Desire is not equally distributed: one wants more often than the other, or the other sometimes wants something else.
If you believe everything you see on TV, everyone has a blistering sex life. The orgasms splash from the screen. The daily reality is different. In many relationships, there is some difference in libido between the partners.
One wants to make love regularly, while the other does not need to. Or one wants to make love different from the other. For example, one partner desperately wants oral sex, while the other does not like it at all.
Partners often differ in what turns them on, how strongly and how quickly they get excited, and what they expect from the other person in bed. In her book If sex drive is not equal, Australian sexologist Sandra Pertot captures these differences in sexual preferences under the term ‘libido types’.
What Is Your Libidotype?
If you do not know how to deal with the difference in libido within your relationship, then the relationship can be severely damaged. When sexual wishes and boundaries do not match, it can cause disagreement, frustration, sadness, or resentment. That colors your relationship, even outside the bedroom.
If your partner almost never wants to have sex, then after the umpteenth ‘no’ you don’t feel like having a nice movie together or having a good conversation.
If, on the other hand, your sex life runs smoothly, this strengthens the mutual bond.
During satisfying sex, the female body produces oxytocin and the male body vasopressin. These hormones stimulate feelings of calm, love, and protection, and strengthen the emotional bond between you and your partner. Research shows that if people have a satisfying sex life, they also enjoy doing other things together.
Sandra Pertot has been working with couples who have sexual problems and differences in libidos for more than thirty years. She discovered the ‘libido type’ phenomenon because she noticed that people can react completely differently to the same type of problem.
In her book, for example, she describes two men – Don and Robert – who both had a partner who had a little sex drive. Don is a sweet man who values his wife’s feelings more than his own.
After getting zero for a while, he no longer asks his wife if she wants to have sex with him, even if he feels the need. He prefers to suffer in silence, which makes him the ‘reactive libido type’.
Robert, on the other hand, is more of the “demanding libido type”: he can’t take it when his wife refuses him sex and gets angry or acts on her guilt: “You don’t love me anymore!”
Pertot increasingly discovered fixed patterns in the way people experience their sex lives and how they respond to their sex partners. In total, she distinguishes ten such patterns or libido types, ranging from people who are addicted to cheating to people who get the most pleasure from pampering their partner sexually. All an example of a difference in libido.
There is no scientific research (yet) that confirms the classification of Pertot. However, there is research that shows that people indeed differ greatly in their sexual preferences and the way they are in their relationship and that this is partly due to differences in the level of the hormone testosterone.
For instance, the more testosterone the woman’s body produces, the more women feel like having sex, have an easier orgasm, masturbate more often and feel less tied to their relationship. Married men who produce a lot of testosterone are more likely to cheat and are more likely to divorce than peers with lower levels of that hormone.
How Good Is Your Sex Life?
Pertot does not say whether libido types are innate or learned. She does state, however, that a libido type is not an established fact; it can change and develop, both positively and negatively.
For example, Pertot talks about Angela and Scott, who, when they just met, were both the ‘erotic libido type’, both of whom loved experimenting with sex and exploring their sexual boundaries.
Angela, however, changed when Scott kept insisting on anal sex when she didn’t like it. She started experiencing and avoiding sex as stressful, she no longer felt safe in the relationship with Scott. Her erotic libido type had made way for the ‘stressed libido type’.
Bridging The Difference In Libido
According to Sandra Pertot, you first need to be aware of your own libido type, that of your partner, and any differences between them, in order to be able to coordinate sexually. There are several solutions to the same problem, the most suitable of which depends on your and your partner’s libido.
Deviating libido types do not necessarily have to lead to problems. It is usually not so much the differences themselves that cause problems, but the interpretation of those differences.
If your partner does not feel like making love, you can think: he or she no longer loves me. But maybe your partner just doesn’t care about sex (anymore) or your partner is simply too tired.
The solution for Don, the reactive libido type Pertot talks about, was to start talking about sex with his wife Grace, an ‘uninterested libido type’. It turned out that Grace thought Don’s lack of initiative meant he never made sense.
While talking, they came to a compromise: they decided to have quiet sex a few times a month. Because although Grace didn’t need sex so much, once they were having sex, she still enjoyed it.
Robert, who became angry when his wife was not in the mood, discovered that he was a “dependent libido type” and used sex to relax. He learned to find a different outlet for his negative emotions and stress. If he feels stressed now, he will masturbate or exercise.
When he makes love, it is mainly because he enjoys sex or wants to show his love for his wife. This is very important for his wife Mellissa, a ‘sensitive libido type’. She feels that sex is an act of love again, rather than a way for Robert to release his tensions, and is, therefore, more often excited.
Scott and Angela had to take a closer look at their ideas about anal sex to solve their problem. What exactly was Angela afraid of? And was that a well-founded fear? And can Scott focus on what his partner does give him sexually, rather than not?
Talk First, Then Act
In order to bridge the difference in libido, a good conversation is important. That sounds logical, but it often happens very little. For example, research shows that about forty percent of all couples talk too little and/or negatively about sex.
Talk to your partner about the expectations you both have of your sexual relationship. What would you like your sexual relationship to look like? What are your expectations of a sex partner? What differences cause grief?
It is important that you consider problems such as ‘no sense’ from each other’s libido type. Why is your partner not in the mood? What does sex mean to your partner? How should you interpret a ‘no’?
From the understanding that follows from these conversations, you can then look for compromises on how often and when you have sex, and who takes the initiative in bed. According to Pertot, most libido types also benefit from regular low-key sex: short sex that cost little energy.
Now low-key sex will not immediately lead to multiple rousing orgasms, but you maintain the emotional intimacy in your relationship with it. Think of it as a kind of maintenance of your relationship.
Special Guest Post by Jennifer Taylor