Sex Advice

I’m a Sex Therapist, and This Is the Most Common Issue I Treat

Mary Grace Garis

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Sex therapist and cognitive scientist Nan Wise, PhD, author of Good Sex Matters, has been exploring sex from all angles since becoming a psychotherapist in the 1980s (she became a certified sex therapist in 2008). And through it all, one common sexual problem keeps coming up in her work.  “As a sex therapist, I’ve observed that the biggest issue that stalls a sex life after the honeymoon glow of new relationship energy wears off boils down to one basic problem: the individuals’ libidos or sexual love styles that simply don’t match,” says Dr. Wise.

While sexual desire comes in different forms (think: spontaneous versus responsive desire) that can work together, Dr. Wise contends that it’s the “desire curve” that comes into play with new relationships that poses a big challenge to mismatched styles of intimate engagement and sex drive. That is, when we first date someone, our new relationship energy (NRE) makes our horniness spike, inviting us to kind of forget our resting or “baseline desire” rate.

The desire curve is the natural path your sexual desire takes, from the lower point at baseline to the big juicy peak of NRE—followed by the inevitable and slippery slide down into post-NRE,” says Dr. Wise. “Whether you start off with a relatively high or a relatively low level of sexual desire at baseline, NRE is going to drive up your sexual energy. This is what fuels us feeling the post-NRE crash so acutely. “

And after the crash, it’s common to discover a conflict of what Dr. Wise calls erotic “love styles,” which includes both what turns us on and how we like to have sex. So in order to bridge the gap between mismatched libidos and get yourself excited again, she suggests a multi-pronged approach.

Dr. Wise says the most common sexual problem she treats is mismatched desire and love stye. Here are her 6 tips to bridge the gap.

1. Start by sorting out where you are on the desire curve.

Don’t sweat about where exactly you are, “enjoy the peaks and don’t sweat the valleys,” she says.

2. Identify your own and your partner’s erotic “love-style”

When you’re in the honeymoon period, love style maybe not even be something you notice, but since partners can have vastly different preferences, take note. For example, someone who needs soulful connection to access their sexual energy might have trouble with a rough-and-tumble lover who’s more interested in athletic sex than eye-gazing after the big NRE buzz wears off. At this point, if it seems you and your partner aren’t meshing well, don’t panic.

“Mismatched libidos can provide an opportunity to explore and expand your own erotic repertoire,” says Dr. Wise. “Use the bedroom as a playground to get inventive with your sexual styles.” Dr. Wise also developed a test for designating what your erotic love-style might be. Take the test, and also have your partner, and then use the results as a talking point to keep communication lines open.

3. Learn to stoke your own responsive desire

When the excitement of NRE wears down, we return to stoking the embers of our own responsive energy instead. Think about all the little rituals that came naturally during the early days of the relationship, like, say, flirting.

“Be the lover you want to have,” says Dr. Wise. “Show intense interest in your partner. And don’t be afraid to take matters in your own hands and get the juices flowing by giving your partner and yourself a jump-start with some physical strokes as well.”

4. Take risks to ask for what you want in the bedroom

“This is the way to keep your sex life alive,” says Dr. Wise. “Stop relying on your habitual sexual relationship and start relating in present time. Cultivate the courage to get bolder in conversations in and out of the bedroom. If you aren’t comfortable with taking risks, all the more reason to do so. And if you lack ideas, ask your partner what [they] really, really want. That’s taking a risk, too.”

5. Address lingering resentments that might be dampening your desire for your partner

This could be as serious as infidelity or as simple as them not ever doing the dishes. Whatever it is, talk it out.

“There’s nothing as dulling to a sex life as long-standing, low-boiling upsets or frustrations,” Dr. Wise says. “Make sure to spring clean the basement of your relationship by having regular and productive active-listening sessions—the number one tool I teach couples—so you can get mad and get over it!”

6. Learn to turn yourself on

Sure, that might mean tapping into your self-pleasure regularly and not neglecting your vibrator just because you have an S.O. But it also means really establishing your individuality, and having a life outside of your relationship that’s fulfilling and rich.

“People who cultivate lifelong sexual potential are those who are erotically engaged in living,” says Dr. Wise. “They pursue their passions for learning and experience as human beings. When we cultivate ourselves as separate individuals, we can be both part of and apart from our relationships in ways that enliven. Go out and fall in love with life and bring that home to your partner.”

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