What's It Like Dating With a Low Libido?
It was the founder of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud, who originally conceived the term "libido" in the 1890s. He used the Greek word for "desire, lust" to describe the instinctual energy associated with sex drive.
As the term is used today, libido encompasses numerous aspects, from physical and mental desire and biological functions to the driving force behind our personal and interpersonal relationships.
A generally lower sex drive or changes in libido caused by aging or a medical condition aren't necessarily a cause for concern.
As long as the person in question isn't worried.
Libido is unique for everyone, so if you've noticed a change in your sex drive and are good with it, it should not bring about concern. However, if you're worried, you should consult a medical professional, receive a full diagnosis and investigate various treatment options to increase your libido.
If you're single and are casually dating, and you've accepted that you have a low sex drive, how do you navigate intimacy while getting to know somebody new?
Start to set boundaries
"Determine what kinds of boundaries are important to you, for you to be able to sustain dating with your libido where it is," said Jet Setting Jasmine, a licensed psychotherapist and sex educator based in Clearwater, Florida. "To give an example, if I knew that I have a low libido and it takes a lot for me to feel sexually aroused, I may not select dates or pick dates or curate dates that are going to put me in a special situation very quickly.
"Perhaps it takes me a little bit longer to warm up to a sexual situation, so I may want my first couple of dates to be more about getting to know this person, slowly getting closer towards intimacy, until I feel super hot and heavy."
You may not have to disclose that you're taking it slow due to your libido, but you can disclose your preference for dating at a slower pace.
"You can say, 'My case with dating is to go on a couple of dates to get to know each other," she continued. "I really want to spend time talking with you and having different experiences with you before we're in a more intimate setting.' It's about setting the expectation. That way, you're more likely to be successful with your partner."
Be honest about your libido
If you know your libido is going to be a long-term situation and not something you're working toward changing or something likely to change, Jasmine recommended honesty as the best policy.
"It allows you to develop a lot of intimacy from the very beginning," she said. "Also, a lot of partners may be impacted by their partner having a low libido. They think, 'Is it me, do they not want me? Can I not turn them on?' We can skip some of that shared anxiety by being very honest that the issue has very little to do with you, the partner or my desire for you."
How to talk with your partner about your low libido
Never be nervous to talk to your partner about important issues in your life. Think of this as a golden opportunity to figure out solutions together as a team.
Share with your partner that you enjoy their company and that you would like to explore different forms of intimacy.
"For some of my clients who've been together for a long time, I often find that the partner who has a low libido is struggling through this alone," Jasmine explained. "The other partner is often feeling isolated, left out and confused."
Jasmine said the partner with low libido sometimes picks fights rather than promotes communication in order to avoid opportunities for intimacy. This creates further feelings of alienation, so that even if their libido increases, or both partners come to terms with it, there's still pain from feeling pushed away.
"Ultimately, this behavior comes from the feelings of shame and embarrassment, and the stigma that's attached to people having low libido or a different sex drive than what's usually presented," she said. "When we can pull our partners into what we're experiencing, it winds up being so much easier for both."
Bring your partner to your appointments
If you're seeing a therapist or counselor—or another healthcare provider such as an endocrinologist—to treat your low libido, it may be helpful to bring your partner into the fold for professional help.
Hearing about the technical aspects of low libido will help your partner better understand the situation. They'll also hear first-person expert guidance about how to navigate the situation from somebody who has a lot of experience dealing with couples in similar circumstances.
"You can bring that person to therapy or to a medical appointment, so you don't have to go through all the medical jargon you'll hear but don't always remember," Jasmine explained. "And it also helps isolate the problem for what it really is. That it's not the fault of the other partner."
What to expect from a doctor or therapist
You should seek expert advice whenever you notice a distinct change in your libido.
If you're in a relationship, Jasmine advised immediately notifying your partner, because the longer you take to communicate the issue the more likely they may feel hurt and confused from the shift in physical intimacy.
"If you're exploring dating and you know that this is an area where you will not be providing satisfaction for you or your partner, then maybe you want to consider having some different alternatives to the relationship," Jasmine said.
"Maybe I'm opening up for my partner to have other sexual partners," she added. "So maybe looking at open or swinging-style relationships where sexual intimacy is something we outsource to a sex worker, sex surrogate or another partner. Sit with yourself and think about what you can offer a new partner, to help fill in the gaps."
For certain folks, the goal may not be to return to the previous pace of sexual desire and arousal. Intimacy is important in any romantic relationship, but it doesn't always necessarily have to equate to physical sex. Jasmine recommended couples dealing with mismatched libidos—perhaps even couples who both have low libidos due to natural factors such as aging—have fun finding other ways to express intimacy.
"What are other ways we can express or engage in intimacy that gives us some pleasure together?" Jasmine asked. "Maybe our version of sex is sitting on the couch and eating ice cream together."
Some resources for someone with low libido and their partners include:
- Individual or couples therapy from a licensed provider
- Support groups or forums (especially for those with specific medical causes of their low libido)
- Consulting with a specialist such as an endocrinologist
For certain couples, finding alternatives such as using a toy, taking classes from a professional sex educator or seeking a sex surrogate may help them navigate mismatched libidos.