Responsive Sexual Desire: How It Works for Women

Responsive Sexual Desire: How It Works for Women

Sometimes getting in the mood can be tricky. While it would certainly be convenient for sexual urges to always materialize out of the blue, a myriad of factors affect a woman's craving for sex. Stress, birth control, and even being with your partner long-term can all dampen your desire. And some women (and men) enjoy sex but never feel the urge to initiate it. And that's totally normal, writes sex educator and psychologist Emily Nagoski.

If you don't ever experience sexual desire like a light bulb moment in your pants, but your juices get flowing after your partner has started putting the moves on, then you're experiencing responsive desire. You shouldn't be concerned if you like sex but you just need a little nudging first, writes Nagoski in "Come As You Are: The Surprising New Science That Will Transform Your Sex Life."

Nagoski argues in her book that we'd all have a better sex life if we moved past the standard narrative that sexual desire is just supposed to happen, no effort required. We probably view this spontaneous sexual style as standard because it's how most men experience desire, she writes. Feeling a sexual urge before you head to the bedroom is certainly an easier way to get things started, but it can be liberating to know you can still have sex whenever you want, you just need to know what gets you going.

Female sexual desire is complicated. For starters, vaginal arousal doesn't always correspond with mental desire. That's one of the reasons why the female version of Viagra doesn't work very well. The important thing for sexual well-being is not how much you want sex but how much you enjoy the sex you're having, writes Nagoski.

But if your desire is more responsive than you'd like and you want to take matters into your own hands (or your partner's), here are some of Nagoski's tips.

Quit thinking of it as a drive

You might be bored without sex, but you'll survive without it. Viewing sex as a drive, like hunger, fosters men's sense of sexual entitlement (since they're the ones with more spontaneous desires) and makes women with responsive desire seem abnormal, writes Nagoski. She wants people to view sex as more of an "incentive motivation system." The Incentive Theory of Motivation proposes that some behaviors are encouraged by outside incentives instead of internal drives. 

Figure out your desire triggers

If you experience desire spontaneously, then sex is your goal. But if you're more of a responsive gal, then desire itself can be the destination. And getting there can be fun.

Tell your partner what you want. This can lead to more sexual satisfaction simply because your needs are being met. If you don't know what you need, discover your body with your partner. Curiosity is motivating for humans, so become inquisitive about your turn-ons. Dr. Laurie Mintz's (Becoming Cliterate: Why Orgasm Equality Matters -- And How to Get It) offers instructions on finding the spots you and your partner might be missing.

Most importantly, try to relax. If you're anxious, depressed, or chronically stressed, you're less interested in trying new things, and more interested in simply being in a comfortable, familiar environment, Nagoski writes. And if you're addressing your mental health with medication, but it's decreasing your libido, try exercising to give your arousal a boost.

Change your context

If your desire takes a nosedive every now and then, your context and mental state (not your hormones) is the most likely culprit. If you're in a long-term relationship, you might need to infuse a little novelty and create some space between you and your partner. Consider spending a couple nights a week doing separate activities.

If you can't bear to be apart from your love, then travel to a new place or do something that gets your heart rate up, Nagoski suggests. If you ride a roller coaster or go for a run, your body will experience a general state of arousal that you can transfer to your partner. Exercising in general has been shown to improve physiological sexual health in women. Getting in shape also offers the added benefit of leading to a more positive body image, which can also increase sexual satisfaction.

You're fine the way you are

Nagoski writes that only about 15 percent of women experience spontaneous desire. Most of us experience some mix of responsive and spontaneous. So if you enjoy sex in general, don't worry too much if your unprompted desire goes missing for awhile or forever for that matter. Just talk to your partner so you can create a sex-positive environment to figure out what works for the both of you.

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