By Afi-Odelia E. Scruggs
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How many nights have you spent on your side of the bed awake with passion, while your partner is curled up next to you deep in sleep? Or maybe you're the one who's OK with having sex every week or so, while he's looking for it every other day.
You used to do it all the time. What happened? Has the thrill packed up and gone? Not necessarily. The problem is that you've got what therapists call desire discrepancy -- you're out of sync sexually with your better half.
If you're worried that you and your partner have fallen out of lust, consider this: You may never have been in sync at all. It just seemed that way because the novelty and excitement of having a new lover boosts the hormones that inspire desire. As a relationship continues, though, the initial infatuation disappears and each partner returns to his or her "normal" level of sexual desire- - which may be high, moderate, or low. And libido may wax and wane at different times in a person's life.
The upshot is that desire discrepancy is part of a committed, long-term relationship. "I call it normal," says Austin, Texas--based marriage and family therapist Pat Love, Ed.D., co-author of "Hot Monogamy."
Still, experts agree that desire discrepancy is nothing to shrug at. If it's not acknowledged, it can lead to feelings of rejection (if one partner begins to take the other's lack of interest personally), guilt (if the less-interested partner begins to see intimacy as an obligation or a chore), and frustration all around.
First, ditch the idea that both of you should always be passionate for each other at the same time. "In the movies, the couples are turned on before they begin touching," says couples therapist Barry McCarthy, a psychology professor at American University in Washington, D.C. "In reality, among happily married couples, only 50 percent of sexual experiences occur when both partners are desirous, aroused, and orgasmic." The rest of the time, it may take effort to get in the mood at the same time.
Also, understand that "in the mood" may mean something different for him than it does for you, says Sheryl Kingsberg, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine in Cleveland, Ohio. If a man is physically aroused, it doesn't much matter what else is going on -- he's ready. But a woman's sexual interest is more complicated.
For women, emotion and motivation play as large a role in sexual interest as physical desire does, explains Kingsberg, who researches female sexual function. A woman may need to make an emotional or intellectual connection before her body responds. Once her body and mind have caught up with each other, she'll enjoy it as much as he does.
Stress also causes different sexual reactions in men and women. "For men, sex tends to be a stress reliever," Kingsberg says. Women, however, often have to de-stress before they can get in the mood.
Say you and your partner agree that sex is good -- when you have it, that is -- but one of you would just like to have it more often. Here are some ways to build bridges to intimacy that can increase desire, passion, and, yes, even your chances of making a connection.
Confess your distress. One of the most difficult steps is simply admitting that the two of you have different levels of desire. Don't point fingers, Kingsberg says. Instead, acknowledge the discrepancy and view it as a chance to work together to solve a problem.
Try something new. It doesn't have to be anything sexual or even romantic, just something different and fun. "Passion is fueled by dopamine, and dopamine is fueled by novelty," Love says. So take up rock-climbing or sign up for a cooking class. The goal is to find an activity that the two of you can enjoy together.
Get in touch. Experts suggest that you expand your view of intimacy. Whole-body massage or cuddling on the couch can be just as sensual and pleasurable as actual intercourse. (And who knows? That closeness may even lead to sex.)
Afi-Odelia Scruggs is a journalist and author based near Cleveland.