Does sex sound good until it actually comes time for the act, and then you’re suddenly tired and not in the mood? You’re so close to having desire until it vanishes right before your eyes. Or maybe you’re struggling with zero desire, wishing for it to return without any real options about how that might happen.
Sexual desire feels like the magic potion you need straight out of a fairy tale. Natural. Effortless. Transcendent. Spontaneous. The problem is, it rarely feels like this because it’s not how sexual desire works, at least not the majority of the time, leaving countless women and men to question why they struggle with no desire. Many end up assuming they’re the problem.
But the reality is, there’s no such thing as ‘no’ desire. We all have it because we’re sexual beings. That means the question is not if it exists, but how do you live it out? This Expert’s Advice to
What is Sexual Desire?
We’ve been led to believe desire is what we see in movies and TV shows—this spontaneous, out-of-the-blue, effortless kind of desire. While spontaneous desire is an actual type of desire, it’s not the only type.
More than how you find desire, it’s about how you cultivate it. Understanding that while desire can come out of nowhere, most often, especially in females, it is built through connection and cultivation that produces sexual desire.
The key to more desire is learning what produces desire in your life and doing more of that.
Of course, men and women are going to respond differently to desire. Men tend to contain more spontaneous desire, while women are responsive. Considering most people view desire as the spontaneous type, this can make women feel like they have no desire only because we don’t understand the responsive type of desire.
Of course, it does take more for women to warm up, making it appear like their desire is less than men’s. But the truth is, while women’s sex drive may be slower to build, it can reach higher heights.
Desire is how you cultivate it.
There are a lot of misconceptions we need to break surrounding desire. The three big ideas you need to know include:
- Your desire will and should fluctuate over time and throughout different seasons of your life. This isn’t wrong. It’s normal.
- Sexual desire isn’t just for sex. It’s a desire for intimacy and connection. Sex can provide that if you shift your perspective of it.
- There is nothing abnormal about your level of desire – in fact, there are multiple types of desire. Understanding all three can help you see desire is a bigger picture than what we see on screens.
According to the author and researcher Emily Nagoski, desire shows up differently for men and women and can vary within gender. In her book Come As You Are: The Surprising New Science That Will Transform Your Sex Life, Dr. Nagoski notes three types of desire.
01: Spontaneous Sexual Desire
Spontaneous desire is exactly what you think of it. It can show up instantly, with or without stimulation. This type of desire can happen because of a thought that comes up out of nowhere or a quick image that ignites sexual thoughts. Spontaneous desire is what most people assume is all desire.
Most men will experience spontaneous desire some if not all of the time, but most women do not share this desire. While it’s the most understood type, it’s important to note not everyone feels this type of desire. If you don’t, that’s okay.
It’s normal not to feel spontaneous desire, but that doesn’t mean you don’t desire. You just do so differently.
02. Responsive Sexual Desire
Responsive desire is when mental interest in sex comes after external stimulation. This type of desire happens through physical touch, a quick make-out session, watching your spouse undress, or watching or listening to an erotic story. It is the type of desire that happens through the stimulation of your senses.
This type of desire often gets lumped into zero desire when the reality is that you just need more stimulus to accelerate the process. You need a deeper connection, physical touch, and space to build your desire. You could say this desire requires some level of work, but more than work, it’s a form of relaxation.
3. Contextual Sexual Desire
Just like it sounds, contextual desire is based on context. This type of desire is influenced by circumstances and environmental factors that impact the ability to feel sexual desire. Contextual desire classifies desire based on what is happening in the background of your life. Showing the ability for desire to plummet when you’re carrying excessive work stress, when your kids are around and needing attention, or based on your energy level.
Boost desire by working to reduce circumstances that ruin your desire, like a romantic work trip, self-care practices, or going on a date.
5 Ways to Boost Sexual Desire
According to Dr. Emily Nagoski, we all have an “accelerator-brake system” This helps us to understand what turns us on and just as importantly, what turns us off. Accelerators are those additives and tools that help us develop desire. Brakes are the obstacles to feeling good, unmet safety needs, health problems, and stress.
Boosting desire comes down to accelerating or cultivating that desire. Doing something to build it. When you find ways to increase your accelerators and ease your brakes, you can experience desire more fully. Think about subtle things you can add to your life that create desire. Here are five ways to get started.
01. Take Care of Your Basic Needs
Desire is similar to motivation. It’s a metric of how much energy you have. Without enough energy and under a state of stress, your body down-regulates its sexual response and causes your sexual desire to plummet. Whether you want to reproduce or not, energizing the body to a place where it feels safe is the key to boosting desire.
How you eat, move, sleep and live is a metric of how you’ll feel desire. A metabolic diet has been shown to boost desire and pleasure response through the consumption of healthy amounts of protein, fat, and carbohydrates. You’ll only experience desire if you have the energy to do so.
02: Deal with Stress before heading into the bedroom
Stress will kill your libido almost instantly. Pay careful attention to shifting your perspective of stress. Helping your body and mind de-stress under stressful circumstances. Try not to let stress linger and include more stress-reducing practices in your life, like moving your body, taking hot baths, reading a good book, connecting with other people, or practicing a hobby.
03: Understand the story of sex you grew up with
Many people grew up not talking about sex while simultaneously being exposed to images or other ideas about what sex is. In some cases, sex was considered “bad” before marriage but “good” after marriage creating a mass of confusion inside your brain.
The story you grew up learning about sex impacts your sexual experience today. In many cases, it’s a story that needs attention, shifting that story to truth and health. I would encourage you to understand the story you grew up learning, confront it, and put truth back into it. In some cases, you may need a trained therapist to help you with the process.
Your sexual wellness is important enough to do this work.
04. Ignite Your Five Senses
Sexual desire and pleasure are enhanced by your five senses. Paying attention to each of the five senses helps you connect with your body and experience pleasure on a more intimate level. Try to engage with your senses outside of intimacy. Allow yourself to feel the warmth of the sun on your skin or the way the sweater feels on you. Take a few deep breaths in the fresh morning air and feel the embrace of a hug.
Let yourself feel everything you can. The more you connect with your body, the deeper you’ll feel pleasure and desire.
05. Work Through Discrepancies in Desire
One of the primary reasons people seek sex therapy is discrepancies in desire. Understanding how to foster each other’s desires is important in promoting intimacy. All couples will experience a difference in desire at various points, if not all the time, in their relationship.
Instead of viewing this as a bad thing, learn why type of desire the other person most often works out of and help boost that desire. If one person has a responsive desire, spending just as much time out of the bedroom touching, holding, and opening up in intimate and non-sexual ways will almost always boost a physical feeling that will lead to a mental desire. Help yourself boost desire and find joy in helping your spouse in a way that suits them.
Cultivating The Magic
Instead of waiting for desire to fall upon you, cultivate the magic of desire in yourself.
If you’re the spontaneous type, you may feel the mental desire before the physical arousal. If you’re the responsive type, you feel the physical arousal first, then the mental desire second. The point is, whatever your primary desire type is, it’s not wrong or bad, and neither is your spouse. It’s learning about their desire so you know how to support it.
Cultivating sexual desire is like learning something new. It takes a certain amount of immersion. The more you sprinkle it throughout your life in subtle, even non-sexual ways, the more you’ll think about it, and the stronger the desire will grow.
The goal is to unearth the desire for pleasure, connection, intimacy, and self-worth.