The importance of redefining "normal", having realistic expectations, and going with the flow when it comes to addressing intimacy conflicts.
Sexual desire is extremely complex. As we learned from the commercial flop of flibanserin (a libido medication for women that came out in summer of 2015), libido concerns are not a strictly physiological phenomena that can be “fixed” with a pill. However, mismatches are a common source of tension in relationships. I’ve been on both sides of the “higher and lower” libido equation and neither are a pleasant experience. So I've worked over the years to "unpack the problem" - both for myself and for my clients.
As with so much of the work I’ve done around my own sexuality, being forced to delve beyond the superficial symptoms has enabled me to heal other wounds and ultimately experience more meaningful relationships.
I’m passionate about helping people address “libido mismatch” because I know firsthand that it can erode a relationship, even one that is otherwise solid and loving. Resentment and insecurity have a way of creeping in, and it often feels like there’s no solution.
Today I’d like to share some of the lessons I’ve learned in the hopes they may shine a light on how you can approach libido constructively in your own life.
There is no such thing as "normal"
However you experience sexual desire, you’ve likely had moments where you thought something was wrong with you. Ironically, we’re shamed on both sides of the spectrum - our culture likes to label us as "frigid" or "slutty", and sometimes accuses us of being both at once. For me, being surrounded by sex-positive resources that reinforce the idea that however I experience desire is normal has been life changing. Fortunately, that’s becoming easier thanks to sex-positive social media, podcasts, and blogs. We can’t control all the media we’re exposed to, but there is a lot we can control to ensure the messages we consume reflect our values and how we want to feel.
Knowledge is power
For many years I didn’t really understand how sexual desire worked. Although my libido was generally higher than my partners, it wasn’t consistent. Sometimes I’d go through phases when I was completely uninterested in sex and I couldn’t figure out why. Reading books like Come As You Are (a science-based explanation of female desire) demystified my arousal patterns and helped me understand the reason behind the fluctuations. I learned to appreciate how factors like stress were putting the “brakes” on my sexual desire – and more importantly, how I could release them.
Libido naturally fluctuates with the menstrual cycle
Thanks to fertility awareness, I’ve learned my libido is intimately linked with my menstrual cycle. In our work teaching menstrual cycle charting at Red Tent Sisters, clients are often shocked to discover that there are clear patterns of arousal that repeat across menstrual cycles. Colleagues like Miranda Gray and Zahra Haji have taken this further and highlighted how menstruators can “optimize their cycle” by embracing energetic and hormonal shifts. If you can learn to anticipate the ebbs and flows (and communicate those to a partner), then you can plan accordingly. Many of our clients have reported increased relationship harmony based on this single factor. When you and a partner know that your lack of desire is physiological and temporary, it is easier not to take things personally.
Accept that you and your partner will rarely have the same level of desire at the same time
Unfortunately it’s easy to place blame – telling the lower desire partner they should want it more, and the higher desire partner they should want it less. This just serves to reinforce feelings of shame and guilt which is the last thing we need more of when it comes to sexuality (not to mention the fact that shame and guilt are total turn offs and not likely to help the cause!). Instead, I’ve tried to release any attachment to what is the “right” level of desire and reframe the conversation to “how can I make sure my needs and my partners needs are both being met.” Being open to how that is going to happen allows us to find creative and effective solutions.
We alone are responsible for recognizing, communicating and getting our needs met
When I really dig deep, I know that one of the reasons being the higher desire partner in a relationship is uncomfortable is because it requires me to step up and articulate my needs – and more importantly, advocate to have them met. Women are typically socialized to put the needs of others ahead of their own and often to silence their needs altogether. It's important that each partner in the relationship be clear about what they need and communicate it. And it is important that the person who is listening to those needs honour that they are important to that person. It doesn't mean that we are responsible for filling them, but in a healthy partnership we will at least acknowledge those needs and hopefully engage in a conversation about how those needs can be met. This can be uncomfortable, but a genuine “blessing in disguise”. For me, learning to work through that discomfort has had a ripple effect throughout all aspects of my life. I hope it can for you too.
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Kim & Amy Sedgwick love to discuss sex, periods, and all the other things we’re not supposed to talk about. The co-founders of Red Tent Sisters and ecosex.ca, they’ve been featured in every major Canadian news outlet and have become a trusted resource for women seeking natural (effective!) birth control, a more joyful sex life, and an empowered journey to motherhood.