The sex gremlins. At one time, they’ve visited us all. Those little voices that pipe up at exactly the worst moment. Like when you’ve forked out half your salary on a night in a swanky hotel and you’ve just ripped off your partner’s underwear with your teeth.
She’s not enjoying herself. He doesn’t fancy you. Your sex drive’s disappeared! You’re dead inside.
But is all hope truly lost when our sexual urges are no longer coming unbidden?
We expect our ‘sex drives’ to be ever-ready, to propel us straight into steamy Hollywood sex, at any given moment. So when we fail to get horny, it feels like our sex drive has ‘disappeared’ and we panic.
Emily Nagoski Ph.D., author of ‘Come As You Are’ and total sex nerd (her words), argues that where we’re all going wrong is even using the expression ‘sex drive’.
What’s Driving Us?
A drive is a “biological mechanism whose job it is to keep the being at a normal baseline – drives like hunger and thirst force us to fulfil them or we risk dying”.
By calling it a ‘drive’ we’re implying that we can’t live without it. But as Nagoski so eloquently points out: “nobody ever died because of not being able to get laid”.
Rather, she categorizes desire into two types: spontaneous and responsive. Spontaneous desire is that sexual lightning bolt. It appears from nowhere and POW, you’re horny. Interestingly, it’s also how the majority of men (70%) experience desire.
Responsive desire, on the other hand, is desire that is triggered. By a dirty text, a slap on your ass, someone sharing their filthy fantasy with you. It’s a response. And for 80% of women, this is their primary desire mechanism.
So in a nutshell, desire won’t always appear like a giant dildo falling from the heavens. If you’re a responsive kinda person, desire can be a fragile creature. One that needs to be nurtured and coaxed out of its little shell. And this, Nagoski argues, can be a very subtle process.
Go, Go, Stop
The analogy Nagoski uses is that of driving a car. We all have an ‘accelerator’ and a ‘brake’. Your ‘accelerator’ gets you turned on by receiving sexual stimuli from the things around you: smells, touch, sexual thoughts. If your accelerator is sensitive, desire will come easy to you.
However, we also have a ‘brake’ system. This assesses all the potential threats in a sexual situation. These could be the fear of an unwanted pregnancy, the fear that you won’t please your partner, or even fear that you yourself won’t be able to climax.
And if your brain perceives these as serious threats, the brakes get slammed on and you shut down. No more fun sexy time for you.
Analyzing your brake system is a good way to understand why and how you get turned off. Looking back at your past sexual encounters, particularly unsatisfactory ones, what made you shut off? Did you worry about your performance? Did you feel unsexy, or worry that you wouldn’t cum? By asking these questions, you can learn what activates your brakes.
But how do you stop them being slammed on? A useful tool is to change your sexual goals, and how you go about achieving them. If your goal is to cum, change the goal to just enjoying the touch of your partner, or the feeling of lying naked together. Lower your expectations of the whole situation (yes, even if you’ve just forked out $300 for that boutique hotel room) and you might find that your anxiety drops.
Another tip is to focus on your senses: the feel of your partner’s skin, the sensation of a sex toy, the sound of your partner’s breath. Focusing on enjoying simple sensations can help you stay in the moment. Anxious thoughts will start to disappear, and your ‘sex brakes’ are less likely to kick into action.
Even if you’re someone with a sensitive accelerator and almost no brakes, your partner may not have the same system as you. By creating an environment where desire can thrive, you’ll both reap the rewards.
So next time that voice in your head demands to know why you’re not horny or where the hell your sex drive has gone, be easy on yourself and your partner. You might just find that those sex gremlins become a little quieter, and sex gets a bit sexier.