A lack of interest in sexual activity is one of the most common reasons that women seek out sex and relationship therapy. In fact, it’s one of the most common complaints I see in my practice! This blog is going to break down a common misconception about women’s libido and give you insight into why it’s so easy to judge yourself for how you’re experiencing sexual desire. It’s my hope you walk away from this with a little bit more compassion towards yourself and are more understanding of how your body works. Okay, let’s get started!
Sexual desire refers to your level of interest in sexual activity (Arousal, on the other hand, refers to your physiological response to sexual stimuli). Each person measures their sexual desire based on what they consider to be “normal”, so what is considered a healthy level of sexual desire will vary from one person the next.
Low sexual desire (sometimes referred to as “low libido”) occurs when a person has a reduced or diminished interest in sexual activity. Low sexual desire can create significant personal distress and relationship difficulties that impact women’s sexual satisfaction and self-confidence. But it’s important to understand that just because you aren’t experiencing sexual desire the way you think you should be, you don’t necessarily have a problematic level of sexual desire.
Women are often taught that sexual desire is an urge that comes on spontaneously. This message is reinforced by standarized models of sexuality that promote a Desire-Arousal-Orgasm based model of sexual repsonse. The idea that desire is the starting point for all healthy sexual activity can invalidate sexual responses that don’t follow such a linear cycle. While desire is a starting point of sexual response for some women, sexual desire for others is a more responsive feeling that develops AFTER sexual arousal occurs.
Spontaneous Sexual Desire: Desire that occurs in anticipation of pleasure
Responsive Sexual Desire: Desire that occurs in response to pleasure
Those who have a sexual desire that is more responsive may notice that they need to start having sex, or at least engaging in foreplay, to actually feel desire. While someone with a more spontaneous sexual desire may feel desire first and arousal second, someone with a responsive sexual desire may need to experience physical arousal before they feel desire. Neither one of these reactions is wrong- they’re just different.
Understanding these two types of desire is essential for those who feel that their bodies aren’t doing what they “should”. When our expectations of what we “should” be feeling or experiencing don’t align with the reality, it creates room for self-judgement and shame. That’s when it’s easy to start falling into the narrative of “something is wrong with me” or “my body is broken”. Expanding perceptions of women’s sexual desire outside of the traditional desire-arousal-orgasm model of female sexual response creates opportunities to begin exploring intimacy in a way that feels authentic to you.
If you have a more responsive sexual desire, it may be important to reframe your expectations of what sexual desire looks like in your relationship. Instead of expecting yourself to be spontaneously “in the mood”, it may be more helpful to get curious about what kinds of things trigger your sexual desire!
Want to learn more about your body or your sexual response? I work with women to help them create empowered, fufilling sexual experiences that allow them to be their most authentic selves. You deserve to feel comfortable and confident in your body. Contact me today to set up a consultation so we can get started!