When you think about sexual desire, you usually only thing of one thing — craving sex. But there are actually two completely different types of sex drive: Spontaneous desire and responsive desire. Read on for the differences between the two, how to know which one you are, and what it means for your sex life.
Being Mentally Interested In Sex Vs. Being Physically Ready For It
Before getting into the two types of sex drive, it’s important to make a separate distinction. There are two ways that we get turned on and ready for sex: In our heads and in our bodies.
We can feel mentally interested in sex. The idea of it sounds good. We may even start fantasising about it.
We can also get physiologically ready for sex. For people with penises, that means getting an erection, and the testicles tightening and lifting. For people with vaginas, that means getting lubricated and getting a rush of blood to the genitals. For everyone, that means nipples getting hard, heart rate increasing and breath deepening.
To have sex, both things should happen. You should feel the mental interest in sex (and of course, consent to it), and have your body ready itself for the physical act of it. (For the record, great sex is possible without an erect penis or a lubricated vagina, but the basic idea is that you want your body to be experiencing a readiness for sex.)
The two types of sex drive can be boiled down to which of these two steps happens for you first.
Spontaneous desire happens when that mental interest arises first. You’re just walking down the street or sitting at your desk when - BAM - you start to think about sex. You want to have it.
Ideally, you’d seek out a willing partner and start hooking up. Then your body would start preparing for the actual act of sex.
Most people think that desire should be spontaneous because this is the only way we ever see desire portrayed on TV, in the movies, and in porn. Couples are just going about their days when all of a sudden they’re swept up in the throes of wild passion.
According to researcher Emily Nagoski, about 75 per cent of men and 15 per cent of women have spontaneous desire.
On the other hand, responsive desire happens when you feel that physical readiness for sex before you feel the mental desire. Typically, is that you’ll already be engaged in some sort of physically stimulating activity, then start to feel mentally interested in taking things further.
If you ever agreed to have sex with your partner even though you weren’t fully in the mood, but then wound up thinking, “Huh, that was actually pretty fun,” you’re probably a responsive type.
About five per cent of men and 30 per cent of women have responsive desire. (The remaining 20 per cent of men and 55 per cent of women experience a bit of both spontaneous and responsive desire.)
Why Does It Matter?
Again, most people think that sex drive should happen spontaneously. As a result, people with responsive sex drives end up getting unfairly labelled as “low desire” or even “no desire”. But a lack of spontaneous desire is not the same as having a low libido; it’s just a lack of spontaneous sex drive! Responsive sex drive types aren’t low desire; they just have different needs in order to feel desire.
Is It Better To Be Spontaneous?
I know it might be tempting to think of spontaneous sex drive types as “having it easier” than responsive sex drive types, but each type comes with its own challenges.
In my experience, spontaneous sex drive types often suffer from more performance issues than responsive types. Spontaneous types often expect that feeling the mental desire for sex should be enough, and don’t often give themselves the time to actually get warmed up for sex. People with penises may have a hard time getting erect, and people with vaginas might struggle to get lubricated or have an orgasm.
What To Do With Your Sex Drive
Understanding the distinction between spontaneous and responsive sex drives can be game-changing. I can’t tell you how many emotional stories I hear from people who were ecstatic to learn about responsive sex drives for the first time. When it comes to sex, it’s so easy to feel like something is wrong with you, or that you aren’t like other people. Realising that you’re perfectly normal and healthy can be an incredible weight off of your shoulders.
Once you can get over that unnecessary fear and shame about your sex drive, you can put that energy into discovering how to create a sex life that’s going to fire up your own sex drive.
In this episode we talk to Stephen Snyder, a sex and couples therapist and the author of Love Worth Making. How to Have Ridiculously Great Sex in a Long-Lasting Relationship. We'll discuss why you should be sexually selfish, how the idea of 'desire' can mess up your sex life, and why Stephen is against cuddling.
If you’re a responsive sex drive type, that means recognising that you aren’t going to want to say “yes” to sex until you’re already in the middle of some sort of physical stimulation.
It’s important to take the time to think about the type of stimulation that usually gets you going. If you’re with a trusted partner, you could agree that you wouldn’t say “yes” or “no” to continuing to have sex until you’ve already made out, or exchanged hand jobs, or watched porn (or whatever other kind of stimulation you enjoy) for 10 minutes.
Of course, you never want to push yourself to do something that you genuinely don’t want to do. Rather, the idea is to see if you can feel curious about your desire showing itself in response to a stimuli.
If you’re a spontaneous sex drive type, that might mean giving yourself more time for foreplay, or redefining what sex can be for you. (That is, that it doesn’t always need to involve a hard penis or an orgasm.)
As a couple, that means having conversations about what you each need to feel both mental interest and physiological readiness for sex, and working together to meet everyone’s needs.