You see them all around you:  Couples that look happy enough, perhaps enjoying dinner at a popular restaurant, riding bicycles along a tree lined lane, or sharing popcorn as a movie.  But they have a secret that they’re not telling:  They argue about sex all the time.

One of the biggest reasons couples argue about sex is low sexual desire in one partner and high desire in the other.  This is a problem that has nothing to do with gender.  Women can have high desire, and men can have low desire.  The problem is really mismatched desire, and it can cause a lot of grief in a marriage or long term relationship.

Research tells us some interesting things about couples with different levels of sexual desire.  For example, women with lower desire often have less relationship satisfaction than women with higher desire, but this doesn’t hold true for men.  Also, when there is mismatched desire, women are less happy with the relationship but men are less happy with sex.

Mismatched desire can be very wearing on a couple.  The lower desire often feels inadequate because they cannot meet their partner’s needs, while the higher desire partner may feel rejected and unwanted when they get turned down for sex.

Differences in sexual desire can occur for all kinds of reasons:

  • Hormones that are either out of balance or simply different for each couple member
  • Medical issues such as fibromyalgia, diabetes, or heart conditions
  • Other sexual problems, such as unable to have an orgasm in women or erectile dysfunction in men
  • Scheduling conflicts
  • Different ideas about sex and its purpose in a relationship
  • Relationship factors like unexpressed conflict, disappointment, or boredom

Some difference in sexual desire is to be expected; it is rare for any couple to have the exact same level of desire all the time.  But when the discrepancy is extreme, it can be difficult for couples to solve the problem on their own.

Couples sometimes make a decision to schedule sex on a regular basis.  This can work because both partners know what to expect.  It short-circuits arguments about sex, and it helps the couple to feel normal.

Couples may sometimes also make an agreement that they will have sex a certain number of times every month.  While some people might find it annoying to actually take a tally, others get a little kick out of seeing if they can meet their monthly quota.

Making sex more interesting to the lower desire partner can also work.   Often the lower desire partner doesn’t look forward to sex for a reason—they haven’t identified what it is that they like or enjoy in bed.  Reading or watching erotica can help the lower desire partner figure out what might be fun to try.  Whatever feels good can be repeated.

The higher desire partner also may have to work on acceptance that the person they love will never have the same drive as they do.  They may need to focus on all the other benefits of their relationship, everything from having a great traveling companion to a wonderful co-parent for children.  They may also find that they can be satisfied with less sex if their partner is affectionate, gives them compliments, or does thoughtful things for them.

Sexual desire disorders are difficult, but couples don’t have to suffer in silence.  When simple remedies don’t work, couples may benefit from meeting with a competent sex and relationship therapist to solve the problem that works for both of them.