Sexual desire gets tossed around quite a bit in conversations between friends and partners trying to make sense of it. Typically by the end of the conversation, we think we have an understanding of what sexual desire is and is not. And then, when we are home trying to enact our new found understanding; we learn it is a lot more intricate than we thought.

Yesterday, I watched my partner slowly undress as they prepared to get into the shower. Slowly, their panties slipped onto the floor. I began to think about what they and I could do with our bodies together at that moment.

“This morning he began to kiss me against the length of my back. At that moment, all I could do was think about the errands I needed to run before work. He continues to stroke my hair and reaches around and begins to slide his hand in between my legs. There were warmth and moisture. I was worried about being late for work now. As he starts to explore my vulva something changes. I find myself forgetting about work and wanting more touch.”

“After a long day at the office, all I wanted to do was touch and explore sexually with my partner. I could not wait to get home.

woman in black lace panty lying on bed
Photo by Jen Theodore on Unsplash

Sexual desire is not a one size fits all model

Desire can show up before, during, or after a sexual experience has begun. For many women, it shows up as a responsive desire. Responsive desire is described as openness and willingness to respond favorably to a partner’s sexual advances, a desire to have other needs met that may be sexual or non-sexual or to pursue an opportunity to be sexual.

A lot of women are comfortable having a partner initiate sex. Still, some women are spontaneous in their sexual desire, which is characterized by sexual thoughts, urges, or fantasies. Many women talk about experiencing both at different points in their relationship or with different partners. Both responsive and spontaneous desires are normal, what is important is that both partners have a chance to feel comfortable in initiating and feeling desired in their sexual relationship.

It is also important to understand what motivates a person to want to be sexual. It is not always about the pursuit of orgasm. 

Sexual desire does not have to come first

The sexual cycle is non-linear and multicausal. This means that sex is natural and it fluctuates, even in a moment of passion. It can start at many different points. For many women, emotional intimacy can be very important to help increase desire for closeness and for many, sex.

Sexual stimuli are important but can be overshadowed by biological and psychological factors. The body, in general, is designed to respond to sexual or sexually relevant stimuli.

It may also respond to exciting or scary stimuli. What is deemed relevant comes from your own personal history and experience. In other words, what turns you on is personal. That would be true for what turns you off as well. While the body is designed to respond to what might be sexually relevant, it can result in arousal non-concordance. 

Non-linear Model Of Female Sexual Response

Arousal non-concordance, what does that mean?

Arousal non-concordance is when your body may demonstrate physical arousal, however, subjective arousal is not aligned.

For many women, a common example is feeling lubrication in the vagina in response to a partner’s touch but not feeling turned on. This means that the body responds even if the brain is not on the same page. It can happen the other way around too. You can feel very subjectively turned on and your body may not show signs of arousal.

This is a perfectly normal part of human sexuality. Why? Because the sexual cycle is non-linear and impacted by many things. Desire is especially impacted by relationship distress, psychological distress, emotional distress, and poor physical health. 

Do I have low sexual desire?

Who you are and what you do in your day-to-day has a great impact on sexual desire. For most women low sexual desire is a result of concerns in other areas of their life. While this may not apply to all, for many women low sexual desire will be secondary to another stressor. 

Here are a few factors to consider if you are experiencing low sexual desire:

Are you satisfied with your relationship?

Do you like your partner?

Do you enjoy sex with your partner?

What are the reasons you want to have sex?

What needs do you have around sex? Are they being met?

Have you experienced any significant or major changes in your life? Your partner? Loss?

Are you experiencing depression, anxiety, or mood swings?

How are things on your job? With your family? Other significant stressors?

How is your physical health? Your weight? Your view of your body? Your view of your partner’s body?

Does sex feel obligatory?

Are you able to masturbate?

If you answered, “yes” to the last question. You may want to really consider what draws you toward solo sex and away from partnered sex. Simply because YOU ARE experiencing sexual desire, as you go toward solo play. And the why could have many answers. 

Sexual response cycle

Desire-Arousal (Excitement & Plateau) -Orgasm-Resolution

In the  60s Masters and Johnson said sex was: 

Excitement (arousal) →Plateau(more arousal) → Orgasm→ Resolution. This model does not mention desire, requires orgasm, and does not account for cultural or social factors.

In the 70s Kaplan-Says sexual desire is more triphasic Desire→Arousal(excitement & plateau)→Orgasm. Desire before arousal? Sill linear. Still orgasm.

Finally, in 2000 R. Basson gave women a non-linear model of sexual response. Incorporates the need for intimacy, acknowledges that desire can be reactive or spontaneous, and may come either before or after arousal, recognizes that orgasms may contribute to satisfaction but aren’t necessary for satisfaction, and considers relationship factors that may impact the cycle as costs or rewards.

5 takeaways about sexual desire

  1. There are many reasons to have sex.
  2. Desire is not just about wanting sex or achieving orgasm.
  3. Intimacy and emotional connection are important.
  4. Desire can be responsive or spontaneous. 
  5. Desire is most impacted by the world around you. 

Sexual desire is not about what’s happening in your panties. It is all about what is happening in your brain! Damn, that’s sexy. 


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