The Validity of Libido as a Love Language

You have probably heard about “love languages”. If you are completely unfamiliar, there’s a quick primer at this website; the short form is this: People tend to show affection in five different ways, largely summed up as “Words of Affirmation”, “Quality Time”, “Receiving Gifts”, “Acts of Service”, and “Physical Touch”.

The point of the “love languages” model is that different people express – and receive – love in different ways. If you typically only “hear” acts of service as showing love, but the other person is used to expressing love by giving gifts, it can appear that the other person does not love you, even as they’re screaming it as loud as they can. It’s just in a different love language.

You can find more about love languages all over the place (including a whole series of books addressing specific situations), but I want to focus on “physical touch”.

But I’m going to call it by a different name.


When “physical touch” gets rebranded “libido”, a whole different set of assumptions and judgements gets pulled into the mix. That’s why – for just one example – Dan Savage (a sex and relationship advice columnist) routinely gets questions about mismatched libidos. A recent example is in this column: “The Relationship Is Lovely and Loving But Entirely Sexless and Can You Guess What Dan’s Advice Will Be?

I’m not going to disagree with Dan’s advice here, but I want to clarify and reinforce something: Libido is incorporated in one of the five love languages, and should get the same respect and consideration the rest of them do.

Too often in cases of mismatched libido, the person with the high libido is treated as if they’re a glutton. It’s as if the high-libido person eats too much chocolate or drinks too much. The requirements of their libido is treated as a luxury… or worse, as someone who abuses a luxury.

But that isn’t how it feels to the high-libido person in that relationship.

It’s just like any of the other love languages being ignored.

The high libido person hears the words “I love you” and “I’m attracted to you”… at the same time that their partner is rejecting you, even literally turning away from you while they say those things.

As with any case of mismatched love languages, it’s not JUST the feeling of near-constant low grade rejection from the person you love. It’s that feeling of near-constant low grade rejection… from someone who is simultaneously telling you they are not rejecting you.

All the things the “lower libido” person wants are damn near automatic, because the “higher libido” person desperately wants that physical connection with the person they love.

I’m not shaming or condemning the person with a lower libido. I don’t think it is on purpose or anything.

But I am saying that it gets treated differently than the other love languages. In our relationships, we must remember that sexual expression is an important way of showing love. For some – even many – it is an extremely important, if not the most important way of showing love.

If there’s a mismatch, there are lots of ways and resources to work together so that you each can “speak” the love language the other needs to hear. Some starting points:

If that’s not enough or doesn’t work? Just like with any love language miscommunication, psychologist Jennifer Rhodes points out:

Still, if you aren’t feeling taken care of by your partner after you’ve expressed [what love languages you speak and how you need to experience love], then Rhodes also suggests that it might be time to end things or dive deeper. “If after several attempts to communicate your needs, your partner is still not getting it, then you can think about whether this is the right relationship for both of you,” she says.

Featured Photo by Pablo Heimplatz on Unsplash

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