Dear Sex Counselor,
I am a 42 yr old gay woman who has been in a three year relationship with a 41 yr old woman who is quite active. She is involved in a tennis league and plays regularly, but more importantly, she is a runner and trains extremely hard as she is training for the NYC Marathon this year. I am an active cyclist and will workout at home when I can. Neither one of us are over weight by any means but my girlfriend is very thin and eats a mainly vegetarian diet (she doesn’t cook so making salads and baking a sweet potato for dinner is as involved as she gets in the kitchen). I, on the other hand, love to cook and will cook just about anything, keeping red meat to a minimum to once or maybe twice a month (I crave the protein and iron just before my period). Our libido levels are extremely different and it is causing a major problem between us. I should tell you that my girlfriend is hearing-impaired, works in a hearing environment in the healthcare industry and reads lips all day long and that does make her very tired. She does wear high-powered hearing aids which helps her a slight bit. I am very sympathetic to her situation being deaf and have grown to have more and more compassion for her. We do not live together but have long-term plans for that to happen. Unfortunately, we get into situations where our love making is maybe once a week when we see one another on the weekends but there are times that it is down to twice a month. This is disturbing to me as I am a very compassionate, passionate, sexual being and enjoy connecting in that way. It seems that it is unimportant to her because she rarely makes any advances towards me. I know she loves me and I know we are faithful to one another. I’m at a loss here. For the past three years we keep hitting this wall and it’s becoming discouraging. If the intimacy level in our relationship is like this now, how bad will it be if we were to live together? I hope you can shed some light on this for us.
Well...this may or may not be related to her activity level, although it is true that high performance athletes can experience a lower libido. But that is not always true. Certainly it is possible that she has very low hormone levels, but hormones are only one factor in the complex array of what makes one’s level of sexual interest. Much of what plays into level of desire has to do with what we learn about sex as we grow up, and how we perceive our bodies and our sexuality as children and adults. I would also explore whether she has had negative experiences regarding sex, or is a survivor of sexual abuse or assault.
The difference between the 2 of you is quite common, and I will be honest and say that it is most likely to stay the same or get less frequent, unless she has an interest in working fairly regularly at her level of desire. If she chooses to work on it, it could become a bit more frequent, but that’s only if it is important enough to her to make it a priority. The fact that she has to work so hard in a hearing environment is probably a huge strain on her emotionally and physically, and if she already does not have the kind of relationship to her sexuality that you do, it’s much easier to let that part of herself go.
The first thing to do is to talk about it honestly and openly. But be prepared for her to say "this is just the way I am" and know what you want to do if she does. If she is interested in learning about ways to make her libido more frisky, then you can work with a sex therapist on that. But if this is how she has always been, it is much harder to change.
Do be prepared to initiate sex, and not expect her to do so. With folks who have lower levels of desire, they just don’t think about and "feel" sex as much (or at all) as you do. If she says yes when you initiate, that’s something. If she says no often, then that’s something to talk about and negotiate. Find out what circumstances allow her to feel most comfortable having sex. Ask her to help set the priorities for your time together so that sex can be on the agenda. Find out if planning for sex ahead of time works for her, or makes her more anxious about it. These things can help the two of you figure out how to have a more comfortable sexual rhythm.
I don’t have any easy answers for you. Sex therapists report that this is the most difficult challenge that any couple faces, and if someone has a low level of desire and is not bothered by that, s/he is not likely to change it. Then you are faced with the question of whether you can accept her level of desire as enough, or if it’s so important to you that it’s a "deal breaker".
If she is interested in seeing what she can do to help herself enjoy a higher level of desire, there are some excellent books about this topic. While many speak mostly to heterosexuals, it does not exclude lesbians from its focus.
Good luck with this. I hope you can find a way to have as much of what you want in a relationship you enjoy.
The Sex Counselor