High drive, low drive, and perception trumping reality

November 17, 2012

in Better Sex in 2012, Seeing Clearly, Series, Sexuality

In the last two weeks, I have been involved in and read a number of discussions which throw around the terms “high drive” and “low drive”. In several of those discussions, I have expressed my frustration over the terms.

High road and low road @ Stuart Miles | freedigitalphotos.net

I think the terms imply abnormality. She called him high drive to excuse not giving him all he wants.1 He calls her low drive to justify demanding rather than asking. Many men start emails to me by calling themselves “high drive” which I find sad and wrong. I know many men masturbate because they think their drive is high and it is not reasonable to expect their wife to take care of all of it; in our survey on masturbation 46% of men said they masturbate because “My drive is higher and I don’t want to bother her.” Just to show how weird it gets, I might get an email from a fellow who says he is high drive, wanting sex twice a week, followed by an email from a “high drive” woman complaining her husband will not have sex more than twice a week.

Some use the terms higher and lower drive spouse, which is at least accurate, but I still think it fails to deal with the perception and reality issue we really need to addressed: how much sex is right? Is someone’s drive “too high” or “too low”? Should we, as some have suggested, talk about healthy and unhealthy drive rather than high and low?

As much as I would like to give the answer for the rest of eternity on this, I have not been granted that right. However, I do have some thoughts I think are relative.

  • A growing body of well-done research says sex is good for us.2 Good for us includes a longer and healthier life, and many of the benefits seem to be “dose related” meaning more sex results in more benefits.3 From a health standpoint it would be wise to “prescribe” sex at least every other day for all couples.
  • A number of studies have found that all other things being the same, the more sex couples have, the less they fight and the less likely they are to divorce.4
  • More sex has been found to result in being happier.5
  • God told us not to say no.6

This means frequent sex is good for our bodies, our minds, our emotions, and our marriages – in addition to making us right with God. Based on that, if someone does not want sex, or only wants it infrequently, I think something is wrong. There are a good many things that could be wrong, and in some cases much of what is wrong is the fault of the “high drive spouse”, but something is wrong. Given this, the whole “high drive” thing looks to me like an attempt to change reality by painting over it with a skewed perception.

I suggest we 1) stop talking about individuals and talk instead about couples, and 2) discuss what a healthy sex life looks like, and 3) tell those who do not have a healthy sex life they need help.

If you have been called high drive, or thought you might be high drive, I suggest you rethink. Unless you know you would be dissatisfied with sex six times a week, I do not think your drive is abnormal. How you express your desire, or what you want may be an issue, but it is not an issue of drive strength. Among other things, I suggest you need to see your drive as being covered by 1 Cor 7, meaning your spouse, not you, should be meeting your need.

If you have been called low drive, or thought you might be low drive, I suggest you ask yourself if you are opposed to more sex, or just don’t feel much of a “drive”. A growing body of research indicates most women (and some men), do not feel much of a drive, but are still open to and able to enjoy far more sex than they would choose based on their own drive.7 It’s like never feeling hungry, but still being able to eat and enjoy a meal. Never feeling hungry does not mean you have no need for food, and not feeling a sex drive does not mean you have no need for sex. I would also gently suggest your “higher drive” spouse probably has a valid need, and =as the only person who is supposed to have sex with them, you should find a way to meet that need.

Footnotes: 

1 I do know the wife is the one who wants more sex in 20% of so of marriages – swap pronouns as needed for your reality.
2 The often-missed caveat is monogamous heterosexual contact is better than other options, but since we are talking about marriage here, we can assume those for this discussion.
3 A couple of links touching on this – Orgasms, Health and Longevity: Does Sex Promote Health? and Sex does the body good 
Sex – important to husbands and wives
Would more sex make you happier? Studies say yes and Sex – important to husbands and wives
1 Cor 7 – Sexual Responsibility
Sexual desire in women – spontaneous or triggered? 

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12 comments
Kwala
Kwala

Hi Paul I would like to quickly highlight your comment re 1 Cor 7. Very good point, but one small problem.. How do I make my wife understand this??!!! It's not possible!! She's not open to discussion, change, correction or anything. I can simply pray the Spirit influences her. Or can you suggest anything? K

The Generous Husband
The Generous Husband

Interesting comments on how frequency affects drive. We've heard many women say more sex results in a higher drive, but not all women react this way. For both men and women who are not getting what they want it is very difficult to guess what you would need. Additionally, intercourse is generally more satisfying than anything else (see The best sex act? http://bit.ly/n4NQsd) so going from masturbation to intercourse some find they need less to feel satisfied.

workinprogress
workinprogress

For *me*, having more sex has increased my sex drive. While we were going through a period of having sex once a week or less, I really could have cared less. Of course, there were things going on outside the bedroom that were causing strain, but once I committed to initiating sex with my husband every 2-3 days, we have both fallen in sync with our drives. I think part of it is that having more frequent sex has made the sexual encounters better for both of us. he isn't as quick to climax, and thus I am much more responsive sexually. It's like frequent sex keeps things in good working order, and then I *know* that it's going to be a fun party so I don't hesitate to RSVP :-) I share that just to say, if you feel like you are the lower drive spouse, try upping your participation... you might be surprised at how much more you find yourself wanting to make love.

Julie Sibert
Julie Sibert

Great post, as usual! Thanks Paul. Really love how you dig into issues that are incredibly relevant in this discussion about sexual intimacy in marriage.

livinginblurredlines
livinginblurredlines

I thought I was the higher drive spouse until my hubby started making sure I O'd more often. He had stopped giving me O's for years and I was STARVING, so my drive was through the roof! Once he started giving me O's and the MB was more mutual, my drive calmed down and fell more in sync with his.

Annabel
Annabel

P.S. I asked what a healthy minimum might be, but I suppose in keeping with my blood pressure idea it might also be a good question to ask what is a healthy maximum? Twice a day, everyday? I really do think blood pressure is the best analogy I can come up with because I can remember being pregnant and getting my blood pressure checked and the doctor would say, "It's a little high but we will just keep an eye on it, there is no need to be concerned at this point." So it was still "normal", just high normal. And I know a woman whose blood pressure always reads low. Always. But not low enough to be concerning, just lower than the usual. But still "normal". Okay. I have repeated myself enough, I just wanted to make sure I was making sense here. Plus I tend to be a wordy writer - ha!

Annabel
Annabel

Good morning Paul, I have been mulling over this post this morning and I thought I would post a few thoughts & maybe get your response. I think we, in essense, are in total agreement. I think using "high" and "low" drive as an excuse for unkindness towards our spouse is wrong. However, I don't think I am ready to abandon the words just yet, although I am totally open to new ones! Here are my reasons why I think these words might be important: 1. I don't think that we should abandon them just because they might be misunderstood. The Biblical ideas of submission and authority are wrought with misunderstanding and confusion, but they are important and we still use them. We just teach about them. 2. The term "high" and "low" are relative terms. They only mean something when they are describing a comparision. High in relation to what? Low in relation to what? I know that I have read often on sex and marriage blogs that the average sexual encounters a couple has in a week is 2-3. So, without even meaning to, some might see this as "sea level", if you will, of sexual desire. If you desire sex more than that, you might be considered "high". If you desire is less, you might be considered "low". I think, however, that the best place for these terms to relate are (as you said) within a couple. Whoever desires more sex is the high drive, whoever desires less sex is the low drive. 3. Lastly, I think that the reson I think these words are important is because they give us a language to communicate. First within our own marriages, but also within a community. I am (as far as I know) the only Christian "high-drive" wife who is currently blogging. I have been overwhelmed at the women who have connected with me saying "thank you" for trying to speak where a voice is not often heard. They feel alone, strange, unfeminine. I pray that I am blogging from a place of truth, hope and life - with Christ at the center. But I am blogging as a woman who wants sex more than her husband does. So, if nothing else, these terms are helping to connect me to women who can relate and find community. I am not "married" to these terms, by any means. But I do think it's important to have a way to express them. I am not a fan of "healthy" and "unhealthy" unless the "unhealthy" spouse is literally refusing or withholding sex from their partner. I guess to me a high and low drive can both be "healthy", they just might be on different sides of the S curve, if you will. I actually blogged about this a little yesterday. http://spiceandlove.wordpress.com/2012/11/16/mismatched/ Wow. I just wrote a really long response! I would love to hear your thoughts - I am open to being wrong and I want to learn & grow in my own journey. Thanks for opening up about this important topic.

Love Letters
Love Letters

Dude. Stop. We're the men. We get it. I showed this to my wife and she said "his wife never says that." If the two of you are going to blog together and actually have results for couples that read you both, you're both going to need to stay on message.

The Generous Husband
The Generous Husband

Kwala - Nope, you can't talk to someone who will not listen. Your only option to prayer (which is certainly a good option) is to explain to her what the lack of sex is doing to your relationship with her. Of course that will only work if she 1) believes you, and 2) cares.

The Generous Husband
The Generous Husband

Hi Annabel - I wondered what you would think about this, give your last post. I totally get what you said, and I appreciate your trying to live a loving relationship despite the desire struggles in your marriage! Your sea level comment is good, and IMHO part of the problem. If we don't have an accurate fix on "normal" then some who are normal are going to feel abnormal, and some who are abnormal are going to feel normal. I see both of those as a problem. The bigger issue is whether this is a simple matter of preference, or if there are, as I suggested, health and other factors that require a certain minimum frequency. If there are healthy minimums, and the average is below that, then the average can be a road block. Maybe that is my root concern, that many see sex as a nice but unnecessary extra, whereas I see it as an important part of a healthy life and a healthy marriage. If a man or woman is providing half of what their spouse needs, that is a huge problem, IMHO. I've seen language choices used to downplay or obscure that problem. As I indicated, about half of the men in our survey say they masturbate because their drive is high and they don't feel it is fair to expect their wife to take care of it all. For these men "high" means "too high" or "unfair" and it leads them to turn away from their wife. Honestly some of them think they are being loving, because their drive is "so high" and it would be wrong to even ask her, much less expect her to be there for them. The other thing, as I suggested, is that drive should not be the real issue. Meeting our spouses reasonable needs should be the goal, regardless of how those needs may contrast with our own. This is what love does, and it's true in many areas, not just sex. I do certain things more often than I would on my own because my bride needs or just enjoys them. She does the same for me. This is especially true in areas where physical, mental, emotional, relational or spiritual health is a factor. I know it seems "unromantic" but I think we need to look at sex in this way. Finally, I think both too high and too low sex drives are real issues. In both cases these are not natural, but the result of sin, abuse, neglect and so on. If we simply see the whole range as "normal" we can't deal with those who really have a problem. Mostly this shows up as not dealing with men and woman who express no sex drive, but it would also be a factor for the men and women who would be wanting more even if they had it twice a day every day. I hope you know I love your blog - it is a voice that has long been needed. You are far from rare, as you are learning. You have our ongoing prayers and support!

Annabel
Annabel

Hi again Paul, Thanks for the response. It definitely got me thinking in a broader way. I think you are right that there might be many people using the "high drive" concept as a way to disengage from the very hard task of oneness in a marriage. And I completely agree - sex is holy, it matters, it is a part of our spiritual warfare in marriage. It is one of the "standard of righteousness" tools (I believe) that the Lord uses to disarm the enemy's attack. So I would echo you completely that sex is not a "nice but unnecessary" part of marriage. It's a cornerstone of healthy marriage. I guess my challenge is this - how do you help someone define their sex drive? In medicine there is always an S curve to any problem. The trick is figuring out what lies outside the range of "healthy", and where outside that range do various medicines get used? I think blood pressure is a great example. Somewhere and at some point a doctor or researcher made the 'call', if you will, and said "At this point it is unhealthy." Someone had to decide what was outside of normal, so that there could be agreement across the board and a united front on how to treat it. However, there is both "high" and "low" blood pressures within the range of normal. And it doesn't make them bad, just higher or lower. I guess that is really my issue with these words. They are not, in and of themselves, negative (whereas I do feel "healthy" and "unhealthy" are). So who decides when the drive is unhealthy? The other partner? Both of them together? When does a "high drive" spouse become too high? When is a "low drive" spouse need to find help? I guess this goes back to my point about submission and authority - maybe it's not the ideas themselves that are wrong, but the way we have taught about them? You mentioned "healthy minimums" - do you have any idea what they might be? Do you think 2-3/week is a healthy minimum, as other bloggers have suggested? As a blogger and (prayerfully) a woman who is trying to help provide some Biblical direction for others, I suppose I feel I need a language to help others in my shoes know where they stand. I call myself a "high drive" wife, not because I believe my drive is wrong (although I have struggled with that in the past), but because it is higher than my husband's drive. Although I do truly believe that we fall within the range of "normal", if you will. So perhaps we could say a "higher healthy drive" and a "lower healthy drive", if speaking about a normal range? And couples dealing with this are dealing with communication and selflessness? But if a couple is outside of the "normal" range and dealing with low testosterone, or porn, or needing it twice a day every day and still not being happy - well, then we might be dealing with a medical issue, or a sin issue, or an incorrect understanding of sex within marriage? Again, not that we can make a call on it, but perhaps that is how we can approach our blogging so that we are speaking from in the "same voice"? Not sure if these thoughts make any sense, but I do believe that there is a lot of teaching lacking in the church at large about sexual drive and oneness. I am praying for you as God has called you to be one of the "teachers in His church", and really appreciate your kind words about my blog. Let me know your thoughts/comments/corrections on my above thoughts! And thanks for letting me write small books in your comments section :)

The Generous Husband
The Generous Husband

Annabel - Great thoughts, thanks. Let me start by restating something that I should have highlighted better: I suggest we 1) stop talking about individuals and talk instead about couples, and 2) discuss what a healthy sex life looks like, and tell those who do not have such a sex life that they need help. I understand what you mean with the S curve, and I would define it for couples, not individuals. What is the minimum needed for a good healthy marriage? Are there exceptions to that? Is there a too much, and what does that look like? If a couple is sexless and both say they are okay with that, is that alight, or is it an indication they are lacking something important? What about the couple where both choose to have so much sex they have no social life - and no ministry of any sort - is that our business? A doctor is concerned with the health of those he treats. If the patient is fine with something that is wrong, the doctor will still try to help them understand the truth, and what they need to do. You can only push so far, but there is a moral and ethical responsibility, is there not? So, does the church have a responsibility to define a healthy sex life? I think we do. Doing that is going to be difficult, and it will upset some folks, but oh well. Beyond that healthy range there will be individual desires. Some will want the high end of the range, others the low end. Both would be healthy, but if they are married to each other they will have to resolve that. In general I am for giving all you can, be it need, want, or just "I'd like" - I think that is what love does. As to healthy minimum, a lot of the benefits seen from sex suggest a sweet spot about about 3 or 4 times a week - roughly every other day. That is a biologically based goal, which cuts out all the emotional issues and might make it easier. Of course those who struggle to do once a week don't want to hear this. As to terms, I am a lot more comfortable with higher and lower than high and low. They are useful and do communicate that they are relative, as opposed to absolute. So yes, higher and lower are within the healthy range, while high and low would be outside that range. Keep writing comment books, it helps me form my thoughts!

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