what is arousal nonconcordance

Arousal Non-Concordance, Explained

The human sexual response cycle is a complex phenomenon and is often more complicated than people make it out to be. 

It’s normal to think that certain signals mean someone is turned on, like men getting erections or women getting wet. That’s not always the case. 

You may have even experienced this yourself – have you ever had an erection or felt wet, but weren’t turned on mentally? It may have felt confusing or like your body was betraying you.

This is what happens in arousal non-concordance. A sexual phenomenon that’s more common than you might think.

What is Arousal Non-Concordance?

When someone’s psychological feelings of arousal do not match up with their body’s physiological cues, they are experiencing arousal non-concordance. 

The part of your brain that controls reward and desire has neural pathways that are associated with certain sexual stimuli. Things like having your leg rubbed, hearing certain words, and smelling certain smells can all trigger these nerves and activate your arousal response. 

Just because these nerves have been activated, doesn’t mean you’re mentally or emotionally aroused. This could happen if you start kissing your partner and feel changes in your genitals, but are too stressed from work to actually feel turned on. Your brain may be used to sending arousal signals when you kiss, even if your feelings say otherwise.

Arousal non-concordance can be compared to being tickled. Most people don’t enjoy being tickled, yet they still laugh. The stimulation of certain nerve endings can cause people to laugh, which may make the person tickling them think that they’re enjoying it when they’re not – hence the importance of verbal consent.

Arousal non-concordance can be similar to tickling in that it elicits a seemingly positive response for an experience that’s actually negative or neutral. 

It may come as no surprise that arousal non-concordance is more common in women and people assigned female at birth (AFAB).

The body and the brain

There are three types of arousal that all influence each other – physical, emotional, and mental.

Physical arousal is the signals we’ve talking about – erections, feeling wet, and having a flush face. Mental arousal is your thoughts as well as how alert and attentive you are to stimuli. Emotional arousal is your feelings around arousal in the moment – Do you feel excited? Are you enjoying yourself? Connected with your partner?

When these different types of arousal don’t align, you’re experiencing arousal non-concordance, which essentially means arousal isn’t “consistent” or “agreeing”. It can be hard to distinguish between these different types of arousal, especially between emotional and mental because they’re so closely linked. 

This effect isn’t just limited to having sex with someone else. Arousal non-concordance can be as simple as reading a hot and steamy smut book, feeling a little turned on, but not having the energy or desire to act on it.

What causes arousal non-concordance?

Arousal non-concordance is relatively common and can happen when you’re feeling tired, stressed, or busy. 

Certain factors can make it more likelt to interfere with your sex life:

  • Medical issues: People with medical issues like endometriosis, hormonal imbalances, erectile dysfunction, PCOS, or non-reproductive health conditions may display physical signs of arousal, but have anxiety around sex that may relate to pain or embarrassment. 
  • Those with trauma: People who have experienced trauma, whether it be physical, emotional, or sexual may have fear, shame, or a whole slew of emotions around sex. This may keep them from wanting to have it or from feeling turned on, even when their body seems to be.
  • Having certain beliefs about sex: People who grew up in cultures or religions that have negative beliefs may experience shame or embarrassment even when their body seems physically aroused.
  • Those with limited sexual experience: People who have limited or no sexual experience may feel turned on but be too nervous or anxious to have sex with themself or someone else.
  • AFAB: Cis-women and AFAB people only have a 10% overlap between their desire and bodily responses, compared to 50% for AMAB folks and cis-men. This may be in part due to societal views around sex and women.

What to do about arousal non-concordance

Experiencing occasional arousal non-concordance is totally normal, however, it may need to be addressed if it’s causing you excess stress or getting in the way of having a satisfying sex life.

The first step in addressing consistent arousal non-concordance is treating any underlying medical conditions that may be affecting your sex life. This may involve looking at any medications that may be affecting arousal. 

If arousal non-concordance is impacting you on a regular basis, you may benefit from seeing a mental health professional like a therapist or even a sex therapist. They can help you identify where the dissonance is and help you work towards having a healthy and happy sex life.

It’s also important to have clear communication with any sexual partners about what you’re experiencing. While you don’t need to spare their feelings if you’re not turned on, you can be upfront about what’s happening in your mind and body and communicate that you don’t feel like having sex right now.

We have to point out that just because your body is giving signals of arousal, you have no obligation to have sex. To that point, even if you did feel horny, you still never have to have sex unless you want to. Consent is mandatory.

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