Continuing with the theme of sexual myths, I want to talk about a common myth that trips up couples in my practice. Many people come into my office thinking they are broken or missing natural sexual desire, saying they have no libido or sex drive. Often, they have believed one of the common myths about sexual desire:
You should feel spontaneous desire for sex; you should feel “horny”
I describe two basic ways people experience sexual desire—proactive and reactive. Proactive desire is what people normally think of as “libido” or “sex drive.” If you have proactive desire, you feel desire for sex on a somewhat regular basis. You get horny, you think about sex, and you try to have it. You seek it out. You may think this is the “right” way to be, and something is wrong if you or your partner don’t have this experience.
On the other hand, you may instead have reactive desire; a desire that needs to be evoked. You don’t really think about sex. You may not get spontaneously aroused at all, or at least rarely. If you are asked if you want sex in any given moment, the answer is likely to be no. But your sexual interest is there if you go looking. If you go into a sexual situation, if you get kissed, touched, or stimulated, your body often responds. You start to get aroused. The engine turns over! You get turned on. And then you want sex. That reactive desire for sex (the desire that is sparked by a stimulus) is important. In my experience, about half of the population experiences reactive desire. And no, it’s not all women! Some of you are like this from the beginning. Some of you switch in and out of reactive desire based on life circumstances. We all tend to move toward a more reactive desire as we get older. The bottom line is that your desire (and your partner’s) is normal and valid.
Reactive desire isn’t a problem. It’s a valid way of experiencing sexual desire. But it requires the opportunity to arise. You must be willing to enter (or create) the encounter and see what happens. No promises, no expectations, but be willing and open to getting turned on and wanting sex. And if you still experience no sexual arousal or desire at all, you and your partner will have to adapt to that, discovering ways to be sexual that still work for you and ways that you can find pleasure in physical touch.
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