What to Do About Mismatched Sexual Dynamics
When it comes to sexual desire, particularly among heterosexual couples, we tend to believe a common trope: big horny man wants sex constantly, submissive woman shies away. But the reality is much more complicated than that myth and much less based in biological essentialism. Sex hormones aren't binary. Testosterone tends to be associated with surges of sexual desire and perhaps even changes to sexual proclivities, but nearly all adults produce testosterone at some level. Those levels vary, not just from person to person regardless of their sex, but also from moment to moment in each individual. This is homeostasis—the ways our bodies constantly regulate, shift, change, renew, heal and manage.
This fluidity within our bodies is also a characteristic of our sexual orientation, gender expression or understanding, libido, desire and overall erotic experience. Everyone is always changing, and the likelihood that you and your partner's sexual desire and preferences will match at every turn is low. Bottom line: if you have sexual relationships, you will most likely encounter a discrepancy between your sexual desire and your partner's.
Managing sex-drive discrepancies
When one partner is in the mood for sex and another partner isn't, there are a few ways to go about resolving the rift. Sex toys, changing sexual acts, watching porn or reading erotica together are all successful strategies. Mutual masturbation can help maintain sexual intimacy, but so can solo masturbation as well. The key is to keep channels of communication open and flowing, a finding corroborated by a study in Archives of Sexual Behavior. Their analysis indicated that 57.1 percent of couples who communicated through their problems found their strategy very helpful, compared to 45.7 percent of couples who masturbated alone and only 9.1 percent of couples who disengaged entirely.
Aces, allos and greys
Not everyone experiences sexual attraction—this is typically called asexuality. Its opposite, allosexuality, describes sexual attraction that is often presumed to be universal. Grey-asexuality describes a spectrum of experiences on either side of that binary. For example, some people only experience sexual attraction after specific kinds of relationships develop. There are many different ways that a person experiences asexuality, and it is often not an all-or-nothing experience, but rather a spectrum of desire. Some people are repulsed by sex entirely or only specific acts. Some people enjoy certain aspects of sex or masturbation without feeling sexual attraction to others.
The key, as always, is communication. You have to know yourself, what you want and be able to express that to a partner. Communicating about what is and is not a deal-breaker for you is vital to avoiding resentment, enmity or even trauma.
Tops and bottoms
For queer and trans folks especially, the terms top and bottom are typically used to differentiate between giver and receiver of sexual acts. A common problem in relationships is when it turns out you've fallen in love with someone who shares rather than complements your role in sexual desire. This means that the desired power dynamic when it comes to sexual interactions may not be present.
It is sometimes said two tops have an easier time together than two bottoms—think of topping and bottoming through the metaphor of leading and following in dance. Two leaders won't look pretty, they might be fighting over where they're going, but they're going to end up somewhere on the dance floor. Two followers might not even manage to grab onto each other, let alone come up with hot moves.
In either of these cases, it can be helpful to reframe what sexual intercourse looks like. You might consider using toys to supplement what you're not comfortable doing with your partner or change the focus from penetration to a different sex act that you both enjoy. Just because sex with this partner may not look like the sex you're used to or the sex you thought you wanted doesn't mean it won't be wonderful (and hot) in its own way.
Sexual desire is fluid
The fluid dynamics of power and pleasure offer space to rethink what sexual acts mean and what sexual roles say about us. All that matters is what your sexual acts and desires mean to you and to your partners. Strap in, or strap on, for the adventure of figuring that out.