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Even if you have a lower-than-average libido, you might not want to forgo having a sex life or contributing to a partner’s. If you still want to experience fulfilling sex with another person you’re dating, communication and honesty—and realistic expectations—can help get you there. Even if you’re not hooking up every single day, you can still strive for quality over quantity! A lower libido isn’t necessarily a roadblock to amazing sex—just something to account for as you go.
Advice on the finer points of having great sex.
Having a low sex drive is relative and can be conditional and fluctuate over time. It includes arousal and desire on a less frequent basis than is considered average. There are very many reasons why someone might want sex less regularly than others in their demographic groups, like medication, stress, the amount of sleep they get, other health issues—the list goes on. People with testicles might have low testosterone levels, and people with vaginas may have hormone changes of their own, either of which can result in a low sex drive.Getting to the root of your low libido, if there is in fact one cause, can put you in a calmer and more in-control mindset. “Identifying and addressing the cause can be healing, empowering, and liberating,” said relationship and trauma therapist Nicole McGuffin. Still, some people just aren’t as frequently interested in sex than others, without a particular reason for why. A low libido is often different from asexuality, which refers to, very simply speaking, a long-term disinterest in and aversion to sex, as well as an identity rooted in a long-term lack of desire for sex. (If you want to learn more about asexuality—which is also something many people experience while also maintaining meaningful romantic relationships—which sometimes even include sex—you might like this article.)
How to know if you have a low libido
A low libido isn’t necessarily a “bad” thing! However: If you're experiencing dramatic changes or are unhappy with your sex drive, it’s best to speak to a doctor or therapist about what’s going on. There are very many different physical and mental reasons that a person’s libido might change, and it can’t hurt to get a sense of what’s going on with you medically just in case there’s something more at play.
If you internally perpetuate the mindset that you’re not a good partner if you have a lower libido, or that you should want sex more than you actually do, shame will make it more difficult to honor your body’s instincts. “If you feel like you have to ‘change’ your libido, or feel pressure to feel aroused, these pressures may shut down your libido. Step one is always take the pressure off yourself,” said clinical psychologist Sophie Mort.If you’re feeling bad or weird about wanting sex less than other people you know, it might help you to examine whether you’re actually unhappy with your sex life, or just feel that you “should” be getting down more based on external pressure or what you perceive others are doing. If it’s the latter: “Redefine how your sexuality exists within a low libido and what that means to you, as opposed to a partner or society,” said sexologist Emily Depasse.
How to reframe your mindset about sex on your own
What does hot and gratifying sex mean for you? What do you find sexy, and when? Are there specific situations or stimuli that you’re more into, and ones that turn you off? Like the rest of our feelings and behaviors, our sexual urges and expectations ebb and flow, and you might find that certain situations contribute to when you feel into it—or not.“Some might feel pressured to masturbate or "get in the mood,” when taking stock of their own libido, said Depasse, but redefining how often you enjoy sex involves exploration that doesn’t always have to mean going through the motions of sexual pleasure. The key is to take stock of both when you’re organically in the mood and seeing what, if anything, those moments have in common.
Having a conversation that you or your partner might feel sensitive about is better than avoiding the conversation altogether and leaving each other in the dark about how to make sure you’re both feeling good about sex. The best time to tell someone you’re dating about your libido is in a calm conversation that’s more broadly about your connection in and feelings about the relationship—not in a sexual situation or a fight. “If this does come up at a difficult moment, agree to discuss it at another time,” said Mort. If you’re feeling hesitant about initiating a conversation with your partner, it might stem from “an overall misunderstanding and miseducation around how sexuality fluctuates across our lives, in addition to stereotypes presented in the media about how relationships "should be,”’ noted Depasse. In romantic and sexual relationships, partners often take the desire for sex—or lack thereof—as a referendum on the other person’s affection for or attraction to them. Many of us have been socialized to think that our partner’s sexual desire is directly correlated to how much we want to be with them, and that’s simply not the truth.
How to bring up your low libido to a partner
Preface any conversation with a statement that affirms that your libido is not a reflection of how much your partner turns you on. Reminiscing about moments when you enjoyed physical contact with your partner can reassure them that you feel fulfilled in both your sex life and outside of it and remind both of you that you have an affectionate and close physical relationship to build from. You can say something like, “I got so excited during our shower together. It makes me feel good even just to be around each other like that.” Focus less on the actual actions of sex, and more on the feelings and emotions that arise before you have sex. “Rather than talking about low or high sex drives, you could talk about what excites you, stimulates you, and the times you have noticed you were really turned on by your partner,” said Mort. Bring the focus to building a deeper emotional connection together instead of expecting a by-the-numbers breakdown of the individual needs of each person.Once you’ve affirmed your partner and highlighted that your focus is on strengthening your bond, you can also talk about what you know helps you feel turned on, said Mort. “If you feel uncomfortable voicing these things out loud, practice by saying them out loud to yourself. The more you practice voicing your desires, the easier it will become,” she said. Try something like, “I’m really turned on when you do X—it just takes me a little longer to warm up to sex. Let's try again after a longer foreplay session?”
If you know what causes your lower libido, articulate it head-on within this conversation, too. If stress, for example, is interfering with your sex life, being direct with partners about that will help you both in figuring out how to manage it—and it will help them understand why you’re just not in the mood sometimes.
The partner with the lower libido may control the frequency of when you have sex, leaving the other partner feeling left out in decisions like when, where, and how often sex happens, as if they need to seize any opportunity when the lower-libido partner is in the mood, even if the higher-libido partner isn’t (even high-libido people aren’t in the mood all of the time). On the other hand, the partner with the lower libido might feel guilt about not being up for sex as much as the other person. “There is no need to feel guilty, and the person who wants more sex must be aware of the times they try to use guilt to change the other person’s behavior,” said McGuffin. The best way to get back on common ground is by having open and honest dialogue well beforehand to see how you can find a middle ground. McGuffin said, “First, state the facts. Second, state your feelings. Third, state your needs, and fourth, make a request. For example, “I know you’ve said you want to have sex five nights a week, but I feel more comfortable with once a month. I feel like I’m letting you down, and I feel embarrassed about this. I need our relationship to feel mutually gratifying, and I’m asking that we explore this together.”
How to reset expectations with your partner about how often you have sex
You may need to ask your partner if they can accept that spontaneous sex is not on the menu, and that it may take more planning and intentional foreplay to work up to a cadence that feels suitable for each person. “Beginning foreplay 12 hours in advance through flirting, making a sex date, and with creativity, can set the stage,” said McGuffin, and can help you find your rhythm. If a partner’s needs still feel mismatched, but you’re both committed to the partnership, encouraging them to privately pursue sexual pleasure through masturbation can help. You might even consider opening up your relationship so that they can explore sex with other partners.Continue to check in about how it’s going with one another throughout the relationship, which might make it more of a habit than an awkward conversation, said Depasse.
Practice can mean perfect, but, even when discussed in advance, boundaries may not feel great in the moment. Your sexual desires and frequency are ever-evolving, and may not always mirror the sexual needs of your partner. Creating a strategy in advance about what to do if one person feels guilted into—or, conversely, rejected within—an expected sexual situation can help depressurize sex and make both people feel closer and more relaxed.It’s important to trust your boundaries, even when you may feel guilty about not meeting your partner’s expectations—and to tell your partner if you’re not interested in being sexual together or if you need to stop. It’s extremely difficult to continue any mutually satisfying sexual relationship if your boundaries are not respected. “Without safety and security, your nervous system may go into fight or flight or shut down,” said McGuffin, and that makes any form of sensuality, pleasure, or fun, incredibly difficult to shine through—a.k.a., just going through with things because you think you have to might not solve the problem, but instead make things feel worse.If your partner feels that any of your requests is more of a compromise than they would like to accept—or if they can’t break with feeling rejected— breaking up might be the best solution. And that’s OK! Just as you have the right to have your desires and needs respected, others have the right to decide that they prefer a partnership with more sex in it. Regardless of how often you have sex, it’s most important to have it with the foundation of honest communication, kindness, and mutual respect. If you ultimately can’t find that in a way that works with your current partner, go look for it with someone else.Follow Penda N’diaye on Twitter.