When Your Sex Drives Don’t Match: Discover Your Libido Types to Create a Mutually Satisfying Sex Life
WE LOVE EACH other, but . . .
Do you feel hurt, rejected, or frustrated by your partner’s attitudes to sex or what he or she seems to want, or not want, in sex? Even though you love each other, do you worry that your partner doesn’t love you or find you attractive because he or she rarely initiates sex? Do you feel offended by some things your partner wants to do during sex or refuses to do? If so, you are not alone; many couples are in the same position.
In an age when there is so much information about sex, it might seem strange to say that there is still significant sexual ignorance in our society, but that is the case. This ignorance isn’t about our bodies and the mechanics of sex and reproduction as it was a few decades ago. Today’s lack of knowledge arises from expectations of how our bodies should work and what should be happening in our sex lives. If we don’t perform sexually as we think we should or our partner doesn’t meet our sexual needs so that we don’t get the sex life we want, surely something is wrong somewhere. After all, aren’t there countless books and articles that tell us we can have great sex if we just follow the right advice? So why isn’t it working for us?
The problem is that, despite all the in-your-face focus on sex in our society and our tendency to believe that we live in a liberated, “switched on” sexual culture, there is a glaring contradiction in our attitudes to sex. On one hand, if you ask any sex therapist whether people are all the same sexually, you will always get, “Of course not; everyone is different.” Yet if you look at the way sex is portrayed in our society—from movies, books, the Internet, and even self-help books written by sex therapists—you get the message that there is one way to have great sex—he should last a long time, she should come easily, sex is hot and passionate—and everyone can do this if they put enough effort into it or love each other enough.
So, despite apparently celebrating sexual variety, the effect of all this is to blur individual differences and promote sameness.
Surprisingly, now the most common sexual problem is not low libido, rapid ejaculation, or difficulty with orgasm: it is that people are not prepared for the extent of individual differences in human sexuality. When you enter into a relationship with a partner whose sexual wants and needs are unlike your own, you do not know how to interpret this discrepancy or to resolve the mismatch to achieve a mutually satisfying sex life. The resulting hurt and confusion can lead to doubts about your sexuality and the depth of your love for each other.
This question of why, despite apparent advances in our knowledge of sex, there are so many couples struggling to achieve sexual happiness has challenged me across my more than thirty years as a sex therapist. Back in the early 1970s, I was one of the first psychologists trained in the new field of sex therapy, and I’ve been both an observer and a participant in the process of change in the cultural stereotype of sexuality ever since.
Before sex therapy, if an individual couldn’t function sexually or didn’t want or enjoy sex, it was assumed that there was trauma in the person’s background that caused this. Unfortunately, traditional psychotherapy didn’t have a good success rate in curing sexual problems. The separate discipline of sex therapy developed as a direct consequence of this failure. It is based on the assumption that sexual unhappiness is due to sexual ignorance and inhibition, and this led to a detailed program of sex education, including in-depth information about the physiology of sexuality and suggestions on how to improve lovemaking, as the main approach to combat sexual problems.
There is no doubt that teaching people about the basics of sex and providing information about sexual techniques led to a dramatic improvement in the quality of many couples’ sex lives. But, strangely, the effect of this advance seems to have worn off, as we soon took that knowledge for granted and looked beyond the basics to see what else might make sex fun. New ideas about sex—oral sex, partner swapping, vibrators, bondage, and discipline—were explored and embraced to add spice to many sexual relationships. The age of “hot sex” had begun. Then a new problem emerged: not everyone wanted to take advantage of these exciting options, or even if they wanted to, they didn’t get much out of them.
In a sense then, we have come full circle, as we now question why some individuals aren’t interested not only in all this sexual variety but even in having so-called “regular” (meaning conventional) sex. Once more we look into the individual’s history to try to work out why this person doesn’t fit our current ideas about normal sex—surely there must be some trauma in their childhood, we say—and the cycle continues.
This doesn’t mean that it is a waste of time to look into our past histories, just that we must be very cautious. Identifying causes can be an interesting process, and this may point to solutions in the present, but often it isn’t useful. It is true, for example, that coming from an inhibited background may shape your sexuality, but there are people with that history who don’t have any sexual problems as adults, which suggests that sometimes it is a coincidence that a person has a troubled background and has later sexual difficulties.
In the end what really matters when it comes to dealing with the sexual problems you and your partner are struggling with is identifying what is happening now, understanding the current issues, exploring strategies that might help, and then being honest about what you are prepared to do to address the distress you are feeling in your sexual relationship. Even people with secure, happy personal histories can end up in unsatisfying sexual relationships, because it is how your individual sexuality interacts with your partner’s that defines what is a problem and what isn’t. What you need to know, then, is who are you? What are your sexual wants and needs, and how do they match or mismatch with those of your partner?
This is why I have written this book. In my first book, A Commonsense Guide to Sex, which was published in 1985, I wrote that common sense tells us that people are different and they want and need different things from sex. Sexual expression takes many forms in different people, often even in the same person at different times in his or her life. I’ve been fascinated with the issue of difference rather than sameness ever since. This has led me to develop my theory that the sexual issues that couples struggle to deal with are usually not evidence of individual pathology or relationship problems but reflect the fact that just as there are different personality types, there are different sexual types. I call them libido types.
This book explores how these differences in sexuality can be described and understood and what strategies you and your partner can use to try to bridge these differences and promote a harmonious sex life. I have developed the concept of libido types to offer a new way of thinking about the sexual problems that cause you and your partner such distress. Think about how you relate to your friends and family who have different personality types: Is there only one way of having a good friendship, or a loving family relationship? The same is true for your sexual relationship. Libido typing allows you to understand what is important to you in sex and how that might be the same or different to your partner’s priorities. If you are prepared to put aside the stereotype of what a good sex life should be like and to take the time to explore your own sexuality and to be curious about your partner’s sexuality, you will find that using libido typing allows you to open up new lines of communication and challenge hurtful misinterpretations to discover hidden strengths in your relationship. As with singers who are in harmony, a harmonious sex life is not necessarily one in which you are both wanting and doing exactly the same things in the same way, but one that is characterized by blending the strengths that you each have to create an agreeable and pleasing sex life.
WHAT YOU WILL FIND IN THIS BOOK
THIS BOOK WILL help you change the way you deal with the areas of incompatibility in your sexual relationship. The early chapters give you food for thought, the next chapters introduce the specific libido types, and the later chapters provide valuable exercises to help both you and your partner recognize your types and learn how to promote a mutually satisfying sex life. As tempting as it might be to head straight for the chapter on the libido type that seems to describe you, to get the most out of the book, I encourage you to start at the beginning and read all the way through to make sure that you don’t miss information that may be relevant to your specific situation.
The first chapter, “Normal? What’s Normal?” delves into arguments about what is sexually normal and what isn’t—that is, when a sexual problem is a sexual dysfunction. It also celebrates the amazing diversity in human sexuality. You’ll learn a new way of thinking about sexual problems and will be introduced to my theory of the ten libido types.
Chapter 2, “The Driving Force,” delves into the intriguing topic of the human sex drive: why do we feel the desire to cooperate with another human being to have sex? It explores how sex drive is not just a physical lustiness but a complex interaction of stimulation via our senses, what we think about sex at that moment, and how we feel emotionally. My concept of libido types describes these differences and promotes an equal but different framework to address the conflict that often arises between two people whose sexual wants and needs are very different.
Chapters 3 through 12 introduce each of the ten libido types and offer a preliminary insight into potential areas of misunderstanding and misinterpretation in a relationship. Here’s a brief overview:
• Chapter 3 addresses the Sensual libido type, which values emotional connection above sexual performance. Sex is an important part of the relationship for Sensual lovers, but it is more important for them to know that their partner is happy to be physically intimate with them as an expression of their love and commitment to each other rather than what is actually done during sex.
• The Erotic libido type (chapter 4) believes that sex should be intense and passionate, at least some of the time. Mild Erotic lovers can cope with periods of ordinary sex, provided there are regular opportunities for adventurous and sizzling sex, while strong Erotic lovers believe that intense erotic sex is a cornerstone of a good relationship and get little pleasure out of low-key sex.
• The Dependent libido type (chapter 5) needs sex to cope with daily life. Typically the Dependent lover has used masturbation in the teenage years to cope with bad feelings such as stress, boredom, or anxiety. As an adult this dependence to cope with negative feelings continues, but the Dependent lover may not recognize this and interpret the partner’s unwillingness to go along with sex whenever he needs it as lack of love and caring.
• Individuals with a Reactive libido (chapter 6) get most satisfaction from pleasing their lover during sex. Either the Reactive lover has low sexual needs but gains genuine pleasure from keeping her partner happy or he needs to see his partner aroused in order to become aroused himself.
• Entitled lovers (chapter 7) assume that it is their right to get what they want in their sexual relationship. Some Entitled lovers are influenced by the idealization of sex in our culture and believe that everyone else is having hot, great sex so they are entitled to it as well, but others don’t think much about sex other than to expect to have it when they want it.
• People with an Addictive libido (chapter 8) find it difficult to resist the lure of sex outside their long-term relationships. The essential characteristic of the Addictive libido, like any addiction, is that the behavior has control over them rather than vice versa, and some feel distressed by their actions, while others feel what they are doing is acceptable. An Addictive lover may not be continuously having sex outside his relationship, but when the opportunity is there he finds reasons to pursue it.
• A Stressed libido (chapter 9) may be present from the beginning of a person’s sex life, or it may develop over time from other libido types where the individual previously experienced regular sexual desire. Stressed lovers feel under pressure to perform and constantly worry that they are sexually inadequate in some way. The Stressed lover increasingly avoids sex for fear of failure, even though he may still feel sexual desire, which some find easier to satisfy with masturbation.
• Some people have always had little or no interest in sex, while others find their sex drive dwindles over the years. The Disinterested libido type (chapter 10) may develop from a Stressed libido type, where sex has become so distressing that any sexual interest disappears. However, many people have a naturally occurring low physical libido. Sometimes this is associated with little or no pleasure if they do have sex, but for others, they can become aroused and enjoy sex once they get into it.
• The Detached libido type (chapter 11) usually feels sexual desire but is too preoccupied with other life issues to seek out partnered sex, usually masturbating to relieve sexual frustration because it is the simple solution. The Detached lover’s withdrawal from partnered sex may be the result of a sense of overwhelming stress from financial or work pressure, or it may reflect unresolved issues in the couple’s relationship.
• While the Erotic lover wants to explore all the wondrous variety of sexual activities that are now openly discussed in our society, the Compulsive lover (chapter 12) has one main sexual object or situation that triggers sexual arousal. In its mild form, the Compulsive libido type takes advantage of opportunities to use the specific sexual ritual that causes intense arousal, and in its stronger form, the Compulsive lover can only arouse using the sexual object or ritual. Some sexual compulsions can be incorporated into a sexual relationship, but others, such as the compulsive use of Internet pornography, exclude a partner.
In chapter 13, “The Cycle of Misunderstanding,” I outline the process by which two people with different libido types can find that their sexual relationship becomes unsatisfying and tense, despite their love and commitment to each other. Beginning with differences in expectations about their sexual relationship, a couple with mismatched libidos often differ in the appropriate initiation of sex, and their critical reaction to each other’s wants and needs leads to hurt feelings. Communication is flawed by misinformation about normal sexual function and sexual diversity, leading to misinterpretation of each other’s sexuality. As a couple become more defensive, each partner feels pushed to a more extreme position than he or she really wants, resulting in polarization, which may lead to increasing isolation and eventual separation.
Chapter 14, “The Exercises: Understanding Your Mismatched Libidos,” contains crucial exercises and questions for you and your partner to work through separately. The goal of this chapter is for you both to learn more about your own sexuality before you discuss the issues together. By the end of the chapter, you will know more about your libido type and will have made your own assessment of your partner’s. The point to keep in mind with these exercises is that a major source of the conflict between you is misunderstanding each other’s sexuality, so the conclusions you come to here are meant to provide a beginning for your discussion, not an ending.
Chapter 15, “Sharing Your Discoveries: The Talk,” is a critical chapter that helps you and your partner discuss your sex life in a constructive and nonjudgmental way. “The Talk” uses the information from the exercises you did in the previous chapter as the basis for the discussion as you seek to clarify what you each believe the problem is, where the gaps in your mutual understanding lie, what you would like your partner to do to improve your sexual relationship, and, most importantly, what you are prepared to do to work toward a rewarding sex life.
Chapter 16, “Beyond the Talk: Building Your Intimate Relationship,” uses the knowledge you have gained about yourself and your partner to move into a broader discussion on building your intimate life together.
The final chapter, chapter 17, “Maintaining a Mutually Satisfying Sex Life,” provides suggestions to help a couple recognize when they might need to do some maintenance work on their sex life in order to continue their mutually satisfying sex life in the future.
By the end of the book, I hope that you have rediscovered the reasons why you made your commitment to each other in the first place. By valuing what is right and good between you, by appreciating what you each bring to the sexual relationship instead of emphasizing what might be missing, you can have a sustainable and harmonious relationship in the future.
Please note: Throughout this book in the profiles and in example, I will switch gender from male to female and back. This is for ease of phrasing and to highlight the fact that every libido type may be either male or female, although some types are more likely to be one than the other and I’ve used the gender most likely to be associated with that type or subtype. In addition, the names and details in case studies have been changed to protect people’s privacy.
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