How to Stop the Negative Sexual Cycle
Updated: Sep 13
If you experience distress regarding your level of sexual desire, you are NOT alone. In fact, research findings indicate that 27-47% of women and 10-20% of men are in the same boat! This may have led to problems in the bedroom, whereby one partner has less interest in sex than the other.
When partners experience differing sexual desires, the relationship can suffer greatly. There is often less relationship stability, poorer communication, as well as increased conflict. Also, these negative impacts often lead to even less motivation to have sex. It turns into a negative sexual cycle that can have devastating effects on a relationship.
So what can couples do about this?
First, it is important not to think of desire discrepancies as an individual problem. We must consider desire discrepancy as a relationship problem. The couple should seek therapy together. Neither partner is blamed for being too sexual or not sexual enough.
Understanding the negative sexual cycle that keeps a couple stuck is essential. For more info about this cycle read my blog titled “Not Tonight Honey. The Sexual Cycle that Keeps you Stuck”. Sexual desire discrepancy usually contributes to, and is a result of, a negative cycle. For example, the more a couple becomes disconnected, the greater their desire discrepancy. The greater their desire discrepancy, the more disconnected they become.
In many of the couples I work with, women’s desire is based on intimacy and emotional closeness, and men typically want sex to feel intimate and close with their partner. Thus, one partner often says “I don’t feel like having sex when I don’t feel emotionally connected.” The other often says “I want to have sex with my partner in order to feel connected”. This may or may not be found in your relationship, where you are stuck in a holding pattern.
What is important here is that both partners, regardless of gender, have a fundamental need to feel close and connected. Therefore, therapy for sexual desire discrepancy must focus on meeting this need to feel secure and connected with one another. Once the couple understands the link between this need for emotional connection and their sexual responses, they can reframe their problem in terms of their emotional needs, fears and longings. For instance, the partner with lower desire often feels defective, never able to be good enough, scared their partner only wants them for sex and/or is afraid they will lose their partner. Higher desire partners may feel unwanted, unattractive, and/or unloved. Both feel pain, loneliness, and sadness.
Once the couple can share and accept their own and each other’s underlying emotions, fears and needs, they become more emotionally connected. This often lead to increases in sexual desire and feeling more loved and accepted. The couple is now more able to express and understand each other’s sexual cues, which ultimately leads to a more enjoyable sex life.
Reference: Abby Girard & Scott R. Woolley (2017) Using Emotionally Focused Therapy to Treat Sexual Desire Discrepancy in Couples, Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, 43:8, 720-735.