by Leandie Buys
“Am I normal”? “How many times a week should we have sex”? Are two of the most common questions that I get asked in my practice.
However, I don’t base my answer on statistics, because each couple is unique, and your intimacy should not be based on other people’s relationships, but your own.
If both of you want to have sex seven days a week, that’s great. If both of you want to have sex twice a month, or only on weekends, that’s also great – as long as it is a mutual understanding between you, and you are both satisfied with the arrangement.
That is ‘normal’ for your relationship, and should be the only benchmark by which you measure it. It is also very normal for there to be an ‘ebb and flow’ in a relationship – where the frequency of sex increases and decreases naturally.
The only time that the frequency of sex becomes a problem is when there is dissatisfaction from one or both partners. When one partner wants to have sex much more often than the other one, and the couples’ libidos are out of synch, this is called desire discrepancy.
Desire discrepancy often has nothing to do with sex
Most of the time, it is the person with the lower libido who books an appointment with me. And more often than not, it’s a woman. There is a belief in society that women should all be sex goddesses. That having a low libido means there’s something wrong with you. But there are many reasons why individuals may have a low libido.
Some of the most common low libido issues I see in my practice:
- Women who have sex with their partners out of a sense of ‘duty’
- Women who avoid having sex with their partners completely
- Women who enjoy having sex once they get started, but they don’t initiate it, and they don’t desire it most of the time
- Women who feel guilty about the situation and feel that it’s unfair to their partner
- Women who are afraid that their partner will leave them because of their low libido
For men, becoming aroused is relatively easy. For a woman, there are several things which have to be in line before she can really enjoy the experience. Sex is related to how she’s feeling physically, spiritually, emotionally and in the relationship. No number of sex toys, erotic novels, XXX movies or begging from her partner is going to change that.
I have seen great success in treating desire discrepancy in couples. There are many ways of bringing a more equal level of desire into a relationship if both partners are willing to work on the issue.
One of the goals of therapy is breaking the ‘pursuer-distancer cycle’.
The pursuer-distancer cycle
In couples who are experiencing desire discrepancy, the partner with a higher libido is often seen as the pursuer in the relationship. They pursue their partner relentlessly, taking every opportunity available to try and initiate sex.
The partner with the lower libido becomes the distancer. They try to avoid sexual, emotional and physical contact with the pursuer at all costs. They feel that any display of affection or emotion will lead to the other person trying to initiate sex.
This becomes a vicious circle, and causes serious problems within a relationship.
Eventually the pursuer reaches a point where they give up, and say “I’m not going to initiate any more. You initiate if you want to have sex.” But nothing ever happens.
The pursuer feels rejected, bitter, disappointed and their self-esteem is eroded. While the distancer feels guilty, confused, frustrated and harassed.
Women who are the ‘distancer’ feel guilty and ashamed because sex is no longer consensual for them. If they do have sex with their partners, they feel used, powerless, and frustrated. Even cuddling without sex is no longer an option because she is always scared that it will lead to sex. This frustration has a compounding negative effect on her libido as her resentment towards her partner continues to build.
Men who are the ‘pursuers’ often wonder if their partner still loves them. They become insecure about not being sexually attractive to their partners. It affects their self-confidence and self-esteem, and many men even question whether their partner is having an affair.
What causes low desire and low libido?
- Fear of contracting an STI
- Fear of pregnancy
- Guilt about sex (what were you taught about sex as a child?)
- Lack of information about sex
- Relationship issues – lack of respect, lack of communication, lack of safety
- Sexual performance anxiety
The beginning of treatment
Please don’t waste money on over-the-counter medications! I can guarantee that they don’t work!
Although treating desire discrepancy can be very successful, there is no ‘pill’ that couples can take to fix everything instantly. The treatment and counselling is different for each couple based on their unique situation, and what caused the issues in the first place.
However, there are some keys to helping couples get back on track:
- Ensure the woman feels safe, cherished and respected in the relationship
- Women who are emotionally close to their partners are more willing to have sex with them
- Make sure that everyday responsibilities are shared – including household chores, finances, kids, etc.
- Learn to start with ‘outercourse’ before intercourse. Don’t just go straight to sex. Caress each other, hug, kiss, be sensual before being sexual.
- Learn good communication skills – learn how to make each other feel loved and valued, and to support each other when needed
- Remember a man’s role is that of provider and protector. And he has made comments like “don’t blame me if I go and find it somewhere else”, the woman will not feel safe in the relationship, and will withdraw physically
- Organize regular date nights for quality time together. Make sure that you talk, connect, and share emotionally with each other. Also, make an effort to dress up and look good for each other. Often, couples who have been together for a long time stop making an effort, and let themselves go
This is just the very beginning of treatment. If you and your partner are struggling with desire discrepancy, make sure that you see a professional for counselling to help you work towards a whole, fulfilling, sexually satisfying relationship together.
Leandie Buys is a Relationship Therapist and Clinical Sexologist. Over the past seven years, Leandie has built a thriving practice as a successful relationship therapist and clinical sexologist in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. Leandie has helped over 1,000 couples in crisis to overcome their physical and relationship-based issues, and is passionate about her holistic approach to therapy which incorporates an individual’s physical environment, mental health, physical health, emotional health and sexual health.