Having a Low libido does not necessarily mean you don’t want to have a sex life. It is possible to maintain a fulfilling sex life through communication, honesty, and realistic expectations. Think of it as quality over quantity, you can still have great sex with a low libido. I have both women and men talk to me about how they can have a quality sex life with a low libido. Here are some ideas for how you can do that.
Do I have a low libido?
Our sex drive is not a linear thing, it fluctuates and changes over time. The level of a person’s sex drive is relative, what seems low to one person might not be to another. Basically, a low libido is when arousal and desire occur on a less frequent basis than what is considered ‘average’. Remember there are a myriad of reasons why someone has a low libido including medication, stress, the amount of sleep they get, health issues, stress, and hormone changes. Understanding the factors at play for your low libido can bring a sense of understanding and control. For others there is no reason for the low libido they just aren’t into sex as much as others.
It is important to note that low libido and asexuality are different. Asexuality is the lack of sexual attraction to others, or a low interest or aversion to sexual activity. Low libido describes a decreased interest in sexual activity. If you would like to read more about asexuality you can read more here.
A low libido is not a bad thing however if you have a dramatic change or you are unhappy with your low sex drive, I encourage you to speak to your doctor or a sexologist. Remember there are many different reasons why your libido could be low or may change over time.
2. Some tips to reframe your mindset around sex.
It is easy to think you are broken, a bad partner or feel shame when you have a low libido. All these feelings make it difficult to be in touch with your needs. If you are thinking that you need to change your libido or feel pressure to be aroused and wanting sex all this may shut down your libido even more. So, the first tip is to take the pressure off yourself.
Next you may find it useful to examine for yourself if you are actually unhappy with your sex life or just feel that you “should” have sex more or that you have the impression that you should be because you think others are doing more. If it is the “should” mindset stop and think about your sexuality and what it means to you rather than what your partner or society thinks it ‘should’ be.
Then move on to asking yourself;
What does pleasurable, hot sex mean to you?
What is sexy to you?
What do you fanatsise about?
Are there any specific situations or stimuli that turn you on more than others?
Are there any specific situations or stimuli that turn you off more than others?
Life changes, medication, health, stress changes that coincide with any changes in your interest in sex?
A sexologist can guide you through these and more. The key is to reflect on the times when you are organically in the mood and taking note about common points. This redefinition process, working out how often you enjoy sex as fits you not anyone else does involve self-exploration including masturbation but without pressure or shame.
3. How to talk to your partner about your low libido
As with many aspects of our relationships communication is important and your sexual relationship is no different. It is hard for many of us to talk about sex. You or both you and your partner may find talking about low libido a sensitive subject and think just avoiding it is better but even though it is a hard conversation it is well worth it.
If you are just starting out in a relationship or in the midst of a long term relationship the best time to talk to your partner about your low libido is when you are having a calm, rational conversation about feelings, your relationship and your connection. Not at the end of a long day, during an emotionally heated discussion, when your partner has tried to initiate sex and you have said no, or anytime relating to sex.
We are not taught that sexuality fluctuates and changes over our lifespan. We are bombarded with stereotypes about how we ‘should’ express our sexuality, and how relationships ‘should’ be. We are incorrectly taught that our desire to have sex with someone is the ultimate expression of affection and attraction to them.
Remember the language your use is important. So preface any conversation with a point that reassures your partner that your low libido is not reflection of how much they turn you on. You could tell them about a time that you were particularly turned on by something that you did sexually with them. It could be something as simple as “the last Sunday we had a lazy morning I really loved how you let me sleep in and then when you curled up behind me to wake me up and you kissed my neck gently, I was grateful, I felt very loved and really turned on in that moment” then “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?”
It is about focusing on the feelings and emotions you feel in the moments leading up to when you are turned on not so much about the actual act of sex. Focusing on what excites you, what turns you on, what brings you pleasure, when have you noticed that your partner has really turned you on, what was it about those moments that worked for you? Was it an emotional connection in that moment? It’s not building a paint by numbers how to of your sexual needs rather about building an emotional connection and strengthening the bond between you.
Of course if you know a reason why your libido is low share it with your partner. For example if stress, is negatively impacting with your sex life, being direct can help you both in figuring out how to manage it. It also gives a tangible reason as to why you are not in the mood sometimes, or why things have changed recently.
If the reality of having the conversation with your partner about your low libido and the role that sex plays in your relationship is too daunting, there is help available and accessing it can be incredibly beneficial for your relationship.
4. Setting Expectations
Often when I have worked with couples the partner with the lower libido is the one that dictates when sex happens. The partner with the higher libido often feels left out of the decision making process as to when sex happens and like they need to jump with the partner with the lower libido says so even if they are not in the mood, they can also feel rejection on the times when they try and get shot down. In my experience the partner with the lower libido often feels guilt or shame because they turn their partner down frequently.
Here are some ways to find some common ground;
Be open and honest
State your feelings
State your needs
Make a request
Example – “I know you want sex 3 or 4 times a week. I am more interested in once a fortnight so I feel like I am disappointing you and it makes me feel ashamed. I need for our relationship to meet both our needs and I would really love it if we could explore how we can find some middle ground together.”
You may find it useful to ask your partner to accept that spontaneous sex is not your thing, that planning, building anticipation and foreplay to build to a point where you are both aroused.
Masturbation could be an answer for the higher sex drive partner with encouragement from the lower sex drive partner. If that is a good fit for both of you.
Some clients I have worked with have found opening their relationship so they can explore sex with other partners has been successful.
Whatever you decide together remember to check in about how things are going with your partner, remember communication is key.
Remember that you desires, fantasies, sex drive change through your lifespan and they do not always match your partners. Having a game plan in advance should your desire levels differ can help depressurise the situation and help you feel connected, intimate and relaxed.
Remember your boundaries and desire levels are valid, trust in yourself and know that it is ok to tell your partner you are not interested or if you want to stop. On the other side it is important to respect your partners boundaries even if it means you do not get what you need. It is hard to build a mutually satisfying and consensual relationship if boundaries are not respected. Feeling like it something you have to do makes it hard for any kind of sensuality, pleasure, enjoyment, or fun to develop or be sustained.
Both of you have the right to your desires and needs to be respected. Regardless of how often you have sex it is important to have a foundation of honesty, communication, and respect. If you need help finding a way to navigate this there are health care professionals that can help you.
Jodie West is a Director and Resident Sexologist at Bliss. Jodie is known for initiating Taboo conversations about women's health & sexuality. Her own health challenges & the changes they brought about in general life & sex life were the catalysts for taboo smashing projects that have made & continue to make changes in the landscape of women's health in Australia.