How To Cope When You And Your Partner Have Different Libidos

Differences in desire are completely normal but not always a walk in the park.

couple in bed getty

Differences in desire are completely normal, but this doesn’t mean it's a walk in the park.

As a sex therapist, I talk with a lot of people about how to cope with different libidos. The key is to deal with it early on and find ways of synching up.

What does having different libidos and desire do to couples?

Well, sex is seldom just about sex. It’s about a lot of different things — love, appreciation, validation, stress-relief, and play, to name a few.


Since sex can mean so many different things, it easily affects how you feel about differences in sex drive.

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The partner with more desire might take their partner’s low libido as a sign of disinterest — that they’ve become unattractive or like their partner has fallen out of love with them.

The partner with less desire can start to feel like they’re never enough, that their partner only ever wants them for sex or that there’s something wrong with them for not wanting it more.

When you start comparing your own sex drive to that of your partner’s, things may quickly escalate and what perhaps started out as "just sex" turns into a situation where both parties experience pain — pain that has roots in the meaning you ascribe to sex.


Part of dealing with different levels of desire hinges on understanding one another’s perspective and acceptance of the situation at hand.

Here are 2 strategies to cope when you and your partner have different libidos.

1. Honor your differences.

When you don’t address a desire discrepancy early on, it’s easy to find yourself feeling like you’re the normal one and your partner’s relationship with sex is strange or downright wrong.

Instead of looking at it from the lens of who's the most "normal" or who's being hurt the most, try seeing your partner’s point of view.

The fact of the matter is there is no "normal" amount of sexual desire. Both of you are normal. And accepting the normalcy of both of your experiences is paramount.


Acceptance isn’t about admitting defeat. It’s about recognizing and appreciating that there are differences between the two of you.

You can still work towards a sex life you both want while honoring that these differences exist and all that they entail.

This means working on things like:

Different ways to initiate sex.
Who initiates sex and if this can be taken in turns.
Talking about the sex you’re having and your sexual likes and dislikes.
How sexual validation can be offered when sex isn’t in the cards.

By accepting your differences, you’ll reduce hurt feelings and spin situations that might have turned into the blame game, into moments where you can meet in the middle.


And when you both feel better — and truly seen by your partner — you’ll likely feel more inclined to getting close and experiencing more intimacy together — sexual or otherwise.

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2. Have "the talk."

Learning how to cope with different libidos is also about understanding the differences in how you and your partner may approach sex.

There are many reasons why we have sex. So, talk with your partner about what sex means to you and listen when they tell you what sex means to them.

Even if you’ve been together for years or decades, this is likely a conversation you haven’t had before, which means you might very well find sex means different things to you both.


Knowing about these differences will deepen your understanding and empathy for one another, as well as help you accept your discrepant desire.

In order to make your conversation go as smoothly as possible, you’ll want to keep track of two things: How you talk about sex, and what you talk about.

Focusing on what sex means to you is a good starting point and will help keep the conversation positive and constructive, which is an important part of learning how to cope with different libidos.

Sex might be:

A moment of connection and intimacy.
Your favorite way to decompress.
A way of getting close when you feel disconnected.
The easiest way to show appreciation and love.
A moment of play and self-expression.


By talking about these differences and getting to know what sex means to one another, you might also be able to bridge the gap between your differing desires and edge closer to one another’s preferred frequency.

For the person with low libido, sex might feel like something you want more if you know it’s a means of your partner getting close to you.

For the partner with more desire, knowing sex feels like pressure to perform, will help you understand you both need to approach sex differently, perhaps by switching up how sex is initiated.


What makes a difference in different libidos?

Sex means many things to different people —and wanting sex more or less than your partner is par for the course in a long-term relationship.

It doesn’t have to mean there’s anything wrong with the relationship or with either one of you.

By learning to accept your mismatched libidos, talking about what sex means to you, and how to change things to accommodate for both of your relationships with sex, you’ll create more peace and more intimacy.

The more you understand what sex means to one another, the easier it will be to create opportunities for sex and opportunities for non-sexual validation.


How to cope with different libidos is a skill, and an important one to learn as soon as you can.

No matter what your sex life looks like today, if you’re together for a long time, things will change. It’s how you approach this change and your differences that will make a difference.

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Leigh Norén is a sex therapist and writer with a Master of Science in Sexology. She’s been featured in Women’s Health, Thrive Global, The Good Men Project, Glamour, Elephant Journal, and more. For more advice on relationships and libido, visit her website. If you’re hoping to learn how to communicate more openly about your sex drive, download her free resource: Talking Sex.