Navigating mismatched desire


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There are some things sex should always be. Consensual, first and foremost. It should also be pleasurable, comfortable, and mutually satisfying to all parties involved (even if those levels of satisfaction mean different things!).

Then, there are some things sex can be but doesn’t always need to be. Messy, funny, rough, tender, hours long, or moments short (quickies are important, justice for quickies!). Variety is one of the most wonderful things about sex, and of course, exploring that variety with partners who are willing to go there with you. But sometimes, even when we’re into all the same things as our sexual partners, a key ingredient can go missing—the desire for sex itself, otherwise known as sex drive.

The important thing to note is that our sex drive isn’t fixed, and not only is it likely to shift at different points in our lives, it almost certainly will.

Sex drive, sometimes called libido, is your desire, both physically and emotionally, for sex. We have a whole blog post breaking it down for you right here, but the important thing to note is that our sex drive isn’t fixed, and not only is it likely to shift at different points in our lives, it almost certainly will. From our “Understanding Your Libido” post:

There’s also no “normal range” when it comes to libido. We each have our own baseline, which differs from person to person. Not only does our libido fluctuate throughout our lives — decade to decade, year to year, day to day, and even hour to hour — our baseline can also change permanently during our lifetime for myriad reasons.

When we’re flying solo, an ever-shifting sex drive might not present much of a problem. Certainly, if it’s the first time you’ve ever experienced a shift in your sex drive, it might raise some initial concerns, but for the most part, you’re going to be the only person impacted. However, when you’re in a relationship, even a casual one, a shifting sex drive has the ability to impact more than one person and will probably require a bit more external management.

Looking for a few hot tips on how to manage mismatched desire? Look no further; we’ve got you covered.

What is mismatched desire

On the surface, mismatched desire is exactly what it sounds like: desire that is, you guessed it, mismatched. And that can look like a lot of things! Most commonly, people think of it as a desire for a certain frequency of sex (either a lot or a little), and while that might be true, that’s by no means all that it is. Mismatched desire might also manifest itself in the duration partners prefer sex to last for or where and how they like sex to take place. It also has to do with the importance a person might place on sex. For some folks, sex is extremely important, while for others, it might be less significant.

On a bit more of a transcendental note, mismatched desire is also likely extremely emotional for the people experiencing it. Not emotional in the sense that mismatched desire is the result of emotionality (although it’s possible!), but emotional in the sense that experiencing that kind of disconnect from a partner might present its own set of challenges. In this case, it’s also important to remember what mismatched desire is and what it isn’t.

What mismatched desire isn’t

The most important thing to remember is that just because you or a partner is experiencing mismatches doesn’t mean your feelings for the other person have changed or that you don’t care about each other anymore. There are so many reasons your sex drive might shift (and we’ll get into those very soon!), but by no means does that indicate that the way you feel about your partner, or the way they feel about you, has shifted.

The other important thing to remember is that mismatched desire doesn’t represent an insurmountable problem. In fact, there are many, many ways to surmount it! And don’t you worry, we’re going to get into some of those tools too! But first, let’s dig into the question of why.

Why might you experience mismatched desire

Length of relationship

As sex educator Jamie J. LeClaire said in our post about libido, sex drive and desire will shift and change throughout your lifetime. It’s totally natural, normal, and in no way represents that something is inherently wrong. So, suppose you’ve found yourself in a long-term relationship. In that case, it’s almost guaranteed that even if you and your partner have been synched when it comes to sex for the duration of your relationship, it’s likely that at some point, you might find yourselves out of synch.

Environmental factors

When we say environmental factors, we’re not talking about the weather (although it’s totally reasonable not to feel sexy on a gloomy day!). Environmental factors can cover a range of issues. Everything from added stress at work or home, starting or changing medications, or, you know, existing in the world while there’s an ongoing global pandemic. Our bodies, while powerful and resilient, are also sensitive to what we’re experiencing. Listening to what they’re telling us, rather than fighting it, will definitely serve you better in the long run!

It was never there to begin with

Getting into a new relationship can be a thrilling, wonderful experience. So much so that it might be easy to overlook aspects of the relationship, like sexual compatibility, that don’t meet the magic of the rest of it as you’re getting to know each other. Or, you and your new partner might find yourself so into each other that you shift your own sexual expectations in an effort to match that of your new boo. While that might be sustainable for a while, eventually, you’ll need to talk about it, which is great! More communication is always better than less.

How to navigate mismatched desire

As we said, mismatched desire is not an insurmountable problem. The most important thing is that you don’t ignore it and hope it solves itself. Navigating difficult situations, particularly difficult sexual situations, takes a bit of bravery. But, the good news is, we know you can do it. Over on Instagram, we talked about how to handle mismatched desire. Here are our top three tips:

  1. Plan ahead. Schedule time to get intimate, preferably during a time of the day or week when you have the most energy. Even if you're not in the mood to have sex, you can still kiss, cuddle, or give each other massages.⁠ ⁠

  2. Masturbate! Mutual masturbation is sooo underrated. Whether you take turns or do it simultaneously, this is a great way to satisfy yourself while also feeling connected to your partner. If one partner isn't in the mood, they can help the other with touch, dirty talk, or kissing.⁠ ⁠

  3. Seek professional help. If your mismatched libidos are causing your relationship to suffer, you may want to see a sex therapist. They can help you and your partner navigate this disconnect.

Have your own tips to share? Pop back into that Instagram post and sound off; we’d love to keep the conversation going!

There will never be a perfect, one size fits all solution to mismatched sexual desire. The only real way to handle it is to talk about it. And then try something new. And then talk about it again. And then try something new. Eventually, you’ll figure out the right path forward, and you’ll likely deepen your relationship with your partner in the process. Need a little help getting started or opening up the conversation? Check out our “36 Questions” series. You’ll explore 36 different questions about sex, love, and intimacy with your partner. Play along and open up the conversation--happy listening!

Listen, light yourself up.

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