Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

There’s Nothing Wrong with Your Sex Drive

No satisfaction

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:

1. She Comes First: The Thinking Man’s Guide to Pleasuring a Woman

2. The Return of Desire: A Guide to Rediscovering Your Sexual Passion

3. Things Your Mother Never Told You: A Woman’s Guide to Sexuality

4. Intimacy & Desire: Awaken the Passion in Your Relationship

5. Sex Matters for Women, Second Edition: A Complete Guide to Taking Care of Your Sexual Self

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?

16 comments… add one
  • rawkmys0cks March 3, 2015, 2:29 pm

    Yes!! Totally. This is why its so important to schedule sex when you’re in a committed relationship, in my opinion. Nobody who lives with someone long enough is going to want to bang at the drop of a hat (or maybe some people do, but that’s not the only way!) We had some issues in the beginning of our relationship that needed to be worked out. Namely, that we’re BOTH the responsive type, so we’re both a little shy to initiate. We schedule most of our sex now and it has helped *tremendously*

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    • Crochet.Ninja March 3, 2015, 2:32 pm

      scheduled sex is awesome! gives us both something to look forward to..

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      • rawkmys0cks March 3, 2015, 2:41 pm

        Yup. I’m getting some tonight. Can’t wait! haha

    • Miel March 3, 2015, 4:05 pm

      Totally agree with scheduling sex. I have to remind myself “sex is awesome, thus let’s have sex” because otherwise I don’t have a spontaneous urge for it. But once we decide to have sex, I’m all in, and I discover how much I enjoy sex all over again !

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    • booknerd March 3, 2015, 4:52 pm

      Now that I have a kid, we generally only have a drop of a hat times. But, we both love sex and love getting it on, so it’s been working fine for us. It’s like, “he’s asleep, GO TAKE OFF ALL YOUR CLOTHES. ” it’s pretty fun.

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      • booknerd March 3, 2015, 4:54 pm

        *love getting it on with frequency.

  • Crochet.Ninja March 3, 2015, 2:31 pm

    heh, i thought it was just me lol. my husband and i have a healthy sex life, but very rarely do i just want to have sex spontaneously. i can go weeks without having any particular urge for it. however, if we start kissing (or he wants to and starts kissing me) i’m into it pretty instantly. it’s weird. my body’s like ‘oh hey, yea let’s do this!’ it’s like 0 to 100 in 60 seconds. makes it harder for me to do the initiating, but it happens.

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    • Rangerchic March 3, 2015, 3:28 pm

      I’m the same way…I can also go weeks without thinking much about it, especially since I seem to be tired by 9:30 every night these days!
      I had to have a discussion with my husband about how i am not instantly ready for sex…that there has to be foreplay. Kissing is one of my favorite foreplay activities. I’m going to have to check out some of these books to get more ideas though.

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    • Cleopatra_30 March 3, 2015, 9:51 pm

      Ya I have to say that is how I operate as well. There are definitely times I want it, but 90% it’s just a little something that kick starts it, like a kiss or touch, whether intentional or not to initiate sex. And I think that is why i rarely initiate because I don’t realize I “want it” until the guy starts doing stuff haha

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  • kare March 3, 2015, 2:36 pm

    I’m actually going to the doctor this week because my sex life is suffering. The major factor is that I’ve been experiencing a lot of pain afterwards, so even when I’m in the mood, it’s hard for me to want to have sex since I’ll be in pain for hours. I’m really stressed out about the whole thing…ugh.

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    • Lyra March 3, 2015, 2:49 pm

      If I remember correctly from the forums you were having some issues with your significant other. Do you mind me asking, were those resolved?

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      • kare March 3, 2015, 4:39 pm

        Things have definitely gotten better! He’s been very understanding about the issues I’ve been having and supportive of trying different things my doctor recommends. However, I’m not 100% sure we are compatible in the long term. I’m hoping talking to the doctor clears up some things. I might start a forum depending how that goes…I honestly do not know what’s wrong with my body sometimes.

  • Just Max March 3, 2015, 3:05 pm

    One more book. “Sex After . . .: Women Share How Intimacy Changes as Life Changes” by Iris Krasnow.” I just started reading it and am hooked.

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  • mylaray March 3, 2015, 6:57 pm

    I find sexuality so fascinating, and as much as I love science, this is also why I have major issues with it. Especially when it comes to women’s sexuality. There have been more studies recently on the reason why women have orgasms and it’s messed up they feel the need to “prove” everything. Why can’t we just have them because they feel good? And it’s bothersome how these studies treat queers, especially bisexuality.
    For me, I’ve gone through phases where I will have low or no interest in PIV but interest in other types of sex, and then it kind of switches where all I want is PIV. And I feel like that rarely gets talked about as well. These things really ebb and flow.

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    • Portia March 3, 2015, 11:13 pm

      I’ve had that ebb and flow of what type of sex I want, too! It’s like how one month every year, I crave citrus nonstop, then couldn’t care less and it’s on to apples or berries or avocados or coconut for the next stretch. But, you know, sex-wise.

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  • Anon March 4, 2015, 11:03 am

    Yeah, this is me… or, rather, it was me until about a month ago. My husband and I have always had wildly varying sex drives, and one of his big complaints was that “You never get naked! All you want to do is kiss! Kissing doesn’t turn me on, nakedness turns me on!” Whereas I HATE being naked just for the hell of it. I was always willing once I got turned on, but I didn’t get turned on until after lots and lots of kissing. It was like a Catch-22 of thwarted sexual arousal.

    So now I’m on brain meds, and now for some reason I’m turned on ALL THE TIME (and I don’t want to adjust the dosage because other than the sexual stuff, the meds work decently. Also my shrink is a middle-aged Orthodox Jewish man, so… awkward). And my husband is saying “OK, We’re having enough sex now.” Nakedness/non-nakedness/kissing/no kissing isn’t an issue any more. But the sex itself is now really weird. I think I enjoyed it more when I was LESS aroused, actually.

    Not sure what my point is. Except that sexual arousal takes many forms, and there is no wrong way to be turned on (with a few very obvious exceptions).

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