Many people struggle with a lack of desire. There can be many reasons why you are not interested in sex, including being asexual as your sexual orientation. There is nothing wrong at all with not being interested in sex. It only becomes a problem when you perceive it to be. This can be when you want to have an appetite for sex but find that you don’t. Or, when you are in a relationship and there is a discrepancy in sexual desire between you and a partner. Please note that differing desire between partners is very common. There is no “right level” of sexual desire of “right amount of sex” that one should have. As such, in the case of desire discrepancy it’s not that the lower desire person should be labelled as having a problem. It is simply a discrepancy. Whilst not the focus of this article, please contact me if this is something you would like help with.

With many reasons for low desire, I want to focus in on two topics in this article:

  • Understanding how desire works and that you can take charge of it, and
  • lack of pleasurable sex and how to change this.

The perspective in this article is based on women and focused on heterosexual sex due to the research that it is based on. That is not to say that the principles can’t be applied to other genders and sexual orientations.


Understanding Desire

Desire is a misunderstood topic. It is often assumed that we have a spontaneous drive for sex, but sexual desire does not work in the same way as the need to eat, drink or sleep. Without food, water, and sleep we don’t survive, but we can survive just fine without sex.

When you are in a new relationship the hormone cocktail that is released, and the novelty of getting to know a new person, usually contributes to increased desire. This is when you might notice desire to appear more spontaneously. It is also the case that you might spend more together and create situations where sexual desire can flourish. In order words, you prioritise intimacy and sex. However, with time the excitement of the novelty fades, the date nights are replaced with work and household shores, and you need to put effort into maintaining a good sex life. The sex perhaps becomes less exciting, more routine, and so desire for it diminishes.

date night picnic outside couple kissing


Desire is not spontaneous

Sex research in the 1960’s and 70’s implied that desire (a psychological urge to engage in sexual activity) appears spontaneously and leads to sexual arousal. Sexual arousal on the other hand is a state where the brain sends out messages that prepares the body and genitals for sexual activity. For example, you get wet. (This is mostly an automated reflex, and you can get wet without feeling desire).

What later research has discovered, is that desire isn’t in fact spontaneous in this way. Research now suggests that we experience arousal first and then desire, and not the other way around. (Basson, 2003). This is called responsive desire and it basically means that something sexy needs to happen first, and then you begin to want sex.


You are in charge of your desire

Basson suggested that women in long term relationships usually are in a state of “sexual neutrality”. That is, they do not experience spontaneous desire. What Basson proposed was that if women are receptive to things that turn them on, provided there are no negative psychological or biological barriers, they could experience sexual arousal. The arousal can then lead to desire.

Responsive Desire
The circular sexual response cycle


So, for this to work, you need to open your mind to the fact that you could experience sexual desire if you trigger it, without first having it.

A trigger can around you, and then you feel desire. If, following the desire, you have a positive sexual experience which is emotionally or physically rewarding, it makes you more likely to repeat the behaviour. When we understand desire in this way, we see that if you just sit and wait for desire to magically appear you could be waiting a long time! Instead, we can take responsibility for triggering our own desire. In this sense, you are in charge of your desire.


Sex Worth Having – Pleasurable Sex

Let’s look at one sentence from the above section again: “If, following the desire, you have a positive sexual experience which is emotionally or physically rewarding, it makes you more likely to repeat the behaviour.”

So, if the sex that you are normally having is not pleasurable, why would you desire it? The answer is you probably wouldn’t. Pleasurable sexual experiences make you want sex more, and poor sexual experiences make you less inclined to want sex. I have personally experienced this, and I have learned to be more honest with myself and more clear with others regarding what I find pleasurable. This makes for much better experiences.

The key to being able to trigger desire therefore is to have something worth triggering it for. I like to think of this as sex that is worth having.

If it’s not good enough, say no

For me, sex worth having is something that will not leave a neutral or negative experience, but a positive one. Ideally it leaves you energised, relaxed, glowing, buzzing, pleased, satisfied, content, ecstatic, or whatever it does it for you. Sometimes you don’t know in advance if it’s going to be that way, especially with new partners, and the occasional mediocre sex is acceptable. However, if you are pretty sure that it won’t be what you want, it’s better to not have it. Having repeatedly bad sex will damage your desire. Remember that you can withdraw consent to sex at any time. You don’t need to finish something that started if it doesn’t feel right.

What you do need to do however, is to take responsibility for your own pleasure, know yourself, and know what your desires and boundaries are.

sensual massage of hands

How to Experience Pleasurable Sex?

Ditching the scripts

Unfortunately, many women believe that their pleasure is somehow not their responsibility. This is perhaps part of our societal conditioning. We implicitly learn that the man is supposed to deliver pleasure to the woman. Preferably with pounding penetrative sex, for his penis is the greatest gift to all women. Or, women also learn, especially from mainstream porn, that our role is simply to be pleasing others. Sadly, these scripts, along with shaming of masturbation and lack of information of female pleasure in sex education, is not helpful for women’s experience of sex as pleasurable. Nor is it helpful for men in understanding what women really want. So, what to do?

Know and tell what you like

You can’t expect other people to give you pleasurable sex if you don’t have an idea of what you want and can communicate it. A good sex partner should listen to what you want. If they consent to what you’re asking for, ideally they’re enthusiastic about experiencing pleasure with you in a way that works for you.

Teach others how to turn you on

For example, if you like sensual touch, in specific places, how will a partner know this unless you tell them? Or, if you achieve orgasm from clitoral stimulation but not vaginal intercourse, how can you make sure that you get this with a partner? Maybe you do it yourself, maybe you bring a toy? Or perhaps you guide them how to go about it so that it feels good for you? There as many of ways of touching a body as there are people. Sometimes we need to teach others what we like. If a person is not willing to learn about you, or to let go of their own ego, then move on.

Perhaps you find it arousing to share erotic fantasies with your partner? Maybe receiving or giving dirty talk turns you on? Or, being restrained and spanked or do the same to your partner? Perhaps flirting and sexting puts you in the mood, or dressing a certain way? Could having some relaxing time with chill music, a hot bath, candles, mood lighting, or incense trigger your longing for more? Research has shown that the external environment we’re in can have a huge impact on our willingness and curiosity to to explore, and how we react to stimuli. Perhaps combine a romantic setting with a sensual massage and see what happens!

Desire for dominance - woman with flogger

Dedicate time to cultivate desire

If you are in a long-term relationship, then intentionally setting aside time is a necessity. Creating intimate connection requires attention, focus and dedication. Scheduling time for sex is often a bad idea as it comes with pressure for sex. However, scheduling time for the creation of intimate moments without expectations is a good idea. This, along with communication of what you would find pleasurable can help to kick start desire again.

What is sex anyway?

I also encourage you to rethink what sex is. In heterosexual relationships there is often far too much focus on penis in vagina sex. Good sex doesn’t have to involve a penis in a vagina at all. Be innovative. For many women the most pleasurable sex is what we mislabel “foreplay”, as if it wasn’t important. Stroking, touching, massage, kissing, oral sex, masturbation, use of sex toys… They are all worthy of a lot more time than they sometimes get. Only your imagination sets the limits.

romantic date setting to cultivate desire

Desire & Pleasure – Conclusion

If you find that you lack sexual desire, ask yourself how intentional you are when it comes to triggering it. Could you take more responsibility to light the fire? If so, what might the types of stimulation be that would turn you on?

Are you having pleasurable sex? If not, address this first, because you won’t desire sex that is not pleasurable. Pleasurable sex does not need to involve other people. Perhaps you and a vibrator, wand, dildo and/or clit sucker, along with some erotic fantasies is “sex worth having” for you. If so, start there.

There can be many reasons behind why you struggle with either desire, pleasure or both. This article does not address them all. If you want help you are welcome to book a consultation with me here. I’d love too hear from you.


References and Resources

Basson, R. (2003). Rethinking low sexual desire in women. BJOG: an International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, 109(4), 357 – 363.

Nagosky, E. (2015). Come As You Are: The Surprising New Science that Will Transform Your Sex Life. Scribe Publications.

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