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Kristen got a divorce a while ago, and, among a litany of reasons behind the split, was one that stood out to her. She wanted to have sex with her husband more than he wanted to have sex with her, and it left her feeling “unattractive” and “undesirable.”

They went to couples therapy. Kristen, who asked to be identified only by her first name, tried buying new lingerie. She tried losing weight, went to see a therapist one-on-one, and invested in more sex toys. But her husband didn’t do anything on his end besides berate her for the outdated and false idea that women should simply not want sex as much as men do. Eventually, the relationship folded. They got divorced.

The dilemma Kristen and her now-ex husband faced wasn’t simply that their partnership was plagued by mismatched libidos. Instead, the lack of empathetic communication left one person feeling unattractive, unworthy, and unwanted. When you feel unwanted in a relationship, and that feeling is consistent and uncommunicated, it can be etched into your brain, forged tightly with the relationship itself. “Etch” derives from the Old High German azzon — to be eaten — which is precisely what that unwanted feeling can do to a relationship. It can eat it up whole if you let it.

It can be tough to want to have sex more often than your partner does, or vice versa. But having gaps in sex drive is common, and it ebbs and flows between partners. A 2017 study found that around 34 percent of women and 15 percent of men report having no interest in sex at all — so it’s not surprising that folks might land in relationships in which one person has a higher sex drive. 

Why aren’t I horny?

The first question you might want to ask yourself if you find yourself in a position in which you and your partner have a horniness mismatch is how important sex is to you in a relationship. Janielle Bryan, a sex educator and professor, told Mashable that it’s possible that two people might just not be sexually compatible, and that’s ok. Sex discrepancy might be a reason you don’t want to be with someone. 

Consider investigating the root of the cause of that discrepancy if you’re feeling a lack of desire for your partner. It could be stress, or medications, or something else entirely. For instance, for one Arizona woman, who asked to be anonymous, her lack of sexual interest in her partner was derived not from her lack of interest in him specifically, but from her lack of interest in men altogether. 

But if you want to be with your partner, mismatched libido doesn’t have to be cause for a split, or even cause for alarm. There are plenty of asexual people in relationships with folks who aren’t asexual, and still have romantic, fulfilling relationships.

Talk it out

There are plenty of reasons why your sex drive might change over time, from medications to stress to emotional turmoil outside of your relationships. That’s why Bryan suggests that when you notice a discrepancy in sex drives with your partner, talk about it. 

“Oftentimes, even though it’s happening to us and it feels very personal, it’s not about us,” Bryan told Mashable. “Check in with your partner and see what’s going on in their lives.” Bryan says when we feel unwanted because of a discrepancy in sex drives with our partner, it can feel like that is the only thing going on in our relationship, or our lives. But looking at what’s going on around that discrepancy can help find a solution.

Sex drives live on a spectrum, and communication is necessary in making space for your own and your partner’s desires to evolve over time. Allowing for this space — to talk about how past experiences have impacted your sex drive, and how current situations outside of your relationship are impacting your libido — are helpful in building trust and love with a partner.

Bryan also explains that sex in the honeymoon phase of a relationship is likely going to be different from sex three years later. In the beginning of a relationship, your sex drives might match up perfectly, as time goes on, one party might want to have sex less often. Noticing that change can be “shocking, especially if you realize you’re on different ends of the spectrum” after the honeymoon period ends.

“It could [drop from] having sex multiple times a week to maybe every other week,” Bryan said, which is why she encourages open communication, and to lead those conversations with empathy. “They might not even realize [the discrepancy] because, to them, this is their normal sex level.”

How to approach next steps

After communicating how much sex you’d like to have, and listening to your partners’ expectations and desires, it’s important to follow up that conversation with action. Maybe you try mutual masturbation, Bryan recommends, or going to couples therapy, or, and Bryan says this may “sound corny,” but try scheduling sex.

“If we know that sex is always going to be there, [you might think] ‘Why do I need to rush? Why do I need to make it a priority when I have other priorities on my plate?'” Bryan said. You might feel like your job or kids take precedence over having sex with your partner. “We often delay pleasure in this country. In order to enjoy ourselves, we think we need to get what is important off of our plates.”

Scheduling sex can make all parties involved feel excited for the night to come, too. And you can both properly prepare for it — by clearing their other priorities, making the night more purposeful, and removing distractions.

Separately, check in with your actual wants and needs. Byron points out that we often aren’t in need of sex specifically, but we might be touch starved or in need of more romance with your partner. Meg McMahon, a 20-something gamer, told Mashable that she relieves stress with sexual interactions, while stress has the opposite effect on her partner. So, instead, they “work on using the other’s love languages to make sure we both feel romanced and appreciated with or without sex,” she said.

“This has made possible sexual interactions less tense and more likely,” McMahon said. “The gap still exists, but the acknowledgement of the difference has helped both of us.”

Differing sex drives doesn’t mean you aren’t meant to be with someone. Sex drives and desires can change over time, and this is a common part of dating. Therapists and sex educators across the board recommend keeping an open line of communication about sex in your relationship. 

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