This recent article in the New York Times, called “Nothing is Wrong with Your Sex Drive” is interesting and important, and especially in light of recent forum discussions regarding female sexuality like this one and this one and even this one, I thought it warranted a deeper discussion here.
Researchers have begun to understand that sexual response is not the linear mechanism they once thought it was. The previous model, originating in the late ’70s, placed sexual desire first, as if it were a hunger, motivating an individual to pursue satisfaction [i.e. “make a move”]. Desire was conceptualized as emerging more or less “spontaneously.” And some people do feel they experience desire that way. Desire first, then arousal.
But it turns out many people (perhaps especially women) often experience desire as responsive, emerging in response to, rather than in anticipation of, erotic stimulation. Arousal first, then desire.
Oh, you mean, some people actually have to be turned on first before they’re in the mood? What a revolutionary concept!! And, like, nothing is “wrong” with you if you’re someone who isn’t spontaneously or instantly aroused? Emily Nagoski, a sex educator, and author of the forthcoming book “Come as You Are: The Surprising New Science That Will Transform Your Sex Life” writes:
“I can’t count the number of women I’ve talked with who assume that because their desire is responsive, rather than spontaneous, they have “low desire”; that their ability to enjoy sex with their partner is meaningless if they don’t also feel a persistent urge for it; in short, that they are broken, because their desire isn’t what it’s “supposed” to be.
What these women need is not medical treatment, but a thoughtful exploration of what creates desire between them and their partners. This is likely to include confidence in their bodies, feeling accepted, and (not least) explicitly erotic stimulation. Feeling judged or broken for their sexuality is exactly what they don’t need — and what will make their desire for sex genuinely shut down.”
It’s such a personal thing, female sexuality, and one that doesn’t get discussed very honestly or openly without shame or embarrassment or a bit of braggadocio. It’s also a very fluid thing that changes dramatically over the course of a woman’s life as she ages and goes through different relationship and lifestyle changes. It can be very easy to not only compare one’s self to what she sees in the media or hears from friends about their sex lives/ sexuality, but to compare one’s self to another version of herself — how she was when she was younger or when she was single or before she had kids or when she was thinner or when she had a different job or lived in a different city or different home. And, yes, often sexuality is circumstantial. For example, have you ever been pregnant? Talk about a change! But, on the other hand, sexual desire is very often a response to stimulus and if the stimulus has changed, or our reaction to it has changed, then, of course, the level of our desire will change too.
Anyway, all this is to say: whatever your level of sex drive is, you are (probably) normal. And if you aren’t happy with your normal or if your partner isn’t happy with your normal, there are lots of ways to improve or change things. I’m no expert on the topic and I won’t pretend to be, but the tip above: “a thoughtful exploration of what creates desire [with you and your] partners” — seems like a good place to start. And for help in exploration, these books may come in handy as well:
Do you have any additional books or resources you’d recommend? Have you managed to work through what you’ve felt have been issues in your sex life?