Desire discrepancy refers to a mismatch in partners' desires. Desire and arousal sound pretty similar, but they are not and work independently of each other. Sometimes they can even work in opposite directions.
There are two ways to get turned on and engage in any form of sex- in our minds and in our bodies. Desire is the feeling of having sex and occurs in the mind, while arousal is the body response (erection, vaginal lubrication, etc.) to have sex.
Every person has different types of desires, which can be spontaneous, responsive, and contextual. Depending on their physical health, mental health, daily stresses, past experiences, sexual scripts, and cultural impact—people's interest in sex can fluctuate multiple times within their lifespan. For some people, sex is on the brain more often, which can lead to wanting sex every day or multiple times a day. Others may either be content with having sex less frequently or require a sexual context to build the desire. But whether a partner(s) is on the same page or feeling in the mood at different times, is not an indication of a problem in the core of the relationship. Mismatched desire can often be just that; mismatched.
However, this mismatch can lead to partners feeling guilt or even frustrated with experiencing desire discrepancy. The person with a higher sexual desire might feel rejected when their partners don’t want to have sex, while the lower desire partners might feel guilty or even resentful that they don’t feel in the mood at the moments their partners want to be intimate.
Let's break down a few ways in which we can navigate desire discrepancy in relationship without feeling sexually incompetent or shameful.
I. REDEFINE SEX:
Partners can still experience pleasure and sexual connection without intercourse, or without the pressure of having to achieve an orgasm to see it as a positive moment. There are other ways to experience sex and intimacy without making it penetration or orgasm focused, such as oral sex, mutual masturbation, massages, genital massages, cuddling, and more. Sex doesn’t have to be traditional and end with an orgasm to be pleasurable and connective for partners. Talking through each other’s expectations around sex can help partners redefine a new template that meets their needs without making the other person feel left out in this erotic experience.
II. START DATING:
Consider dating new people (if that is your relationship style/preference) or reconsider dating your current partner(s). This could include scheduling dinner dates, movie nights, massages, or whatever brings you and your partner(s) the most joy and excitement. Playfulness and anticipation are key components of dating that makes you curious about your partners and also allows more open communication. It also creates a space for exploring or being receptive to newer things, be it sexual or non-sexual.
III. MIDDLE GROUND:
Desires are fluid, which means partners can sometimes be on different pages and may struggle to find a middle ground to engage in sex. In such cases, you can make a list divided in three sections: YES, MAYBE, NO. You can individually list activities you would like to engage in, not engage in or explore later. Exchange your lists and find what is common in the YES section of your lists. That's your middle ground! In case, nothing matches, explore your MAYBE section and discuss what each of you can offer and how you'd like to engage in sex and other activities. NO section entails deal breakers and communicating this beforehand can help in avoiding sour sexual experiences.
IV. PRIORITIZE PLEASURE:
Sexless relationships or not having the desire to have sex is completely fine. However, if you think having sex in a partnered relationship matters to you, in such cases you need to prioritize pleasure. Sync and mark your calendars, plan your days, and communicate your needs. Scheduling can be made fun by taking turns in planning your sexual encounters, exploring new techniques (edging, tantra, sensation play, etc.) or positions, or keeping it intimate by dancing, board games, etc. The idea is to move away from a problem oriented mindset and work on ways that can help you get closer to your partners.
V. SEEK PROFESSIONAL HELP:
Sex therapists, occupational therapists and sex/sexuality counselors help partners and individuals who struggle with mismatched desires by creating a safe, non-judgmental environment to communicate and offer insights, strategies, and plans to improve partnered and individual sex life. They can also help partners navigate any issues that might come along the way outside a therapeutic context.
Remember, something doesn't have to be seriously wrong for you to seek professional help. If you are dissatisfied with your sexual life or just want to learn more about sex and pleasure—we got you covered!
In the end, remember to not beat yourself up about it!
Spontaneous or not, desires are highly subjective. Higher sexual desire doesn't make you a slut and lower sexual desire doesn’t make you boring so, don't beat yourself about it and don't let your partners do that to you either.
You and your partners don’t owe each other sex, but all of you deserve the right to experience pleasure, which can only be accessed if you communicate openly and find ways to work towards a shared, meaningful goal.