In this week's Sex IDK column, Emma McGowan, certified sex educator and writer, answers your questions about getting in the mood for sex.
Q: How can I get "in the mood" when I'm really not feeling it?
Reader, it sounds like you might experience what Dr. Emily Nagoski, Ph.D., has named “responsive desire.” It’s a complicated topic — and I really, really recommend you read her book Come As You Are for insights into libido and desire — but basically, a person with responsive desire becomes aroused after some kind of sexual activity starts. That’s in contrast to “spontaneous” desire, which is someone who sees someone attractive and then wants to have sex. (For example.)
According to Dr. Nagoski, the majority of people assigned male at birth experience spontaneous desire. And because we live in a sex-negative and misogynistic culture, that type of desire is considered “normal” while people who experience responsive desire are considered “abnormal” or “broken.”
But guess what? Both are totally normal! Whether you’re more spontaneous or more responsive, the way you experience desire is one hundred percent OK.
However, the two different responses require different ways of getting into it. While someone with spontaneous desire might be ready to go just from seeing their partner walk out of the shower, a person with responsive desire is going to need a bit more than that. Think of it as a flame: If you have responsive desire, it’s like an ember that needs blowing on to create a full, raging fire. And anyone who has ever lit a fire knows that can take a while.
So, the first step (after you read Dr. Nagoski’s book) is to talk to your partner about it. Let them know that you’ve come to this realization about how your desire works. There’s no need to present it as a problem — remember, responsive desire is common and totally “normal” — but rather a great insight that can help you two make your sex life even better.
You might also want to come to that conversation with some ideas about things your partner can do to help “stoke the fire,” so to speak. Does non-erotic touch like massage turn you on? How do you feel about the dirty talk? Is there a certain outfit of theirs that you love? What’s your favorite sex act? Figuring out what makes you tick can and communicating those things to your partner can lead to a more satisfying sex life for both of you.
Another method that you can do all on your own is to cultivate your sexual fantasies. When sex starts, get that fantasy playing in your brain. By imagining whatever it is, you’re fanning your own fire and helping move things forward.
And, finally, a reminder: You never have to have sex when you’re not in the mood. Ever. Period. But I completely understand wanting to meet your partner where they’re at — sex is an important part of romantic, intimate relationships for most people. And the great news is, with the help of your partner, you absolutely can get there.