reach for her and she pulls back.  I look at him and he does not come hither.

Perhaps the trouble is in the fact that there is measuring going on.  If he gives her his attention and caresses and, regardless of the effect on her, he himself is only tracking how much she reciprocates, then she might gradually feel that it’s transactional affection.  

The fundamental question is not about compatible sex drive but about compatible destinies:  why tie yourself to someone if you are not fully committed to giving them all you have to give, not stopping until the recipient signals they are well and truly content?

10) Open communication Tweet this 

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Open, honest communication is key. It’s important to understand each other’s needs as well as limitations in order to respectfully negotiate towards a sex life that works for both partners. Creating a sex menu can help open up new possibilities. Additionally, seeing a certified sex therapist can be beneficial.

11) Sex drive can be changed Tweet this 

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This really depends on the couple and hard to give a “one-size fits all” solution. How is this causing problem for the couple? For whom is this a problem? How old are the partners? Are we talking about the stereotyped situation where one partner gets sexually frustrated? Is the low sex-drive partner willing to engage in alternative sexual activities? Is the high sex-drive partner open to these alternatives? What does sex represent for both partners? Are there alternative ways that the things which sex represents for them can be satisfied?  And lastly, sex drive is to some degree changeable. One obvious thing is to seek out ways to bring the low libido up. However, we can also find ways to bring the high libido down. For example, in some cases, the high libido individual is expressing something to their partner through sex. If we can find out what that is, and find alternative ways of expressing it, then we may bring down some of the urgency/pressure behind sex. Sex drive can also be a “use it or lose it” kind of thing. The high sex drives individual’s desires may drop a little after making it their goal to decrease their sexual activities overall (but it will likely remain prone to bouncing back up). This is also not easy to do because sexual activity is usually woven into the high sex-drive person’s set of habits. It can be helpful, nonetheless.

12) A healthy sexual relationship requires interest, willingness, and connection Tweet this 

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Is there such a thing as “incompatible” sex drive? A couple can have differences in their level of libido, expectations, and preferences, but in my opinion, that doesn’t mean they are sexually incompatible. As a sex therapist, I have found that when there is interest, willingness, and connection between two people, a healthy sexual relationship among them is a matter of learning about the other, communicating needs, working together on discovering what’s missing, being creative in designing their “compatibility.” Working together in developing erotic menus (which are as open as flexible as they need to be) almost invariably ignite their sexual desire and improve their sexual life.

13) Have realistic expectations and stay open to try new things Tweet this 

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The first step is to keep in mind that neither partner is wrong for how frequent or infrequent they desire sex. Placing an expectation in relationships that because two people stimulate each other mentally and emotionally that they also are ‘supposed’ to want the same things sexually can negatively impact the wellness of the relationship. Seek a couple’s counselor who specializes in sexuality to aid in identifying and revising cognitive distortions including– “My partner ‘must’ want sex every time I do or I am not attractive enough.” A professional is a great resource to help couples come to a compromise on what a happy and healthy sex life looks like for their UNIQUE relationship. Don’t be afraid to explore your sexuality together so you can create your own love language. A little direction goes a long way, so keep in mind the benefits of positive reinforcement when your partner is pleasing you in a way you want to encourage for the future. A satisfying sex life most greatly begins and ends with compromise. This may include one partner having sex even when they are not in the mood or the other using masturbation as means of increasing their sexual hunger. Engaging in a new sexual activity together may spark that previously experienced pass, or some simple distance may also do the trick. 

14) Get help Tweet this 

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‘Love conquers all’ sounds sweet and simple, but the truth is that even couples who love each other very much can struggle with having a vibrant sex life. In the beginning, it’s new and novel, but sex in a long-term relationship is a different ballgame. Sex drive is influenced by medical, psychological, emotional, and interpersonal factors, so it’s helpful to get a comprehensive evaluation to rule out possible causes and explore treatment options.   

15) Be open about insecurities and build each other up Tweet this 

Communication is everything. Sex is a difficult subject for many couples to talk about. Feeling sexually inadequate can create a deep sense of insecurity and shame, both personally and in the relationship. Couples must communicate openly about what sex means to each partner and resolve their fears of what it means to be sexually out of sync. Recognize that each relationship holds different needs for intimacy and there is no “norm.” Be open about insecurities and build each other up instead of focusing on what isn’t working.

16) 3 Ways to navigate different sex drives for smoother sailing Tweet this 

Let’s face it. You and your partner may not always match up in the sex department, however, there are ways to address the imbalance without thinking about abandoning ship. Here’s how:

  1. Talk about it. Asking for sexual needs and desires to get met is more effective than complaining about the sexual aspect of your relationship.
  2. Spend time on it. Carve out time each week to make a concerted effort to spend quality time with your partner.
  3. Work, work, work on it. Compromise is imperative in order to maintain a healthy relationship, so if you and your partner’s libidos don’t always sync up, there are intimacy exercises that you can do that won’t necessarily lead to sexual intercourse but can be satisfying for varying levels of sex drives.

17) Couples should be honest about what they want Tweet this 

Communication is the key.  Couples should feel free to talk about their sex drives, their likes, dislikes and how they want their relationship to grow.  Regarding their sex drives, couples should be honest with what they each want (and how often) and what they expect from each other.  If one has a drive that the other cannot or does not want to meet then masturbation is a good remedy.  However, I often push my clients to never forget about intimacy.  And that is the therapeutic question.  Having too much or too little of a sex drive often leads to unhealthy behaviors.  People should feel valued and comfortable with their partner.

18) Try to get to the root of the problem Tweet this 

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When a discrepancy in sex drive is the issue I emphasize giving each partner concrete skills to address the issue, including how to: manage their own emotions, effectively communicate, and collaboratively problem solve. In my experience, avoiding the issue only leads to the status quo at best, and more commonly passive aggression, open hostility, or distance. But many couples don’t know how to move things forward, especially when it comes to such a charged issue.

I also have each partner determine how they feel about their sexual life, the meaning it takes on, and what each would want that could improve how they feel about being intimate and more sexually, romantically, and emotionally satisfied.

While we work on these issues, it is possible to begin to understand what other important aspects of their relationship and personal lives are strengths, and can be built upon, and where weaknesses and deficits exist. Then we can work comprehensively on the relationship, productively improving the entirety of the relationship.

19) Experimentation and new areas of play may help bridge the gap Tweet this 

When partners have different sex drives, it can be difficult to keep a healthy sexual relationship alive. Talking openly with one another, either independently or with a licensed therapist, can be helpful in identifying possible solutions to “incompatible” sex drives. Sometimes experimentation and new areas of play may help bridge the gap, especially when combined with compassion and active listening.

20) The 3 Cs: Communication, Creativity, and Consent Tweet this 

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Our country’s sexual IQ is low on average because we’ve been taught to avoid talking about sex, and sexual incompatibility is often about a lack of information and explicit consent. The cure: explicit, ongoing conversations in a neutral setting about fantasies, preferences, and what contributes to and diminishes arousal.

21) Compromise is the answer Tweet this 

I often get couples that have incompatible sex drives. He feels like a bear pawing at you. You pretend to sleep, you get headaches, you “don’t feel well,”. I get it. He’s never satisfied enough. You just did it Sunday and it’s Tuesday.

She is always tired, she doesn’t touch me, she makes me wait days before she will have sex with me. I think she is not attracted to me anymore.

I heard it all. And you are both right. And this is an issue. Because one feels the constant pressure and nag and the other feels horny and rejected.

It appears a compromise is the best answer, and furthermore, communication. Although curling up with a good book sound smack, you actually have to give a darn. Not every day, just more than once a month. Likewise, the hornier of the two needs to listen to the other partner’s needs, sexually. Find out what is gets his/her engine flowing (does she/he like toys, talking, light rubbing, porn…). And slowly work at pleasing that person first. Because they feel what they feel and begging isn’t the answer.

22) Find other sensual ways to connect with your partner Tweet this 

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Sexual incompatibility often cause unspoken ruptures in the relationship. Developing and opening up what is considered sex between two people can bring physical expansiveness and redefine what is physical, sensual and sexual. A place to start is experimenting with nongenital sensual ways of physically connecting without the pressure of intercourse or orgasm.