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The Art of Reclaiming Sexual Desire, Part 2: Stoking the Fires of Responsive Desire

Updated: Jan 30, 2020

“A majority of sexually satisfied women say they don’t feel much spontaneous desire…[w]hat they do feel is the ability to generate desire by intentionally seeking erotic stimuli, which in turn elicit a sexual response. This is wonderful news. Instead of waiting passively for spontaneous desire to strike, it’s entirely possible to actively set the stage in which desire and arousal can flourish.” Dr. Glenda Corwin, “Sexual Intimacy for Women: A Guide for Same-Sex Couples.

In last month’s blog, I discussed the realities of “spontaneous desire,” and how the intense mixture of neurochemicals associated with a new relationship conspire to make desire to feel easy and natural. During this phase of a new relationship, that which we call “spontaneous” is anything but: new lovers carefully script dates down to the smallest detail with an eye towards delighting one another. Yet once the neurochemicals associated with limerence recede, this heady and natural desire fades for many couples, leaving them to believe something is wrong either personally or with the relationship.

Here’s the truth: beyond limerence, most women and many men experience responsive desire, which means that sex is something we intentionally choose. We know that once we engage with erotic stimuli, we’ll experience arousal then desire. And we choose to have sex knowing that it will feel good, inspire connectivity and deepen intimacy. Yet, many struggle with this notion and believe that if it doesn’t come naturally, why work for it?

Our cultural training makes us resistant to being intentional about sex in a multitude of ways:

  • Cultural messaging tells us that sex is “natural” and should be spontaneous, when sex is both natural and a learned skill;

  • Most women never think about being intentional about sex because of our “good girl” training: “good girls don’t;” or “girls/women who like sex are sluts”; even when we know this is bunk, it can be hard to overcome!

  • We feel guilt about deliberately trying to get ourselves turned on;

  • We’re waiting for someone/something else to respond to because we’ve been taught to believe that it’s ok to respond to stimuli, but not to create our own;

  • Sex = pleasure and our culture is pleasure averse;

  • We are taught that sex is taboo and we can’t talk openly about it;

  • We feel shame if we acknowledge that we want sex;

  • Some people are simply lazy about initiating sex, instead longing for the effortless sex of limerence and youth.

The reality of desire for most of us is this: the choice is intentional sex or no sex. There simply is no secret well of desire into which we can tap to generate effortless sex. So how do we take responsibility for developing our desire?

  • Decide it’s worth it: to you, to your relationship. Sex is connection, vitality, deep energy exchange, intimacy—and more. Believe you deserve this.

  • Make time for sex. For those who chaff at this, remember: responsive desire means we need to be more mindful about meeting our sexual needs. You can build tremendous anticipation with a partner after setting your date for sex by sending randy texts as foreplay, or leaving one another spicy notes, or tucking sexy underwear in one another’s brief cases…

  • When it’s time to meet your sweetie for sex, show up! No engaging in projects, e-mailing, etc. Turn off all cell phones and other devices. Take some transition time to get in the mindset of showing up for sex. That can be spending time alone, taking a bath, masturbating—whatever you need to be ready to fully engage with your partner.

  • Read erotic literature. The most important sex organ is the brain and using it to generate interest in sex is critical. Because most women have been culturally scripted to avoid sexual curiosity, it may feel taboo at first—and it’s worth it to push past cultural brainwashing. Erotica can be a tremendous turn-on, can reveal turn-ons we never imagined, and open a whole world of sensual delight.

  • Indulge in fantasy. Fantasy, whether masturbating or with a partner, allows us to release inhibition, and experience heightened arousal and more powerful orgasms. Whether from erotica, women-friendly porn, or your own musings, develop a range of fantasies that turn you on. Source your turn-ons from a rich array of fantasies. Keep an erotic journal. If you enjoy writing, why not pen some of your own fantasies? Your fantasies are your own to savor—so even if you enjoy fantasizing about things you’d never want actually do, that’s just fine! It’s your mind and you can inhabit it any way you want.

  • Invoke the senses: Immersing in sensory pleasure definitely helps to stoke desire! Whether it’s tasting a delicious piece of chocolate, smelling fragrant spring air, listening to the wind blow through the trees, when we are immersed in our senses, we are out of our thinking minds and more available to experience desire. Dancing to erotic music is also a fantastic way to sink into the sensory—and get very turned on! Especially for women: learn to pay attention to signs of arousal. Studies have shown that when women are directed to focus on signs of arousal (vaginal lubrication, muscle tension, warmth in the pelvic region, increased heart-rate, nipple erection) they are more aware and responsive to those signs. So becoming mindfully aware of arousal is key to women receiving feedback about arousal from themselves. Again, our culture does not encourage women to attend to their own arousal: we’re instead taught to focus on our partner’s satisfaction, or on being pleasing to our partners. Becoming mindful about what arousal feels like can definitely stoke desire!

  • Make it fun: visit a sex positive toy store like Eugene’s As You Like It, The Pleasure Shop and pick up some new toys, books, or BDSM items. A very fun book for couples is: 101 Nights of Great Sex, in which couples take turns choosing a page—which then directs an activity.

There are many ways to cultivate desire. The most important factor? Your willingness to sidestep your resistance to doing so based on the belief that desire should “spontaneous.” As long as you are willing to show up eager and relax into arousal, desire will follow.

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