Love & Sex
Women are often portrayed as having low sex drives and that any visit to their sexy town requires more campaigning and negotiation than a UN security council meeting.
But what if a woman has the higher sex drive? What does it mean when you're in a heterosexual relationship with a higher drive than a guy?
Vanessa Thompson, an Australian sexologist, attributes mismatched sex drives to testosterone levels. "It's biology", she says. "Typically men have the higher libido. Women have a tenth of the testosterone in men."
"We have a history of shaming women for sex", offers Thompson who also points to moments in history when "women who orgasmed were called witches and burnt at the stake... we feel we have to do something about that [ability to have pleasure], whether it is to remove their clitoris or shame them."
Sydneysider Cassie Goodwin has been shamed for her sex drive by partners. "The word 'freak' has been repeated at me so often I can't hear it without twitching and I've been called 'demanding' so many times I have a deep-seated paranoia about initiating sex," she says.
Yet the shaming and pressure are shared equally, with men also feeling ashamed, Thompson says. "They feel terribly guilty... like they're not manly, because men are supposed to want sex all the time. The less manly you feel, the less likely you are to want sex."
The reaction to this mismatch can truly damage relationships. Men can feel insecure and threatened by their partner's sex drive and become combative as a result. Some low-libido men can feel the only way to reclaim control of the situation is to further deny sex as a measure to punish their partners for their desire. Any attempts by the woman to initiate sex can end in fights.
Goodwin has "made advances on a partner who wasn't up for it for whatever reason - they've taken their disinterest in sex as some sort of blow to their masculinity and would respond by blaming and attacking me".
American gender studies professor Hugo Schwyzer believes social conditioning on sexual desire can complicate matters making women feel unfulfilled and shamed. "To be a young woman with a consistently higher sexual desire than one's male partner is always going to be especially painful because of the way in which it contradicts all of our cultural programming," he observed in an op-ed for Jezebel.
So what happens if you're in a relationship with a guy who doesn't want sex as often? Both Thompson and Schwyzer believe in the importance of couples learning the difference between rejection and low sex drive to manage the issue before it damages a relationship.
"In therapy, we look at communication and negotiation because it can get quite hostile," says Thompson. "It's possibly more hostile when the woman wants it more. It's the fear of rejection - it really destroys the intimacy. We teach people how to negotiate that."
TIPS FOR COUPLES
- Be honest: Let your partner know what you want and don't want. Don't avoid the conversation and pretend you're tired and want to go to bed. Your partner knows.
- Ask: Talk about how often you want sex. Your partner may feel pressured about how often you would like sex.
- Offer alternatives: Sometimes initiating a foot rub or cuddle on the couch can warm your partner up for greater pleasures.
- Take matters into your own hands: Pleasure needn't always be a group event. A discrete session can help to satiate a physical appetite.
- Spot the difference between intimacy and sex: They can combine, they can be separate - learn to differentiate between the two.
- Recognise your true needs: Often sex is used as a barometer for the health of a relationship. Investigate if a mismatch in bed means you're not matched as a couple.
- Add a third person to the mix - a therapist: Some mismatched drives need help from a third party. If you're concerned, start counselling with a sex or relationship therapist.
- Sydney Morning Herald
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