[Ed.: You're gagging for it, he fancies curling up with his phone. Or perhaps you're the one who'd prefer doomscrolling Twitter until you pass out. Either way, we've all been there. Over time, incompatible sexual desire leads to a particularly grim dynamic, with the partner who wants more left feeling frustrated and resentful, the one wanting less feeling guilty and ashamed.
Here's a story from G.S., a man who mistakenly thought he could be the Excalicur of his nympho girlfriend's missing orgasm...]
Too much of a good thing
I was 22 at the time, and my own libido was perfectly normal. Like most guys, I used every trick in the book to get girls into bed – get them super-drunk, subject them to poetry, invite them home "for a coffee" then steal their door keys from their handbags.
I got my come-uppance though when I started seeing Alex. We met at a house party. she latched onto me when she found out that I was carrying a lump of hash. We were soon chatting in the garden. She'd just split up with her boyfriend, she thought I was funny, would I like some more wine, wasn't it weird that hash always made her feel horny...
You usually know within ten minutes whether someone's going to be good in bed or not. With Alex, it only took about ten seconds. There was none of that coyness when it came to taking her clothes off, and she'd obviously had a lot of practice when it came to oral.
The only fly in the ointment was that, despite her moans and yodels, I couldn't seem to make her come. Not wanting to make a bad impression in front of the first night critics, I kept trying, but in the end I couldn't contain myself and had a mighty orgasm.
I was expecting the usual post-coital routine: another spliff, some cuddling, more chit-chat. But I had barely dismounted before Alex was tugging at my penis. At first, I tried to put her off with a "Woah, tiger!", but then I surrendered. We had sex once more that night, and again in the morning. (She woke me up with a blowjob, which made a pleasant change.)
At football later that day, I bragged to my friends about her and they were suitably jealous.
Naturally, I didn't mention my failure to make her come, but Alex and I spoke about it on our first proper date. Apparently, she never had orgasms. Not that it mattered – she loved sex.
Part of me took this as a challenge. Maybe I could be the one to pull Excalibur from the stone. Accordingly, I threw myself into the physical side of our relationship with gusto, but, as the weeks turned into months, I began to realize I was living a lie.
I liked sex as much as the next man, but all I really wanted to do after it was fall asleep. But Alex became more insatiable the longer we saw each other. As I collapsed, defeated, after each bout of sex, she'd spur me on by saying how close she'd come. If I could manage just one more...
Our relationship suffered, too. We argued about trivial things and sometimes didn't see each other for days. I guess she thought I wasn't making enough effort, but the fact is there was nothing I could do.
When I sought advice from my friends, they just told me to stop being a poof and wake up to how lucky I was. Nobody understood. They thought I was crazy.
I also felt sore. my penis was tender, as though it had been bruised. It genuinely hurt whenever we had sex. For the last fortnight of our relationship, I made excuses not to stay the night, and of course that made Alex feel even more unwanted. Eventually, I got drunk and decided to give it one more try.
I know now, of course, that she wasn't an evil person. Whether the cause was physical or mental, life had cheated her out of something precious – the orgasm. If I'd been a mature and compassionate person, I might have handled the situation better. but that night I hated her.
We went at it merrily enough to start with, but when I finally came, she wrapped her legs around me and clenched her vagina. It was agony, and my spent penis felt like a piece of fruit being crushed in a fist. "don't... you... dare..." she hissed, grinding hard against me.
I struggled free, jumped out of bed, and started to get dressed. I didn't need to tell her it was over – we both knew it. She sat up, crying, and told me what a shit I was, and a shit lay, and that she'd been cheating on me for weeks anyway.
It was probably true, but I didn't care. I just wanted to get out of there and not have sex for a long, long while. And if you'd told me when I was 16, I wouldn't have believed you...
[Ed.: The anonymous personal story you just read is about a problem that many would just love to have to "deal with," but, sadly, incompatible desire is often tragic rather than hot. We asked Sex and Relationships therapist Dr. Thaddeus Birchard about what to do when sexual desire in a relationship is wildly out of balance.]
How widespread is the problem of incompatible sexual desire?
Dr. Birchard: It happens pretty much in every relationship. On the whole women are rather less inclined to be sexual.
So the stereotype of the frustrated male being slapped away by the tired/bored/ headache-plagued other half is based in reality?
Dr. Birchard: The average man is programmed biologically to be sexual pretty regularly. The average woman isn't. The male of the species maximizes his DNA by being as sexual with as many woman as possible in as short a space of time. The female reproductive strategy is to have one man who is going to give you a small number of children. There are biological underpinnings to the differences in libido.
That sounds like a pretty massive circle to square. Where do you start?
Dr. Birchard: I was talking to somebody in his mid-30s recently who would normally be programmed to be sexual two, three times a week. He is only sexual with his wife about once a month. What's he supposed to do the rest of the time?
Well, you're the therapist. You tell us.
Dr. Birchard: Usually, it's masturbation. According to research the average American has 2.7 sexual outlets a week. That doesn't mean sex with the wife. That includes masturbation, extra marital relationships and all of that. Obviously the bloke is going to feel pretty resentful if he's forced to rely on hand-shandies or has to find a mistress. Or alternatively, it creates feelings of pressure on the woman – "he's always wanting sex." You get a situation where she is making a sexual "provision." But her heart's not really in it.
So what's to be done? And don't tell us scented candles are the answer...
Dr. Birchard: It is a question of negotiation. It requires a recognition on the part of the couple that there's a problem. It is amazing how rarely couples seem to talk honestly about their sexual wants and needs. They just give signals – or expect the partner to know.
What steps should you take if diverging sexual needs are threatening a relationship?
Dr. Birchard: When couples come into this kind of uncertainty my recommendation is that they talk about it. If they aren't able to get anywhere, they should consult a good quality sex and relationship therapist. I don't suggestthey should see a sex therapist because they are in trouble or anything is wrong. But having a third party can make a great difference to what is going on.
Of course many men take matters into their own hands by seeking out extra-marital sex.
Dr. Birchard: I work with a lot of men who are sexually compulsive – you could describe them as sex addicts. I have almost never had someone come to me and say, "the reason I am having an affair is because my wife won't be sexual..."
Affairs are probably caused by other things. Having said that, if the wife is not willing to be sexual with her husband, does she expect him to remain celibate?
What about situations in which the man is the one who doesn't much fancy it?
Dr. Birchard: Sometimes you get men who have something called Sexual Aversion Disorder. The man withdraws from being sexual. This can be very problematic for women. They feel unattractive and undesired. And to be desired is very desirable.
Lots of people have sexual hang-ups. But it seems strange that a man would become involved in a relationship and then go completely off sex.
Dr. Birchard: I'm afraid it happens. It is unhappy – for the man and the woman as well. The man feels there is something wrong with him, the woman feels there is something wrong with her. The idea of sex is a wonderful thing. But it's also a very perplexing thing. For many people, particularly those with memories of unhappy sexual experiences in childhood or adolescence, the sexual act can be disturbing. If you had a particularly engulfing mother, the idea of having your penis engulfed by a woman might not be so attractive...