What To Do When You Want Less Sex Than Your Partner

By Dr. Justin Relationships You Want Less Sex Than Your Partner

The number one concern that prompts people to seek out sex therapy is what’s called a sexual desire discrepancy. This occurs when a large and persistent difference in libido develops between partners. Simply put, each person desires a drastically different amount or frequency of sex. Desire discrepancies are not an individual problem—they’re a couple problem. And they require both partners to work together toward a solution. In my last article, I explored where the journey begins when you’re the partner with a higher desire. So, in this article, we’re going to explore the flipside: where to start when you’re the partner with less desire.

Assess the Situation

Desire discrepancies can emerge for an incredibly wide range of reasons—and there may be multiple factors involved simultaneously. To the extent that you can identify some of the contributing causes, it can help a lot when it comes to pinpointing solutions. A good place to start is by assessing the situation. Have you always had less desire than your partner, or has your desire for sex decreased or maybe even disappeared? If there has been a significant change in your libido, consider what might be happening in your life that could have played a role. Myriad factors can put a damper on desire, including:

Physical health issues, such as chronic illness, disability, and changes in your hormones

Mental health issues, such as depression, anxiety, and trauma

Sexual health issues, such as the development of sexual difficulty or pain during sex

Relationship conflict outside of the bedroom

Major life changes, such as having a new child, or persistent stressors, like taking on a demanding job

To the extent that there have been major changes in your health or life circumstances, start there. It might not be that sex itself is the core issue. There might be something else that’s getting in the way that needs to be addressed first.

 Get a Deeper Understanding of Your Sexuality

A lot of people are under the impression that desire is always spontaneous—something that hits you out of the blue like a ton of bricks. When someone rarely or never experiences desire this way, it’s easy to think that there’s something wrong. However, the truth of the matter is that desire operates differently in different people. It isn’t always spontaneous! Instead, many people experience what’s called responsive desire. This is when desire emerges from a specific set of cues or situations—it’s a desire that emerges in response to the right stimulus for that person. People with responsive desire might still experience spontaneous desire in the early (i.e., passion) phase of a relationship. No matter what your desire type is, most of us experience those lusty, horny feelings when a relationship is fresh, new, and exciting. But once we start settling into relationship routines, we tend to drift back toward our desire baseline. If this sounds like you—that is, desire is something that usually only emerges in response to the right set of cues—then step back and think about previous times when this kind of desire kicked in. What were those moments like? What was it that pushed you over the edge? What needs were being met in that moment? To the extent that you can get a better handle on the anatomy of your own desire, you’ll be better equipped to communicate that to a partner and cultivate the kinds of experiences you need to get the engine running.

Explore What REALLY Turns You On

People often lose desire for sex because the sex they’re having just…isn’t worth having. They’re approaching sex the same way every time, and it’s not working for them. It might be the case that these folks have never communicated with their partner about what it is that they really want. But it might also be the case that they just don’t quite know what they want yet. When it comes to sexual pleasure, we often don’t know what we want until we experience it. As an analogy, think about this: have you ever tried a new food and immediately thought, “Where has this been all my life?” If so, you probably experienced all kinds of pleasurable sensations you never felt before—and now you can’t get enough of it! You start craving it. Just as you can have this new, life-changing experience with food, you can have a similar experience with sex. It’s that sensation, feeling, or turn-on you didn’t know existed before, and now it’s something you can’t resist. So explore what it is that really (and I mean REALLY) turns you on. A good place to begin is with solo play/masturbation. Try pleasuring and stimulating yourself in different ways. Get some new toys. Try some new lube. Explore different erotic material. Find the kinks you didn’t know you had.

Rebuild the Connection With Your Partner—And Yourself

One final reason desire sometimes drops in relationships is because there’s something off in the connection that we have with our partner—and the connection we have with ourselves. Many of us have this romanticized idea of what relationships should be: they’re about “two becoming one,” our partner being our best friend, and doing everything together. While that sounds great in theory, too much closeness can paradoxically dampen desire. When we’re always with our partner, we never have an opportunity to miss them, and we lose that sense of mystery and excitement they used to evoke. And when partners do everything together, they start to lose their sense of autonomy and independence. They begin to give up on hobbies or interests that their partner doesn’t share, and outside friendships start drifting away. Maintaining desire in relationships involves striking that right balance of time together versus time apart. It’s about making sure that the time you’re spending together is quality time, with intimacy-building dates and engagement in novel, shared activities. But it’s also about making sure you have that quality time with yourself to pursue the things you’re passionate about in life and have opportunities for self-care. I know it sounds antithetical to popular relationship ideals to advocate for spending some time apart, but it can be a powerful way of rebuilding the connection you have with yourself, bringing a little mystery back into the relationship, and creating more opportunities for desire to kick in.


 If you find that you consistently want less sex than your partner, and this is distressing to you or creating conflict in your relationship, know that this is an extraordinarily common concern among couples—but that it isn’t a hopeless situation. Successfully resolving a sexual desire discrepancy requires that partners work together. Note that the goal here is not to equalize desire levels because that isn’t a realistic outcome, and the truth is that you don’t have to have perfectly matched libidos in order to be happy. You just need to find a middle ground that works for everyone. If you’re the lower desire partner, the place to start is by assessing changes in health and life circumstances that might be lowering libido, figuring out when and how desire works for you, exploring your sexuality, and tending to the connection you have with both your partner and yourself.


Mersy, L. F., & Vencill, J. A. (2023). Desire: An Inclusive Guide to Navigating Libido Differences in Relationships. Beacon Press.

Herbenick, D., Mullinax, M., & Mark, K. (2014). Sexual desire discrepancy as a feature, not a bug, of long‐term relationships: Women’s self‐reported strategies for modulating sexual desire. The Journal of Sexual Medicine, 11(9), 2196-2206.

Velten, J., Dawson, S. J., Suschinsky, K., Brotto, L. A., & Chivers, M. L. (2020). Development and validation of a measure of responsive sexual desire. Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, 46(2), 122-140.

Vowels, L. M., & Mark, K. P. (2020). Strategies for mitigating sexual desire discrepancy in relationships. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 49(3), 1017-1028.