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For Your Marriage

Not Tonight, Honey: Dealing With Desire Discrepancy

The old stereotype describes men as frequently having sex on their mind while women are often not “in the mood.” As with most stereotypes this is an unfair generalization. But as is also true with stereotypes, it evolved because there was a kernel of truth in it. Indeed typically male sexual arousal can be compared to a microwave – instant and fast – while a woman’s is more often like an electric stove – slower and steady. But it’s not always that way.

Remember the days of your courtship when attraction was intense and it didn’t matter whether you were male or female. You felt passion for each other – or perhaps in hindsight it was romantic infatuation. Still, your physical desire to hold and kiss each other was strong. You wanted to be in each other’s company constantly, and might do ridiculously silly things like walk in the pouring rain together and not be bothered. Your love for each other was strong followed by an almost irrational desire to join your bodies too…and now you’re married.

For most couples, that physical romantic high continues for awhile into marriage. After all, much is new and exciting about your life together. Romance thrives on newness and excitement so a typical couple still finds that both desire to express their love frequently. Often there is little difference between male and female libido. And that is the natural law implanted in our genes. For the continuance of the human race, male and female need to be powerfully drawn to each other.

According to research done by Michael Liebowitz, a research psychiatrist at the New York State Psychiatric Institute, when we feel attracted to a person of the opposite sex, it triggers a neurotransmitter called phenylethylamine (PEA) which combines with dopamine and norepinephrine to create pleasingly positive feelings toward the other. This “love molecule” can prompt euphoria, increased energy, loss of appetite, and less need for sleep. It thus increases sexual desire and the human race continues. But this intensity is impossible to maintain. The effects of PEA start to diminish after about six months and have pretty much subsided by the second year of a relationship – just enough time to mate and procreate.

Of course human love is about more than chemicals and neurotransmitters but it does help to understand why a man and woman can feel head over heels in love with each other and later this feeling of ecstasy can lessen. The challenge is to find ways to refresh your relationship so that you can experience some of the excitement that newness brings.

But back to our stoves. While many men’s sexual drive often stays very active with little needed to arouse them to desire sexual intercourse, many women’s drive (originally aided by PEA) slows down after a couple years. The advent of a child can also turn her attention and energy away from her husband. Even though this is not unusual in marriage, it doesn’t make for a happy relationship if your arousal rhythms are not in sync.

So are husbands and wives doomed to frustration if one spouse wants to make love more frequently than the other? With love all things are possible and this is where the desire for your spouse’s happiness can make both of you happier. As with most things in marriage, it’s a matter of loving effort and compromise.

The spouse with the desire for more frequent sex (often the husband) can go out of his way to prepare a romantic environment. Light some candles, pamper her, take your time. The spouse who may not as quickly be ready for sex (often the wife) can resolve not to say “no” too quickly, knowing that given a little time and attention she may also become aroused.

The important thing to remember is that arousal discrepancy (as the experts call it) does not generally reflect a lack of love by that spouse who desires less frequency but rather based in biology. Remember too that the stereotype will never fit everyone and that it is not unusual for roles to reverse in marriage with the wife being more interested in making love than the husband.

Lovemaking is a sensitive area to discuss with your spouse, and you may fear offending or hurting your spouse’s feelings. It’s one of those topics in which you become very vulnerable to each other. Go gently, patiently, lovingly, and meet in the middle.