Jordan Ferranto, LCPC, ATR
There is a wide range within the spectrum of desire for sex among humans. Many people refer to this as a “sex drive” and understand that different people experience different levels of either higher or lower sex drive. However, a common misconception about sexual desire is that it is a static, unchangeable part of our sexuality.
In reality, a person’s desire for sex can ebb and flow throughout their lifespan. It’s pretty standard for a person’s desire for sex to shift moment to moment depending on their physical, emotional, and relational contexts.
What we perceive to be a “drive” for sex is an interlocked set of systems in the brain that interpret stimuli from these various contexts as either a turn-on or a turn-off. After receiving adequate stimulation, which is unique to each of us, the brain then sends signals to our genitals to inform us that we are aroused and perhaps would like to have sex.
This explanation of sexual desire is referred to as the Dual Control Model. It’s important to mention here that there is no “right” or “wrong” level of sexual desire. If you are satisfied with where your passion is on the spectrum, there is no problem with it. Normal as all this may be, the ever-changing landscape of your sexual desire can be of concern for many reasons.
One of the most common causes of distress around sexual desire is when one finds themself in a relationship where their passion doesn’t match their partner’s. The chief complaint being disagreements around the frequency of sex.
Ever felt the sharp pinch of rejection after frequent attempts of initiating sex without reciprocation from your partner(s)? Or maybe you’ve felt the mounting pressure associated with doing the math around how long it’s been since you’ve agreed to sex with your partner(s), whose interest in sex exceeds yours.
Often, desire discrepancy in partnerships creates a relational dynamic in which the person who desires sex less frequently feels inadequate while the person who wants sex more regularly feels unwanted. Nobody ends up with a satisfying sex life.
A typical attempt at resolving this conflict is to settle on a mutually agreed-upon number. How many times a week should we have sex? While this may work for some folks, I am here to tell you that when it comes to sex, quality is more important than quantity. Instead of asking yourself how often we should have sex, try asking how we like the sex we are having?
The process of relieving the distress around desire differences is centered around exploring what a truly satisfying, pleasurable sexual experience looks like for all parties involved. As sex educator Emily Nagoski says, “Pleasure is the measure!”.
Generally, you are much more likely to desire sex if sex is something that you enjoy. As mentioned before, if you are satisfied with your passion level, there is no need to alter it. However, if you wish to enhance your desire, this could be possible through proper education and experimentation.
Folks can discover the specific contexts they require to allow their natural desire to emerge, leading to increased passion. Doing this work within the context of couple therapy can be an excellent option for folks who feel unable to address their concerns independently.