Sex­ual de­sire can be more of a re­sponse than a drive

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We’ve been mar­ried for 10 years and I find that I some­times have sex with my hus­band with­out ex­actly be­ing in the mood. It’s not al­ways a problem be­cause it reg­u­larly leads to sat­is­fy­ing sex once we get go­ing. How­ever, there are oc­ca­sions when I am re­ally just go­ing through the mo­tions. My hus­band can tell and it af­fects his self-es­teem. Surely it would be worse for him if I said that I just wasn’t in the mood?

>> You clearly en­joy sex some of the time, so what is dif­fer­ent about the other times? Is it that he ini­ti­ates sex when you are feel­ing tired, stressed or ir­ri­tated? Are you pre­men­strual, or hav­ing a pe­riod? Or does your hus­band, like so many, rush to pen­e­tra­tion be­fore your arousal has time to build?

Iden­tify what feels wrong when you zone out and you can fo­cus on find­ing a so­lu­tion. Share what you learn. Your hus­band will be re­lieved that you are not ig­nor­ing the is­sue and you can then work out the way for­ward. If the cause is stress or tired­ness for ex­am­ple, sched­ule sex for when you are most relaxed. If the is­sue re­lates to hor­monal change, warn him when you are ap­proach­ing the end of your cy­cle. And if you sim­ply need longer to warm up, sug­gest a greater em­pha­sis on fore­play, or agree that you must al­ways come first.

Li­bido ebbs and flows and it is rare for both part­ners to want ex­actly the same amount of sex at ex­actly the same time, so all cou­ples have to work out ways to ac­com­mo­date each other’s needs.

When one part­ner is less in­ter­ested in sex it can be prob­lem­atic be­cause their lack of de­sire de­ter­mines the level of sex­ual fre­quen- cy in the re­la­tion­ship. This can be very dif­fi­cult to re­solve if the less in­ter­ested part­ner is never will­ing to ac­com­mo­date their part­ner’s needs. If the more in­ter­ested part­ner is re­buffed of­ten enough, they may stop try­ing, but in some cou­ples, the is­sue is not mis­matched de­sire, but the fact that the lower li­bido part­ner doesn’t ex­pe­ri­ence feel­ings of arousal un­til sex­ual ac­tiv­ity has started.

Dr Rose­mary Bas­son of the Univer­sity of Bri­tish Columbia Sex­ual Medicine Pro­gram pro­posed the idea of “re­spon­sive sex­ual de­sire” in 2001. Hav­ing ob­served count­less cou­ples in com­mit­ted re­la­tion­ships, she con­cluded that for women, sex­ual de­sire is not a “drive” but a “re­sponse” that has to be “trig­gered” by se­duc­tion, touch­ing, cud­dling and kiss­ing.

Bas­son’s model of re­spon­sive de­sire em­pha­sises the fact that get­ting in the mood for sex is not al­ways a sim­ple process. It re­lies on emo­tional in­ti­macy just as much as it re­lies on de­sire. It also ac­com­mo­dates the fact that for women, arousal can be a slow burn.

More re­cently, Bas­son has ar­gued that this model ap­plies equally well to men, even if it con­tra­dicts the stereo­type of the male li­bido as an un­tame­able beast. For­tu­nately, the same strate­gies work in re­verse and a woman who wants sex can in­crease the chance of get­ting it if she makes gen­tle emo­tional, phys­i­cal and sex­ual over­tures.

Fi­nally, al­though or­gasm is not the be all and end all, if you don’t al­ways have one and your hus­band al­ways does, it can act as a dis­in­cen­tive. The or­gasm gap be­tween men and women closes as cou­ples get to know each other more in­ti­mately, but it re­mains at a 3:1 male to fe­male ra­tio if sex is re­stricted to pen­e­tra­tion. If your hus­band is not a gen­er­ous and ad­ven­tur­ous lover and you are not rou­tinely sat­is­fied, it would ex­plain why you lose in­ter­est.

This is some­thing a lot of women feel bash­ful about rais­ing with their part­ners, es­pe­cially if they feel self-con­scious about the length of time it takes them to achieve or­gasm, but any man worth his salt should be will­ing to put in a bit of ex­tra ef­fort.


ebbs and flows and it is rare for both part­ners to want ex­actly the same amount of sex at ex­actly the same time

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