What's one of the primary challenges modern couples face in the bedroom?
Researchers have a fancy name for it: sexual desire discrepancy or SDD.
It's a challenge that basically just comes down to this: one partner wants it but the other doesn’t.
It sounds so simple. And yet this disconnect in sex drive brings up all sorts of complicated dynamics of power.
From the perspective of the high drive partner – the partner who generally wants to have more sex – this dynamic creates frustration and hurt feelings. Each time their advance is met with a no, they feel the sting of rejection. It’s a feeling that may cause them to retreat – to just stop initiating altogether.
Or it may cause them to act out – to lash out at their partner in seemingly unrelated ways or seek pleasure elsewhere in the form of porn or, in extreme cases, even an affair.
From the perspective of the low drive partner, however, it’s just as, if not more, complicated. One woman told us, “when I say no to my husband, I feel guilt first, like I’m doing something wrong. But then I feel outraged. I think to myself, ‘it’s not my job to put out for you.’”
It’s a complicated dynamic that leaves the higher drive partner playing the role of initiator and the lower drive partner playing the role of gatekeeper.
Both roles hold power. The initiator exerts power through their advances. And yet the gatekeeper also exerts power. As one person told us of this dynamic, “Sex can easily be used as a weapon, a tool of power. I was always the gatekeeper when it came to sex. Because I had the lower drive, I always decided whether we were going to do it.”
Research suggests that, over the course of any given month, 80 percent of people in long-term relationships will experience some sort of desire discrepancy with their partner.
So how can you break the cycle of sexual desire discrepancy?
For many couples, the very idea of scheduling sex sounds like the ultimate erotic buzzkill. Sex, after all, should be spontaneous, impulsive, and in the moment. It’s shouldn’t be reduced to yet another meeting on the calendar.
But scheduling time for sex doesn’t have to take the erotic edge off it. This isn’t about sending a 15-minute “Quickie” invite. It’s about setting up longer blocks of time that open a space for erotic moments to organically emerge.
It might be a full hour or two reserved for connection. It’s a long hike that returns to an empty house. If you have even more flexibility, it be a date night with no end time or a weekend away from the kids.
Think of it less like scheduling a business meeting, more like making time to open up space for connection with your spouse.
This is The 80/80 Marriage applied to intimacy, a practice that unites sex and radical generosity as a way to dissolve the power struggle.
One woman told us that this application of radical generosity to sex changed her marriage: “I made an intentional commitment to meet his sexual energy. For my husband, there was an intentional commitment to dial it back so that he could meet mine. We both moved toward each other because it’s such a fundamental way of staying connected.”
She is describing the 80/80 rule applied to sex. It’s moving beyond the line of fairness, the line that stops at 50 percent.
For the high-drive partner, this means being gentler around initiating sex, adjusting to a less frequent rhythm, and being generous when they receive a no.
For the low-drive partner, this might mean being more open to the possibility of your partner getting you in the mood, even if you’re not at the outset. Or it might mean asking, “why am I not in the mood?” and revealing any lingering issues or resentments so you can come back into connection.
No matter what you do, there will be times where one person wants to have sex and the other doesn’t. In these cases, there are two ways to say no.
The first is a simple no: “Not tonight honey. I’m not in the mood.” It’s a no that feels like a pure rejection to the partner receiving it.
The second is to say no and then offer another time when you might want to have sex. It sounds like this, “I’m exhausted tonight, but let’s do it tomorrow night.”
Sounds subtle. But, for the higher drive partner, this second response can change everything.
It softens the bite of rejection. It also takes away the uncertainty that comes with receiving a pure no to sex.
It puts an end to thoughts like, “Does this mean we’re not going to have sex all week, all month, all year?”