Desire Discrepancy Q&A with Casey Tanner

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desire discrepancy

What can you do with your partner to increase your sexual desire?

To begin, it’s helpful to understand what kind of desire you and your partner have. There are two types of desires that we know about: spontaneous desire or responsive desire.

Those with spontaneous desire might have the experience of feeling turned on and horny out of nowhere – there’s not necessarily a cue in the environment that causes it. Those with a more responsive desire are more sensitive to environmental cues and are often more likely to be turned on or off based on what’s going on in their day, how they’re feeling in their bodies, and what’s going on in their environment.

The first thing is understanding which of those categories you fall into (or maybe you’re somewhere in between). Knowing what kind of desire you have helps us to figure out how to bridge the gap between yours and your partner’s kinds of desire.

Often what happens is that someone with a spontaneous desire matches up with someone who has a more responsive desire, which is what we call a “desire discrepancy” or difference in sex drive. In sex therapy, we talk about how to bridge that gap by providing the environment and context for those who are more responsive to be turned on.

Context can be either environmental (e.g. lights on or off), or biophysical (e.g. menstruation). Once we know which contexts are an accelerator (a catalyst) and which are a brake (a brake), then we can create the right environment for our lower-desire partner.

How can you keep your excitement high with sex that isn’t spontaneous?

We often equate spontaneous sex with exciting sex (and sometimes that can be the case), but it’s very possible to create exciting sex even if sex or intimacy is planned. Here’s an example: a role play that you and your partner have both talked through and consented to. That’s planned, but that doesn’t make it any less exciting.

A new toy can be incorporated into your sexlife, which is something that could be done but not necessarily planned. Don’t equate “planned” with no sense of “newness”. Even though planned sex can bring in newness, it’s possible to have safe and enjoyable experiences when you talk about bringing something new in ahead of time. It’s planned, but still exciting.

How can you plan sex that doesn’t seem boring or robotic?

Personally, I’m a huge proponent of scheduling intimacy, not necessarily scheduling sex. People with more responsive arousal systems may experience anxiety when planning sex. If I know my partner and I are having sex on Sunday at 2:00 pm, I may feel anxious and less likely to enjoy it.

Planning intimacy can be very exciting. Different people have different definitions of intimacy. This might seem like a quick check-in on how our day went. It might be a shower that isn’t shower sex, but instead is a time for us to be naked together. You could read a book or go to your favorite restaurant together. Scheduling intimacy may not be the same as scheduling sexual activity, but if we can create a less-pressured intimate moment it could lead to sex.

I tend to lose interest in sex between 6-12 months into a new relationship. I wish it was possible to continue wanting it. Advice?

What you’re describing here is so common, because it’s right around that 6-month mark that we move out of what we could call the “infatuation stage” into a form of more committed love. In this process, our brains are actually changing.

Initially there’s an immense amount of adrenaline, serotonin, norepinephrine, and cortisol coursing through our systems, which increases our sense of arousal in a lot of cases. As we enter a relationship, that trend begins to decline. The way that we sometimes interpret this phenomenon is that we don’t want our partners as much or maybe Not at all anymore – which can be a very distressing feeling.

What’s often happening for people is that they’re shifting not from having desire to having no desire, but they’re actually shifting from having a more spontaneous desire with their partner toward a more contextual, responsive desire. This means it is more difficult to get there than in the beginning.

So, you haven’t necessarily lost desire for your partner, you just have to shift into a different mindset that is more creative and is a little bit more effortful. It is so worth it when we can find a way to combine that committed form of love in longer term relationships with finding ways to meet our desire where it’s at – which might be more contextual at that point.

What does the environment (kids, careers, living together, etc.) have to do with intimacy?

Environment, kids, careers, and big stressful life events like moving in together can all have a massive impact on the way we experience desire, especially if you’re someone with a more responsive desire. If you’re one of those people, these types of day-to-day stressful events or major life events will have a greater impact on your sex drive and sexuality.

We can create a sense of routine in our relationships by introducing some of these milestones to our relationship. This can be really lovely – it’s predictable and there’s a sense of security. Sometimes, predictability and security can feel the opposite of passion or sexiness. We have to work together to get there.

This can be done by shifting from a routine mindset to one of ritual. What part of our daily routine can we make rituals? If we get home at the same time, maybe we spend at least 20 minutes making sure we check in about each other’s day. If we don’t start work at the same time, maybe we still set our alarm at the same time so that we have an hour in the morning to drink our coffee and watch the news.

It’s not so much about carving out time for sex. It’s much more about rituals in which we still stay connected and create opportunities to surprise each other in ways that we did before there were kids or before we moved in together. It can be as simple as planning a date or engaging in something new like cooking classes or singing karaoke. Sometimes seeing our partners in a new light – the way that was so easy when we first met them – can bring us back to that place of passion, intimacy, and connection.

How do I prioritize intimacy when I’m tired?

This is a crucial question, as most people are tired of the world we live in. When we are tired, our sex lives often go out of fashion. For some people that’s okay, and for others they really start to miss it.

What I talk about with folks is identifying the times of your day, your week, or your month where you’re more likely to have energy. It may have something to do with the time of day – perhaps mornings are better for you than evenings. It may have something to do with the day of the week – maybe Saturdays when you don’t have to go to work are days where you find there’s a little bit more of an opening for sex and intimacy. It may be across the span of a month – is there a certain time on your cycle when you’re more or less interested in sex?

We might discover a sense of ritual if we can track these things and the energy that goes with them. Maybe you and your partner decide that Sunday afternoons are going to be your time to schedule intimacy with one another because you know that the week has been wrapped up, there’s usually not a lot going on that day, and you typically find yourself more energized. Rather than thinking all day every day, “Do I have the energy for sex?”, get to know yourself and your energy levels and find a time that typically works for you.

What should I do if my partner rejects me?

This question really speaks volumes about the vulnerability of initiating. We are more likely to be rejected if we initiate something. Society has taught us that someone saying “no” to sex means something about us – that we, ourselves, are being rejected, that we’re not good enough, that we’re not sexy enough, etc. It is absurd to expect that your partner and you will always want sex at exactly the same time in your day.

So much more often than not, what’s happening when You get rejected is that one person is in a state of openness and arousal and the other person just has a context or environment that hasn’t set them up to feel turned on or desirous.

It’s incredibly helpful to depersonalize that rejection and remember what it does and doesn’t mean. Often it’s not about you, it’s about what’s going on inside your partner. Self-soothe is the best way to deal with rejection. If you are in a relationship where you feel secure asking for reassurance, you can also do this.

You could say something like, “You have every right to say no, but I feel a little bit sad that you did and it’d be helpful to hear that that’s not about me. Or if it is about me, can we talk about it?” You don’t have to hold that in and pretend that it didn’t hurt, but at the same time, no means no and we have to respect that no.

My partner and me want to explore potential sexual interests more, but where do we start? Advice?

A yes/no/maybe list is a great place for couples who are looking to explore new territories. Establish a list of different kinds of sexual acts or acts of intimacy that you and your partner respond with either, “Yes, that’s exciting”, “No, I don’t want to try that”, or “Maybe, I’m open to it but we need more discussion”.

These lists can help you see the areas where your interests overlap. Often there will be 5-10 things that both of you have wanted to try but maybe haven’t vocalized to each other, and that’s a great opportunity to say, “Let’s start with our mutual yeses, and maybe things will open up more as we try new things”. This checklist will give you at least a list that you feel comfortable trying.

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