Written by Sexual Wellness Institute Therapist, Eric Anfinson, MS LMFT
I see a lot of couples who struggle differences in sexual desire. For the lower desire partner, this usually results in a lot of negative feelings, including shame, and pressure or expectation. On top of these feelings, many higher desire partners are guilty of intentionally communicating negative feelings about the lack of sexual intimacy to their lower desire partner, and increasing the pressure on them. This often leads to a very harmful situation. This can result in the lower desire partner deciding to have sex with their higher desire partner just to get them off their back. While this sex is technically being consented to, it is not sex that the lower desire partner wants to have. This sex is incredibly damaging to the relationship and does nothing but increase disconnection and build resentment for the higher desire partner. I have seen a lot of higher desire partners feel rejected and sad when their partners do not want to have sex with them. They feel worse, however, if they find out that their partner had sex with them even when they didn’t want to.
How can we avoid this negative cycle? Let's take a look at why this happens so often and a couple of ways to handle this situation better.
The first source of our problem is often a lack of understanding from the higher desire partner of their own sexuality. For men that are the higher desire partner there are several compounding problems that make this situation harder. The first is that men are not raised to understand or communicate their emotions. This is problem because sex is an intensely emotional experience between two people. Men are also raised to see sex as some ultimate form of validation. Someone wanting to have sex with you is a direct and powerful communication of being wanted/chosen. If you're already feeling healthy, self-confidence isn't an issue. However, for anyone who isn't wholly secure in themselves and in their relationship, this messaging transforms sex into a powerful validation drug. It has an intense high but fades quickly, leaving the man needing more sex for another hit of validation. All of this is happening unconsciously, and men often struggle to identify what it is sex is communicating to them. This leads to them just expressing that they must "have their needs met." Sexual needs are a very real and healthy thing, but met just as well through masturbation as through sex. Tom Hanks didn't die in "Castaway" because he couldn't get laid. Sexual release is an individual need while sexual intimacy is a relational need. Understanding this difference is our first step to solving this problem.
Why is so much pressure put on sex?
If we can understand why pressure is being put on sex, then we can make the conversation about something that's actually productive. As I said sexual intimacy is a relational need. As such, communicating that you're looking for intimacy and connection with your partner allows for multiple routes to success. Sex is a fantastic way to feel intimately connected with your partner. But if one of you isn't in the mood for sex, cuddling and watching a movie together can also meet that need. By opening other ways to meet the need we take the pressure of sex, which actually opens people up to it more. If you're the higher desire partner, communicate the connection need not physical need.
Cultivate the Relationship, Intimacy Included
A relationship does not need sex because "it's my birthday" or because "we're on vacation." A relationship needs sexual intimacy in order to consistently communicate love and desire and affection for your partner. If you're needing to feel that sexual intimacy with your partner the ask might sound more like "we haven't had sex in a while and I'm really missing that intense intimacy with you. When can we find time to connect?" or "We haven't had much sex lately, is there something putting the breaks on your desire?" By making the conversation about the relationship we take pressure of the moment and find a path that goes forward.
Don't "Just Say No"
So, if you are the lower desire partner, address your partner’s need for intimacy. If you are not wanting to have sex on a particular night, you can say something like, "I'm not in the mood tonight, but I'd love to just hold you and watch a movie together. I want to feel connected too." You can also communicate that you do desire intimacy with your partner, just not at that moment. "I'd love to have sex tonight, but I'm completely exhausted from work. It would be fun to have sex tomorrow." Lastly, talk with your partner about what sex means to you and what it communicates to each of you. Talk about the pressures you might feel and how to mitigate them. The less pressure we put on sex the better it gets, and when it's better we tend to want it more.
Address Desire Concerns, Honestly
Remember to address the feelings present for your partner whether you are the higher desire or lower desire partner. Helping them feel validated and heard will help take the pressure off sex (or lack of) being a central issue in your relationship.
Interested in Sex Therapy or Relationship Counseling in Plymouth, MN?
This may not feel easy to talk about with your partner, or even to admit to yourself. Our couples and marriage therapists want to help you with sex therapy or marriage counseling here in Plymouth, or anywhere in the state with online therapy in Minnesota. Get started by following these simple steps:
Other Relationship & Mental Health Services in Minnesota
In addition to couples therapy & marriage counseling, our LGBT & polyamory friendly sex therapists provide a wide range of mental health services at our Plymouth, MN counseling office. Other services include sex therapy, EFT, evidence-based couples therapy, EMDR & sexual trauma therapy, as well as, teen therapy. In order to help serve the mental health needs of all those living in Minnesota, we also offer online counseling & sex therapy. We also provide a variety of helpful tips on our mental health blog. Please feel free to reach out with questions, or if you would like to schedule an appointment to begin working with a skilled therapist! Your love life can be amazing.
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