Leandie Buys Realtionship Therapist & Clinical Sexologist

Desire Discrepancy – When your libidos just don’t match

(Excerpt from Seasons of Sex by Clinical sexologist, Leandie Buys)

Sex does not necessarily lead to intimacy, but intimacy in a relationship will often lead to sex…

If a couple has good communication skills and feels deeply connected to each other and safe within the relationship, the next step is making love. Women’s libidos are affected by their emotions, their physical health, and their psychological health. Men’s libidos are less emotional and are mostly affected by stress and illness.

It is extremely important for couples to know the factors that influence their partner’s libido and to understand the sexual response cycle.

The sexual response cycle

The sexual response cycle begins with desire, moves to arousal, then orgasm, and ends in resolution. The process from desire to resolution is different for each couple and for each individual.

Unequal levels of desire are one of the most common relationship issues that I see in my practice. Most often, the woman has a lower sex drive than her partner, but I have seen an increasing number of couples where this is reversed and where it is the male who has a lower libido.

I would also like to dispel the belief in society that “a person with a high libido is more normal than a person with a low libido”. This is definitely not true.

Sexual desire is unique to each individual, just like driving techniques are different for everyone.

A woman should never force herself to have sex with her partner just to try and satisfy him. This type of sex is not loving, passionate, and fulfilling, and it is done just “to make him happy”.

“Mercy sex” leads to women feeling resentful and negative towards their partners and towards love-making, and I often counsel women who feel that they are “being used as a sex slave.”

Sex is one of the key factors for intimacy in a relationship

If the sex is not good, the relationship will eventually lack a deep emotional connection, and the couple will become “like two strangers living in the same house”.

Desire Discrepancy

The result of desire discrepancy is the “pursuer/distancer” cycle, which was first described by the sexologist Dr Rosie King.

This cycle entails that the partner with the higher sex drive becomes the sexual pursuer. This pursuit takes the form of frequent initiation – in the hope of ‘getting lucky’. The pursuer may complain about the lack of sex, sulk, or initiate more frequent arguments in the relationship.

The partner with the lower sex drive then becomes the sexual distancer. S/he tries to avoid sexual contact. This partner may go to bed early, be reluctant to hug and kiss (in case it leads to sex), and refuse to undress in front of their partner. Unfortunately, the behaviour of the distancer provokes the pursuer to chase even more.

Emotional withdrawal and resentment

The result of this cycle is that the couple begins to withdraw from each other emotionally and physically. The distancer becomes hyper-alert to contact and affection because s/he sees it as a sexual invitation. The distancer talks less and becomes less affectionate. The intimacy of the relationship decreases. Partners develop bad feelings towards each other and may even end up sleeping in separate beds.

The “pursuer/distancer” cycle may also result in “mercy sex” where the distancer agrees to have sex and wants to “get it over with” as quickly as possible. This leads to the distancer desiring sex even less; thus the “solution” to the pursuit eventually becomes part of the problem.

How to boost the intimacy in a relationship

Sex does not necessarily lead to intimacy, but intimacy in a relationship will often lead to sex. If a couple has good communication skills and feels deeply connected to each other and safe within the relationship, the next step is making love.

People communicate on three different levels. The first level is where they chat about “everyday” things like sport, food, and entertainment. The next level is where people begin to share more personal details about themselves like their fears, their ambitions, and their pasts. The final level is a level of deep intimacy usually reserved for a couple in a relationship. This is the level where people talk about very intimate details like sex and fantasies.

Sometimes a relationship has not reached this level of intimacy where partners feel comfortable enough to make themselves vulnerable. This is particularly difficult for women, and it affects the emotional attachment they feel towards their partner.

What is LOVE in your relationship?

In order to raise the level of communication and intimacy in a relationship, a couple needs to find out how each person “perceives love” and what they can do to ensure that their partner feels loved, safe, and secure in the relationship.

The Five Love Languages by Dr Gary Chapman is a brilliant book which uncovers how different people perceive love differently. I recommend it to all couples who are working on deepening the intimacy in their relationship.

In my practice, I often suggest that couples redesign their duty rosters. Make sure that each partner feels satisfied with the amount of responsibility s/he has. Also, set aside time at least twice a month for a “date night” where you can spoil each other.


To read some case studies on desire discrepancy, and how couples have overcome this obstacle in their relationships, read Seasons of Sex by Leandie Buys.