Prescriptions for Sexual Frustration

Last Editorial Review: 4/6/2005

You want it more, he or she wants it less. Sexual frustration affects almost every couple. So how do you get past it?

By Martin  Downs
WebMD Feature

Reviewed By Brunilda  Nazario, MD

Forget the penis for a moment, and the vagina and clitoris, too. Even when the genitals are working the way they're supposed to, with or without medical help, sexual satisfaction can still be difficult to achieve.

Sexual dysfunction often takes center stage when we talk about sexual problems, but it isn't the only cause of sexual frustration. Sometimes nothing in the medicine cabinet can help couples sort out their sexual differences.

Ask several different people what makes for good sex, and you're likely to get as many different answers. To one, it may be a specific sex act or situation, while another may answer, "with my true love," and yet another may never have given the question much thought.

"Sexuality is so self-defined," says sex educator Violet Blue, who lectures at San Francisco State University and the University of California at Berkeley, and whose many books include The Ultimate Guide to Fellatio and Sweet Life: Erotic Fantasies for Couples.

"Each person's sexuality is as individual to them as a fingerprint," she tells WebMD.

I'm Hot, You're Not

You're always eager to get it on, and time between sexual encounters seems like an endless stretch of desert between one oasis and the next. Or maybe you think you're having plenty of sex, and you can't fathom why your partner broods over not having enough.

"It's normal to have one partner want sex more than the other," Patricia Love, a marriage and family therapist and author of Hot Monogamy, tells WebMD. "I think this is the most common frustration that men and women have."

And it isn't only an issue between men and women. "These kinds of things show up in same-sex relationships just as much," says sex therapist Louanne Cole Weston, PhD.

We usually assume men have bigger sexual appetites than women, a stereotype that holds true in many cases, but by no means all.

Weston says a considerable number of women want sex more often than their male partners do. "It's more of a closeted problem," she tells WebMD, because of embarrassment on both sides. Not only do these women get frustrated because they're not getting what they want, "they take it as a negative comment on their own attractiveness," she says.

"There's a fair amount of negative speculation" regarding men with lower sex drives, too. If he lacks interest, she may wonder if he's secretly gay or has another lover on the side.

New thinking about the female libido may explain why women seem to want sex less frequently than men do. In a 2001 article in the Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy, researcher Rosemary Basson, MD, of the University of British Columbia, proposed that many women need to become physically aroused before their desire for sex kicks in. Couples may run into trouble when women don't understand this about themselves.

"If I'm sitting around waiting to feel like I want to have sex, or to desire to have sex, it ain't gonna happen," Love says. "I have to make a conscious decision to become aroused, to do whatever it is that arouses me.

"All you need is the desire to desire to be a great sex partner. But we're not used to being intentional about it."

So how often does the average couple have sex? What is normal?

"I will never answer the question," Lou Paget, a sex educator whose books include The Great Lover Playbook and Hot Mamas, tells WebMD. "And you know why I don't? Because I know someone's going to get beaten up with that number."

You Want to Do What?

As frustrating as it is to not have sex as often as you'd like, what's worse is not being able to do what you like. Maybe you have a fantasy your partner isn't willing to help you fulfill, or a certain sex act is off limits.

It could be something relatively tame, like having sex with the lights on instead of in the dark, or something as crazy as ... you name it.

Violet Blue says she routinely hears about three things that would really make someone's day, but their partner says, "no way": anal sex, swallowing after fellatio, and arranging a threesome.

Typically she hears this from men, but that doesn't mean women are all shrinking violets. "Men tend to be more vocal about wanting to try a particular sex act or a particular fantasy," she says, but "women are always proving me wrong. They always blow my mind with how shocking they are about sex."

For those in long-term relationships, it's frustrating when something that was a favorite dish when the romance was new is suddenly taken off the menu. But it's not uncommon for people to extend themselves beyond what they would normally do when they're infatuated and eager to please. When they're not in such an accommodating mood anymore, they retract. That's understandable, but it can seem like false advertising.

"The reason the person signed up was because you were behaving like that," Paget says. Of course, you're not obliged to do anything that makes you uncomfortable, but understand if your partner is peeved.

Work towards a compromise if you can. "You can move in graduated steps," Love says. Start with something that's close to what he or she wants to do, get comfortable with that, and then try something closer still. If you're on the receiving end of the favor, don't insist on having everything exactly your way. Perhaps you want oral sex, for example, but your partner will only do it when you're fresh out of the shower. That is what Weston calls "the price of admission." Sometimes you have to accept it.

Singles are not exempt from frustration and anxiety about their quirks and kinks. You may not be locked into sexual negotiation with one partner, forever, but then again, new partners don't know what you want, and you may have some explaining to do.


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"You have to learn to be creative with your sexual communication," Violet Blue says. All too often, when people get together, they share everything about themselves -- their tastes, pet peeves, histories, and habits -- except for what pertains to sex.

"They think they know what the other person is thinking and wants to do," Paget says. "Invariably they're not accurate."

The Myth of Spontaneous Sex

You catch her eye. She comes to you, and you tumble into a passionate embrace. Sultry notes from a tenor saxophone rise in the background. You tear at each other's clothes. The air quivers with the heat of your lovemaking.

That may be the scene, but we often forget how it was set.

"All the things that people use as an example of spontaneous sex," Paget says, "those things were all planned."

Phone calls were made, dates and times agreed upon, email checked, work wrapped up, teeth brushed, privacy secured. Most people rarely find themselves swept into a totally unexpected sexual encounter, and they may become frustrated because they don't do enough planning, expecting that kind of spontaneity.

It's a major pitfall for parents. If your sex life has withered since you started a family, the reason may be that you are not fitting sex into your schedule. "Couples who weather the storm of parenting, and make their relationships work, they absolutely make their intimacy and their relationship a priority," Paget says. "They do not assume that their sex life is going to occur spontaneously."

You don't have to go so far as to pencil it into your calendar, but at least make sure your partner knows when you are available.

"The act of having sex begins with someone saying, I want to," Violet Blue says. "You have to say, I want to, and this is what I want to do."

Published March 21, 2005.

SOURCES: Violet Blue, author, The Ultimate Guide to Fellatio and Sweet Life: Erotic Fantasies for Couples. Patricia Love, marriage and family therapist; author, Hot Monogamy. Luanne Cole Weston, PhD, sex therapist; author, Sex Matters®. Lou Paget, author, The Great Lover Playbook and Hot Mamas. Basson, R. Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy, October 2001; vol 27: pp395-403.

© 2005 WebMD Inc. All rights reserved.

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