As a clinical sexologist, I see a multitude of concerns relating to sex, relationships, intimacy, and mental health. I have worked with people who experience unwanted pain during sexual intercourse, and people who have unusual sexual preferences.
I’ve helped women navigate through the emotional toll of choosing to end a pregnancy and men who feel incredible shame at not being able to get aroused when they have sex.
But, any sexologist like myself will tell you, the number one concern that people seek help for is the difference in their interest in sex. And it’s something that if we are prepared to experience and accept as quite normal, we can find it easier to navigate when it does arise in our relationships.
Let me start by saying this loud and clear: every couple, no matter the type of relationship you have, will experience differences in interest in sex throughout their relationship. It’s impossible not to!
But somehow the story we’ve all been sold and buy into is that we will all live happily ever after, desiring each other equally and intensely forever. I wish this was the case, truly. My job would be easier! But it’s simply unhelpful and maladaptive to believe this.
All aspects of our relationships, including sexual interest, require effort and intentionality, as consistently as we can offer it. When we are putting in effort and being intentional with connecting erotically, we can easily slip into patterns that cause distress, such as the push/ pull that takes place around sex.
These two elements can make a difference to how much sex we want:
Your sexual blueprint:
Each of us grows up with a unique sexual blueprint. Your blueprint will be dictated by everything from how your parents treated the topic of sex, to religious and cultural messages you received about it.
Any negative or traumatic experiences that you had will alter your blueprint, and even exposure to your parents sexual & relational dynamic can influence it. It is highly improbably that partners will ever have the same blueprint (not even siblings are likely to) and so talking about your blueprint and getting to understand your partners can help you both make sense of each other’s experiences, expectations, and beliefs around sex.
The more you have this information, the more likely you will be able to navigate differences when they arise, and hopefully the more understanding you will be of these differences. The biggest issue though, is that most couples really struggle to talk about sex. We all do it, but we don’t talk about it.
Try to be curious about this aspect of your partner from early on in a relationship (or as soon as you can – it’s never too late). Curiosity helps to change the experience of differences from that of distress to that of understanding.
Movies and porn sadly show us a picture of sex that is spontaneous, passionate and one where we are equally desired. In real life, this is far from the norm for most couples. In general, couples are having sex when they are in bed, either at the very end of the day or before they start their day. They are trying to ‘fit sex’ into a schedule that also includes family, exercising, work etc. And so it’s no surprise that people say they have more sex on holiday; when these responsibilities are greatly decreased.
What really matters for our desire for sex is the context in which it’s happening: the environmental, psychological, physical, and relational context. If we’re exhausted, always thinking our partner just touches us when they want to have sex, and constantly worry that even showing them some affection might be misconstrued, then the chances are your interest in sex is going to be very low!
Changing the context can ultimately change your experience. So try scheduling in time to be intimate without the expectation of any sex happening (quality time together with no expectation), planning some time to have sex (yes this is actually a very helpful way to feel connected sexually), making your bedroom somewhere that is not just about kids or sleeping but physically connecting too, and if you’re struggling with stress, anxiety or any other mental health concern, seek support and open up to your partner about where you’re at and what you need.