“But You Never Want to Have Sex” – Understanding Sexual Desire


We think of desire as something that just spontaneously happens – and usually to men – but this could not be farther from the truth.


If you’ve ever wondered why you’re never in the mood, or why your partner never initiates sex, this article will give you a better understanding of the mechanics of sexual desire.

Defining Sexual Desire

Simply put, sexual desire is the feeling of wanting to engage in sex (whether solo or with a partner). Sexual desire is a highly individual and subjective experience. How and when one person feels aroused may differ significantly from another person's preferences. Similarly, different people experience different types of desires.

Types of Desire

  1. Spontaneous Desire

This type of sexual desire can feel like it just appears out of nowhere. This is the case for about 75% of men and 15% of women.

  1. Responsive Desire

For about 5% of men and 30% of women, they begin to want sex only after sexy things are happening, or in response to stimulation, which is often their partner initiating sex.

  1. Contextual desire

The third type of desire, experienced by over half of women and 20% of men, is known as contextual desire or “context-dependent desire”. Contextual sexual desire is when the circumstances and environment impact our ability to feel sexual.

This can be how you feel about yourself or your partner, the fact that your kids are in the next room, or feeling stressed about work, for example.

So, which one is better?

All three of these types of desire are totally healthy and normal. Just because you don’t experience spontaneous desire doesn’t mean anything is wrong with you.

“A lot of women, on learning that they have a responsive or context-sensitive desire style, feel instantly relieved to know that there’s nothing wrong with them, that they just need more of a reason to have sex than folks with a spontaneous style do.”

Dr. Emily Nagoski, author of "Come As Your Are"

How to talk to your partner about your needs

Reading through the different types of desire listed above, are you able to identify yours? Which one feels more familiar to you?

Now that you’ve figured that out, share it with your partner. Let them know what works best for you, explaining that this has nothing to do with how attractive you find them. For example, if you experience responsive desire, let your partner know that you may become more interested in sexual activity when they initiate it or after romantic or sensual gestures. Give specific examples, like them kissing your neck or massaging your thighs.

If you experience contextual desire, share with your partner the factors that influence your ability to feel sexual. For example, let them know that it’s hard for you to feel like having sex if there are dishes in the sink or if the kids aren’t ready for bed by a certain hour. Put together a plan on how to tackle these issues, if that’s important to both of you.


The key to a healthy and satisfying sexual relationship is understanding and respecting each other's unique desires and needs.

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