Updated on 2/18/21
As you’ve gone through life, you’ve probably noticed ebbs and flows in your libido, times when you want sex 24/7 as well as times when sex is the absolute last thing on your mind. This is normal and to be expected.
Everyone’s desire for sex isn’t the same all the time. Furthermore, in a relationship your sex drive isn’t always going to match your partner’s…and that’s when things can get tricky. It’s common for couples to experience times when one partner has a high desire for sex and the other has a lower desire. While this doesn’t mean there’s something inherently “wrong” with you or your partner, it can put a damper on your sex life and relationship.
Causes of Low Libido
Plenty of things contribute to libido and can cause you or your partner’s sex drive to be low. Some common causes of low libido include (but are not limited to):
- Medications —Some medications have side effects that can impact sex drive. SSRIs (a common type of antidepressants, including Zoloft, Paxil, and Prozac to name a few). These side effects are notorious for causing less interest in sex and problems with arousal. Women’s birth control pills can also result in decreased interest in sex.
- Excessive drinking and/or drug use — Sure, some people love to have a glass of wine to relax a bit and help them get in the mood before sex, but excessive drinking and illicit drugs have been known to affect sex drive negatively.
- Stress — If you’ve gone through periods of high stress, you’re probably well aware of the effect it can have on your physical health. Some people experience GI problems when they’re stressed, some get headaches, and some their lose desire for sex. Whether you’re dealing with extra stress at work or extra stress at home, the effects can spill over into the bedroom.
- Depression — It’s common for depressed people to both lose the ability to feel pleasure and the desire to do things they once enjoyed. Being depressed can make it really hard to focus on enjoying anything, even sex.
The Effect of a Low Sex Drive on a Relationship
When one or both partners experience low sex drive, it can definitely have an effect on the relationship. After all, sex is a big part of romantic relationships, and when there’s a strain on your sex life, it’s likely to carry over and strain the relationship as a whole.
Oftentimes, someone may take it personally if their partner has a low desire for sex and think that there’s something wrong with them, when this certainly isn’t necessarily the case. As discussed above, there are plenty of reasons someone might have a low sex drive, and a lot of them aren’t related to the other partner at all.
“The myths associated with sex drive can often lead to confusion, frustration, and hurt feelings within the relationship,” says Talkspace provider Rachel O’Neill, Ph.D. “Instead of discussing sexual desire and things that make an individual feel sexually aroused, individuals may internalize the issue of low desire as some sort of personal shortcoming on their part. Often, an individual who experiences low sexual desire may begin to believe that there is something wrong with them, which can lead to feelings of shame and guilt.”
When someone internalizes and conflates their partner’s low sex drive with their own attractiveness or desireability as a partner, it can really put a damper on their self esteem. The partner may feel extra self conscious thinking that they are the problem.
On top of this, unhealthy patterns might emerge if a partner starts to get selfish or pushy when it comes to sex.
“It’s not uncommon for a sort of cycle to emerge where one partner experiences low desire and the other partner tries to overcompensate by pressuring their partner for sex, which generally only leads to feelings of shame, guilt, and frustration for both parties,” says O’Neill.
Any of these behaviors can result in negative tension on the relationship, especially if they carry on long term.
Coping With Low Sex Drive in a Relationship
Sex is obviously an important part of a relationship, there’s no getting around that. But by placing so much pressure on sex, you might make things even worse. You might actually find it helpful to reframe your mindset.
“First, let go of the idea of sex drive,” says O’Neill. “Next, work on ways to feel comfortable communicating with your partner about your sexual desire. Work as a team to determine how to cultivate a sense of excitement, enthusiasm, and mutual empowerment related to sexual exploration.”
Communication, as always, is key. You and your partner should try to communicate as openly and honestly as possible, so you can better understand each other’s perspective. If you’re the partner with the low sex drive, don’t feel pressured to give in to sex just because you don’t want to upset him or her. Instead, be candid about what is surpressing your sex drive, if you can pinpoint it. Talking about it can help your partner understand where your head’s at, hopefully allowing them to take it less personally. Also, you shouldn’t feel guilty or like a bad partner if you aren’t in the right headspace for sex.
If you’re the partner with the higher sex drive, try not to guilt trip your partner for not being in the mood for sex, and certainly don’t force them to do anything they don’t want to do. As O’Neill said, you want there to be mutual empowerment when it comes to sex, and that definitely doesn’t come from pressuring someone into sex when they don’t want to have it.
How to ramp up libido and excitement
Be willing to co-explore. Tap into what feels good. Learn what you really like and really don’t like sexually, and communicate that with your partner. Express your needs, ask for what you want in bed, and be receptive when your partner does the same. Getting attuned to one another’s sexuality can really help. Again, don’t place so much pressure on the concept of sex. Instead, try to just have fun with exploration.
Sometimes, switching things up or doing something a little “naughty” can be enough to get you or your partner’s libido ramping up. You can share your fantasies with each other, watch porn together, set a designated date night, try out role playing, or even try something as simple as making foreplay last longer.
Working with a sex therapist can also be “a great way to take control of one’s own sexual health,” according to O’Neill. A sex therapist can help you and your partner out as individuals and as a couple. Working with a professional is nothing to be ashamed of, sex therapy could be a great investment for your relationship.
Low sex drive in a relationship doesn’t have to be a curse. Through communication, understanding, and some hard (but probably fun) work, you and your partner can get through this low point and have the healthy sex life that works for both of you.
Talkspace articles are written by experienced mental health-wellness contributors; they are grounded in scientific research and evidence-based practices. Articles are extensively reviewed by our team of clinical experts (therapists and psychiatrists of various specialties) to ensure content is accurate and on par with current industry standards.
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