Desire Discrepancies - Couples Counseling Fort Lauderdale, FL

Sexual Desire Discrepancies and Getting in the Mood

Estimated reading time: 7 minutes

By José Ramirez, LMHC

Welcome back to my blog post series about sex. This particular post will tackle desire discrepancies and how to get in the mood. At first glance, these topics may not seem to be related, but they are. When a desire discrepancy is present, it’s important to know how to get in the mood and how to set the stage for really good sex. 

What is Desire Discrepancy?

A desire discrepancy is a difference in the way a couple experiences an appetite for sex. It can also be thought of as a difference in libidos and how that shows up in the relationship.

Desire discrepancies are one of the most frequent challenges couples face and it’s a common issue that prompts partners to seek counseling. A couple can be generally satisfied and happy in their relationship and still experience this problem. Desire discrepancy universally affects all kinds of couples.

Sexual desire levels and related concerns do not seem significantly different in people who identify as gay, or lesbian compared to their heterosexual counterparts. However, same-sex partners have shown to be more agreeable in their views of intimacy and levels of sexual desire than opposite sex partners and therefore may be more likely to discuss it.

Many things affect the libido including relationship satisfaction, stress, hormones, medication, mental health problems (including trauma), and illness. It’s likely that at some point in a long-term relationship a couple will struggle with desire discrepancy, it’s that common.

Addressing the issue leaves no room for misinterpretation or mindreading so it’s important to talk about it.

P.S. In case you missed it, I previously covered how to talk about sex with your partner(s).

How To Get More in The Mood

How often do you hear the stereotype “I’m not in the mood” or “I have a headache” in popular media (perhaps even in real life)? Being in the mood or being turned on is one of the critical first steps for good sex. 

The dual control model of sex is a model in sex research that theorizes that we all have a sexual accelerator (things that turn us on) and a sexual decelerator (things that turn us off). People have likened this to the gas pedal and brake pedal in a car. The gas pedal turns you on and keeps you in the mood before and during sex while the brake pedal will hinder or get in the way of enjoyment. 

The reason this model is helpful is that it can give us great insight into our own personal sexual map. Imagine knowing your accelerators, or better yet, those of your partner(s). You can actively do more of what turns you on while at the same time controlling the things that turn you off. Not only is it important to know this as an individual, but this is also a great conversation to have with your partner. It removes the guesswork and allows people to engage with their partners with confidence. All parties are more likely to enjoy themselves if their needs are being met. 

Below is a list of common accelerators and brakes, these may not be applicable to everyone, but they help increase understanding of what accelerators and brakes are. 

Common accelerators:

  • Sights, sounds, tastes, smells, and touch you really enjoy
  • Intimacy or feeling connected
  • Fantasies
  • Kinks
  • Verbal stimulation (dirty talk)
  • Trust
  • Correct timing 
  • Ambiance 

Common Brakes:

  • Sights, sounds, tastes, smells, and touch which are unpleasant to you
  • Wrong environment
  • Pain
  • Criticism
  • Stress
  • Monotony 
  • Conflict
  • Wrong timing 

While the above is certainly not an exhaustive list, it helps deepen the understanding of what to look out for. Take some time and think about what turns you on and what turns you off. Most of us have never been taught to explicitly think this way but hopefully, you can see how it can be really helpful. 

You must be the guardian of your own sexuality if you want to have good sex with others. Once you have an idea of what you’re into, talk about it with your partner(s). Encourage them to think about it, then share a response. If you learn that something you’ve been doing turns out to be a “brake” for your partner, don’t take it as a criticism, rather, as a learning opportunity. Pivot, and engage in more of what they say they like. 

The biggest barriers here are not knowing your own likes/dislikes and not communicating them to your partner. Not being in the mood or not knowing what the accelerators/brakes are in a relationship can have an impact on sexual satisfaction. In fact, these two factors can contribute to a desire discrepancy.  

Addressing Desire Discrepancy

It’s important to understand what may be going on with yourself or your partner when desire is lagging. Addressing the issue leaves no room for misinterpretation or mind reading. It can be reassuring to know that the lack of desire is occurring due to a medication side effect, for example. Often these issues are not talked about in relationships and partners begin to wonder, “Is it me?” “Are they not attracted to me anymore?” when it may not have anything to do with them. 

If you’ve talked about it and you have an idea of what’s going on and perhaps it does not require any major medical intervention, how do we fix it? There are several ways to address a desire discrepancy, a good first intervention is to schedule sex. 

I’m not implying you have to get out a calendar and mark the date you plan to have sex, usually, a discussion is enough. I know that the idea of scheduling sex may seem so square, but it can be really helpful. 

The universal fallacy of spontaneous sex being the “best type of sex” creates a barrier here. Sex is hardly ever truly spontaneous, someone is planning for it in one way or another. I’m willing to bet most of the sex you’ve had isn’t as spontaneous as you might believe.

Think about it: going on a date, grooming yourself, shaving, putting on your best underwear, etc. is – in part – preparing for sex. If you’re not expecting anything to happen, you might be more likely to skip some of your personal grooming efforts. Also, one partner is typically thinking of initiating sex, even before it happens, that’s intentional! Any preparation for the possibility of sex is planning/scheduling. 

Another way to help with desire discrepancies is to build anticipation and desire. Once you’ve agreed on a time to have sex, send each other flirtatious messages throughout the day. Sexting or sending an erotic pic helps build anticipation and desire. These actions will likely bring you back to your early dating days which can in and of itself be inspiring and erotic.

Desire discrepancy is normal but if you find that after talking about it with your partner and trying some of these interventions, you are not seeing progress, seeing a sex therapist would be a great next step.

Stay tuned for part 3 of this multi-part blog post series in which I will tackle all things date night!


Fort Lauderdale Therapist Jose Ramirez, LMHC
License: MH17881

José Ramirez is a licensed mental health counselor and is an expert in depressionanxiety, PTSD and trauma-related issues, mood disorders, and LGBTQ+ specific issues. Call 954-488-2933 or email today to discuss how our services can help you.

Servicios disponibles en español.

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