“We know by now that there’s no such thing as normal—or rather, that we’re all normal. We’re all made of the same parts as everyone else, organized in a unique way. No two alike.” - Emily Nagoski, Come as You Are: The Surprising New Science that Will Transform Your Sex Life
The way most of us learned about sex - through mass medie like movies, TV shows, and books - usually portrayed a very distinct style of sexual desire. That is that you either have it or you don’t.
Now that most of us are “all grown up”, the curtain has been peeled back a bit - or A LOT - on the reality of desire in a partnership. And the truth is it may often look more like two ships passing in the night than it does two insatiable lovers making out in the rain.
If you’re like most of us, the reality of our learned experiences now is that sometimes our desire and our partner’s desire do meet in a fiery crescendo, but more often than not, both partners aren’t wanting spontaneous sex at the same on the regular. Usually meeting each other in a place of mutual desire is a nuanced dance of music, movement and atmosphere that may not be mutual right out of the gate. Turns out, there is a wide spectrum of level of desire and “desire styles”. Let’s talk about a couple of them:
Responsive or Spontaneous?
Have you had that experience where someone spontaneously suggests an activity like getting a milkshake, going for a walk, or watching a new show on Netflix and at first you’re a bit ambivalent about the whole idea? You may not be against, but you’re also not completely on board from the jump. Now think about getting said milkshake, taking that walk, or getting into the Netflix show, and as you settle in to those experiences you’re glad you were willing and said yes. It turns out once you’ve actually gotten the ball rolling, you most likely WANT to be doing those awesome activities, and ambivalence is completely forgotten in the rear view mirror . When it comes to desire, this would be considered responsive desire.
Now let’s look at the flip side of that scenario. Maybe you’re the one who is eager and excited and making the suggestions to get the milk shake, go for the walk or try the new, hot Netflix show. The desire to participate in those activities may have been on your mind or popped into your mind suddenly. And same as before, once the ball is rolling, good times quickly follow and the initiation of the activity fades into the background. This side would be called spontaneous desire.
Neither spontaneous desire, nor reactive desire, is better or more normal--they are just different. Spontaneous desire is when you spontaneously want sex and sexual connection. Responsive desire is when you may not be in the mood until you start experiencing pleasure, get aroused and then realize, “Hey! I want to be doing this! I want sex!”
When you understand your desire style and your partner’s desire style, remembering that it’s completely normal to have different ways to engage with and want sex, you both can start to work with each other toward your idea of what you want your sex life to be like instead of looking wistfully or frustratingly at that distant ship passing in the night because only on the rare occasion do two ships plot the exact same course and leave port at the exact same time.