She wants sex but you don’t? Desire discrepancy in relationships.

RD reads Talk Less Listen More
Talk Less, Listen More
February 4, 2020
Activate Your Female Power by Sharon Moloney
Activate Your Female Power
February 25, 2020
RD reads Talk Less Listen More
Talk Less, Listen More
February 4, 2020
Activate Your Female Power by Sharon Moloney
Activate Your Female Power
February 25, 2020

She wants sex but you don’t? Desire discrepancy in relationships.

If she wants sex but you don’t we are talking about desire discrepancy in your relationship. You will be upset. And inevitably your partner will be upset. This is normal! It is also a complex issue, but let’s begin…


There are many myths and fantasies around sexual desire in a relationship. Here are a few:

  1. One myth/fantasy is of ever-ready passion and the availability of red-hot sex with your partner, till death do you part.
  2.  Another fantasy is expecting heightened sexual practices with your partner. These unreal expectations are not only fuelled by your own personal fantasies, but by the collective fantasy of pornography.
  3. A further myth is that great sex “just happens” and that you don’t need to talk about it, or learn anything.
  4. Another myth is perpetuated by the macho culture. That the guy is always hot to trot but the gal takes some warming up. For some couples, this might be true, but my work with couples says it is equally the other way around.

What do we mean by desire discrepancy? The reality is that sex is always within the larger context of the relationship. It is modulated by the personality and needs of both partners. If and when you really know and love your partner (and yourself), the fantasies drop away and the unique combination of the two of you can be born. Sexually and in every other way.

I must emphasise that in this Insight, like all on Relationship Doctor,  I am speaking to a couple in a committed relationship.  I am not talking about casual hookups.

What is libidinal energy?

If she wants sex but you don’t we are talking about libido. Jung referred to libido as life energy in general, not confined to sexual energy.  When our libidinal energy is flowing and vital we are creative, fun and adventurous.  When our libidinal energy is exhausted we are flat and disinterested, in sex and everything else. In various stages of life, our libidinal energy is taken up by other things, such as a job, raising a child, or a major creative project such as a new innovative design. Childbirth is a huge explosion of libidinal energy. And finishing a major project is a kind of giving birth.

However, our libidinal energy can be occupied with fantasy and day-dreaming, and pornography is relevant here.

She wants sex but you don't? Desire discrepancy in relationships.

Stages of life

Your desire for sex will change through the seasons of life. So-called “desire discrepancy” could be about the pressures of exams, of prolonged study, establishing a career and working late, moving house, pregnancy, attending to sick children or the death of parents. All these will have a profound effect on your libidinal energy and on your desire for sex.

Fluctuating hormones

We often chase the feel-good hormones that flow every so readily at the first stage of a relationship. Read “Hugs and Kisses: the oxytocin connection” This is the honeymoon period, and many people despair that the relationship is over if they are addicted to these feelings.  These easy-flowing feelings wane with time –  we didn’t have to work for them, but we do need to work for the good feelings in the second stage of a relationship.  This is very natural and even necessary.  Read “How to choose a compatible partner”.

Stages of relationship

Each partner has a rhythm through the life of the relationship.  Sexually speaking, there are peaks and troughs. Maybe your partner’s peaks and troughs are very different than yours! She might want sex and you don’t at certain times, and then it is reversed at other times.


Se wants sex but you dont? Desire discrepancy in relationships. Having a child is a huge shift in libidinal energy.

Psychological underpinnings

Psychological underpinnings, or complexes, such as the puer complex, channel sexual energy away from the relationship. A puer complex shows up when the person makes a commitment and then relates to the partner as if they are a parent. Because there is a taboo against having sex with a parent, sexual desire dies. Of course, it is a case of mistaken identity, but, unconsciously the partner has become taboo. I have seen elements of this situation so very often in the couples I work with.  It is very puzzling and confusing for both partners. It is even the unconscious basis of some affairs. In other words, if the partner feels like a parent, then normal sexual relations are to be found outside the family so to speak, in affairs. It takes some serious therapeutic work to disentangle this.

Sexual dysfunction.

Is sexual dysfunction a psychological or physiological problem? The body and the mind are so closely interconnected it is often difficult to tell.  Sex with your partner strips you of psychological defenses, and performance anxiety is often close by. Check out the physical first, with a visit to your GP.  However, I have had many referrals from GPs after thorough investigations have shown no physical problem. Premature ejaculation is a good example.

Underlying psychological issues

If she wants sex but you don’t, is this psychological or physical?  We’ve already looked at some of the physical or life-stage reasons, so let’s look at some psychology. If there is a build-up of resentment and anger,  libidinal flow in general stops, and sex in particular grinds to a halt. If you are living a lie, if you are hiding from conflict, if you are duplicitous, your libidinal energy will be very confused. Sexuality profoundly connects to your suppressions and your unconscious. Sexual difficulties and desire discrepancies can be a wake-up call to look at the undercurrents of your life, the parts you are denying or avoiding. Use many of the Insights on this site for self-reflection and honest discussion with your partner. For example, Sameness or Difference, Courageous Conversations and Who is lying?: Truth in relationships.

Seek further work with a therapist to look at ways you hide from yourself.

Track your own feelings.

I know from my work with clients that it is so easy for someone to imagine that the problem is with the other person. Read: What is Projection?

It goes like this: I have a lack of desire, therefore there is something wrong with my partner. No.  The first step is to understand your own lack of desire and investigate fully your own inner and outer processes, without reference to the other person.  It is all too easy to project sexual issues onto your partner. In all likelihood, that issue does not belong there. Thoroughly investigate your own psyche first.  Then understand the dynamics of the relationship itself.

She wants sex but you don't? Or you want sex and she doesn't? Desire discrepancy in relationship.

More resources

Read Esther Perel, “Mating in Captivity”

Watch Esther Perel on her TED talk, discussing desire in a committed relationship.


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