Two letters illustrate the dilemma:
“I”m 43-years-old and married to the same good man for twenty three years,” writes a woman from Staten Island, New York. “My husband sees sex as a nightly habit necessary to a good night’s sleep. It is rare for him to get into bed and just want to go to sleep. I don’t think that it’s being deprived to skip one or two nights between sex—but he nags and then sulks. I am not interested in sex two nights in a row, usually. I’m beginning to see sex as a nightly chore before I can finally go to sleep. I’ve been made to feel that his needs must come first—and after twenty three years, I’m getting fed up. Please don’t tell me I’m lucky. Too much is as bad as too little. Must I be pestered because of his higher sex drive?”
The next letter presents a similar complaint, but from a different angle:
“What do I have to do in order to have sex with my husband?”, asks Jan from Montreal, Quebec. “My husband refuses to have sex with me. He says he is preoccupied with work and other endeavors, and has just lost interest in lovemaking. We haven’t made love in three years, and I’m frustrated and angry. I don’t think there is anyone else he is having sex with, I think he just isn’t interested anymore, although he still gets erections. But this hurts my ego and sense of pride. We are both young enough to still be enjoying ourselves. Is there anything I can do?”
There are many reasons why two people may have differing sexual desires: a lack of closeness, affection, trust, hygiene, or intimate sharing, poor conflict resolution and problem solving skills, anger, stress, growing more distant from each other, and not respecting each other—to name only a few—may all be factors that keep your relationship cooler than you might like.
There are, however, legitimate sexual appetite differences between people. Some are giant differences (three times a week vs. three times a year), and some are relatively smaller differences (twice a week vs. three times a week, although to the people involved, that difference could be a source of major anger and conflict.)
The rule of thumb is this: the person who wants sex more—male or female—typically feels more hurt, frustrated, angry and rejected than the other, and is, therefore, more reactive and quick to temper.
This is a delicate and often painful subject, for it touches on the very essence of our sense of masculinity or femininity—what it means to be a man or a woman—as well as our sense of desirability, our attractiveness, and what we expect a relationship to give us. Different sexual appetites can also generate issues in a relationship, such as how much nurturance, touch and affection we expect, and fear of closeness and intimacy. The problem is potentially explosive, because one person’s desire is sometimes interpreted by the other as an issue of control, dominance, manipulation, coercion, or not respecting me and my right to say “no.”