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Rethinking Desire

Rethinking Desire

By Guest Contributor, Sacha Rockliffe

When we think about sexual desire, we often think of that scene we see played out in movies and on television — two lovers looking at each other with eyes full of lust, ready to tear each other’s clothes off and get down to it. We may remember times when we experienced this type of desire, thinking back to the beginning of our relationship(s), when we were so full of new relationship energy, we were unable to keep our hands off our partner(s). With these two images in mind, we may be left wondering “What happened? Where did that desire go?”. If that question resonates with you, you’re not alone. Many Sex Therapists, myself included, report that diminished sexual desire (also known as “libido”) is one of the most common concerns clients bring to the therapy room.

If you share this concern, you might be interested to know that many of us haven’t actually lost our desire for sex, we just have to take a different path to find it. That’s because there’s more than one type of desire — there’s spontaneous desire, which is that zero to horny feeling we see depicted in the media, and then there’s responsive desire, which is when we experience desire after physical arousal has occurred. Because responsive desire isn’t as talked about or portrayed in popular culture, we often mistake a lack of spontaneous desire for a complete lack of desire overall. So, let’s talk about it…

Spontaneous desire
To put it simply, spontaneous desire is what we refer to as “feeling horny”. The feeling may appear out of nowhere or in response to minimal external stimuli. Spontaneous desire often follows a linear path: feeling of desire —> initial arousal —> sexual initiation —> more arousal. In other words, with spontaneous desire, mental interest in sex precedes physical arousal. On average, women experience spontaneous desire less frequently than they experience responsive desire. In Dr. Emily Nagoski’s book, Come As You Are, she states that only fifteen percent of women regularly experience spontaneous desire. In contrast, thirty percent of women primarily experience responsive desire, six percent report no sexual desire at all, and for the remaining forty nine percent, the type of desire they experience is context dependent.

Responsive desire
Unlike spontaneous desire, responsive desire does not appear “out of nowhere”. Responsive desire is a growing interest in sex that develops in response to sexual stimuli, such as physical closeness, touch, or sexual contact. Responsive desire doesn’t always follow a linear path. In fact, mental interest in sex may occur at different points in a sexual encounter, often after one becomes physically aroused. Have you ever felt neutral toward having sex with your partner(s), but went through with it anyway? Then, as you started kissing and exploring each other’s bodies, you felt yourself wanting it more? That’s responsive desire. It begins from a neutral state and then gradually develops as a reaction to sexual stimuli.

So, the next time you’re watching a movie featuring two people eagerly getting undressed, ready to jump each other’s bones, don’t ask yourself “What’s wrong with me?”, ask yourself “Where’s the representation for the thirty percent of women who primarily experience responsive desire?”. Or just grab another handful of popcorn, enjoy the movie, and remember you’re not alone.

Let’s Talk About Sex!

Do you have a question you want answered or a topic you’d like to see covered in an upcoming blog post? Email me at sacha@westlandtherapy.com (all messages will be kept anonymous). I’d love to hear from you!


Want to learn more about Desire Discrepancy? Watch our seminar with Dr. Carolin Klein. Click here.