Many couples blame vastly different libidos for a variety of marriage problems. Some who have higher levels of desire use it to excuse the use of pornography or straying from their marriage vows. Others have an underlying current of conflict due to this difference. It is more than possible to live happily in marriage with a difference in levels of desire.
In The Passion Principles, author Shannon Ethridge shared some helpful insights and suggestions on the issue. Often, it is the man with the higher desire, but sometimes it is the wife, so she is careful not to stereotype. The mismatched sex drive is the issue, not which spouse is higher or lower.
First, related to why this difference in libido frequently occurs, both spouses may find their libido goes up and down depending on stage of life, level of health, hormones, focus on work or kids, and many other factors.
They key to surviving the fluctuating seasons and pendulum swings from one extreme to the other, says Ethridge is NOT to take it personally. “If you are the one feeling the sting of rejection, it is most likely not about you at all. And if you are the one experiencing a temporary lull in your libido, it is not a sign that your relationship is sinking like the Titanic. Most likely, these difference in sexual thought patterns have more to do with hormone production than anything else, and hormone production is not always something we are able to control,” she says.
Ethridge cites brain research by Dr. Louann Brizendine to explain some biological reasons men generally have higher levels of desire. These include:
1. The sex-related centers of the male brain are twice as large as those of the female brain (explaining why men think about sex more frequently).
2. Testosterone is the hormone responsible for fueling sexual thoughts, and men produce between 10 times and 100 times more of it than do females.
3. Men’s response to stress leads them to think about sex more often. Women’s response to stress is to produce more cortisol, which shuts down their desire for sex and physical touch.
This third point should be very important to both men who want their wives to desire sex more, and to women who wish their libido was higher. The woman needs to have the house, the kids, and the work stress under control to be able to relax and have the cortisol levels come down. That is likely why women frequently say they could enjoy sex more if their husbands helped more in the home. It’s not just a quid pro quo sort of comment, it’s an explanation of how she functions. If the husband can’t or won’t help out in the areas causing too much stress, it may be worthwhile to hire some help if it is financially feasible. It may be a good investment in your love life.
In addition to these differences, our hormone levels change after we have been together for a while. During the passion phase (lasting maybe 6 months or as long as two years), we have high levels of bonding hormones dopamine and oxytocin. Eventually those fall to lower levels as our relationship matures. We simply can’t expect the passionate feelings to be as high as during the honeymoon phase, but that doesn’t mean sex isn’t an important part of the marriage.
Ethridge shares advice from her personal experience that couples don’t need to only have sex when they both have high levels of desire. Instead, she says it’s great to use sex as a way to de-stress from a difficult workday, to use it to recharge your batteries when feeling lethargic, to help celebrate all good news (from a promotion to answered prayer), to provide sexual intimacy when one spouse or both are feeling blue, to bring one another comfort, and of course as a release from sexual desire.
“Thinking of sex has become a way of bonding ourselves together in a very intimate, powerful way—through both the good times and bad,” says Ethridge.
Many people who comment here on the blog say have great difficulty understanding their spouse’s way of thinking about sex. Do you feel that understanding the biological difference helps you understand your partner’s viewpoint? Has differing sexual desire been a frequent conversation or conflict in your marriage? Marriage therapists can help couples understand one another’s needs and feelings about the issue if it is causing considerable trouble for you. Do you have similar levels of desire? Do you find that is unusual? Whatever your situation, don’t give up hope in finding common ground on this issue.
Lori Lowe is the author of First Kiss to Lasting Bliss: Hope & Inspiration for Your Marriage. It tells the inspiring, true stories of couples who used adversity to improve their marriages–from overcoming drug addiction to cancer, infidelity, religious differences, family interference and infertility, among many others. It’s available at Amazon.com and in various e-book formats here.
Photo courtesy of http://www.freedigitalphotos.net