Are you ever confused by your own sexual arousal? By what turns you on and when? Or… maybe you’re confused by your spouse. Why doesn’t she ever initiate sex? Why is he always so turned on? The “he” and “she” there are stereotypical — sometimes it goes the other way — but scientists have identified two different pathways to arousal that map onto these common perceptions. The two polarities are called “spontaneous desire” and “responsive desire”, and they lead to very different behavior that can confuse you and your spouse if you don’t recognize what’s happening.

Men typically (but not always) exhibit spontaneous desire. This polarity manifests as sexual desire that isn’t triggered by any obvious external factors. “Hey, I want to have sex!” Spontaneous desire motivates the initiation of sexual behavior. Spontaneous desire leads you to ask for a date, lean in for a kiss, test boundaries for touching, escalate a physical encounter, try new things, and risk rejection. These behaviors can be confusing for the recipient, because it may seem like the sexual behavior is coming out of nowhere — which it is. It’s spontaneous. The recipient of these behaviors may ask themselves things like:

  • “Why is he touching me now?”
  • Why does he want to do that?
  • “Why is he so persistent?”
  • “Again?”
  • “Does he think about anything besides sex?”

Women typically (but not always) exhibit responsive desire. This polarity manifests as sexual desire that grows after sexual behavior has started. “Oh, that feels good… I guess I am in the mood!” A person with responsive desire may seem to have a low libido because she doesn’t often initiate sex, and it can take some effort on her part to “get into the mood”. What’s especially interesting is that women often don’t even know when they’re aroused at first.

Men’s subjective ratings of arousal were in agreement with their body’s level of sexual arousal about 66 percent of the time, while women’s were in line only about 26 percent of the time.

“The general pattern that I have seen in my laboratory is that women experience a genital response but do not report feeling sexually aroused,” Chivers told LiveScience.

Women’s bodies often get aroused before their minds do. Crazy, huh? With responsive desire, sexual arousal will follow physical or mental sexual stimulation, and that stimulation usually comes from a husband who is trying to initiate sex. Without understanding this process, a husband may think things like:

  • “Why doesn’t she ever initiate sex?”
  • “I’ll wait for her to initiate this time.”
  • “Why do I have to try so hard to turn her on?”
  • “Isn’t she attracted to me? Doesn’t she want me?”
  • “Why doesn’t she suggest something new?”

Of course, there are no absolutes in life. Some men are more responsive, and some women are more spontaneous. What’s more, a person’s desire polarity may vary over time — especially for women, as their hormones change throughout their menstrual cycles.

Now that you know about spontaneous and responsive desire, what action can you take?

If you and your spouse are both spontaneous… well, you’re probably having sex all the time. Congrats!

If you are spontaneous and your spouse is responsive:

  • Don’t judge your responsive spouse for not being spontaneous.
  • Learn how to elicit sexual response from your spouse and recognize when she is getting turned on.
  • Be enthusiastic and persistent with initiation; don’t get frustrated that you initiate most of the time.

If you are responsive and your spouse is spontaneous:

  • Don’t judge your spontaneous spouse for not being responsive.
  • When your spontaneous spouse initiates sex, don’t immediately see it as an annoyance or distraction! Give your mind a body a chance to respond.
  • Learn to recognize your own arousal when your mind and body respond to your spouse’s initiation. It may not be obvious.

If you and your spouse are both responsive, you’re going to need to be extra intentional. Try one of our sex games or the random foreplay generator to initiate sex when you’ve got time, even if neither of you is particularly in the mood. Once you get started, you can both respond to the heat generated by the game!

Do you have any experiences to share? Any advice? Leave a comment!

Do you want to have more and better sex? Get plenty of sleep.

According to a large new study, women over age 50 who get fewer than seven hours of sleep are less likely to report being sexually active than their peers who sleep more, a problem that increases with age.

Sleep disorders can also interfere with sex. Research suggests that men with obstructive sleep apnea, a condition marked by snoring and breathing difficulties, have decreased levels of sexual activity, possibly because they produce lower amounts of testosterone. Sleep apnea can also increase the risk of cardiovascular problems, which may be related to sexual dysfunction.

But the reverse appears to be true, too: Another recent study that looked at sleep and sex in college students found that for those in romantic relationships, every extra hour they slept corresponded to higher sexual desire, greater vaginal lubrication and a 14% increase in the chances of getting frisky the next day. That’s probably because a good night’s sleep leaves us feeling refreshed, relaxed and energetic — all important for feeling sexy.

Sleep is an important component of staying healthy, along with exercise, managing your weight, and maintaining good hygiene. For (the many) husbands who write to us asking for advice on strengthening their wives’ libidos, helping her get more sleep seems like a great first step.

And… do you want more and better sleep? Have plenty of sex!

The reasons are largely chemical in nature. After orgasm, our bodies release significant amounts of the “cuddle hormone” oxytocin, which lowers levels of the stress hormone cortisol, resulting in deep relaxation.

Sex also has gender-specific benefits. “For women, estrogen levels increase after sex, which can enhance a woman’s REM cycle for a deeper sleep. In men, the hormone prolactin is secreted after orgasm and has been tied to sleepiness,” explained licensed psychologist Rachel Needle, co-director of the Modern Sex Therapy Institutes.

Yeah, yeah — there’s just too much to do. But you need to make time for your health and for your spouse. Go to bed early tonight together!

We get a lot of emails from husbands and wives who are distressed by the wife’s low interest in sex. Libido is affected by a whole host of factors — relationship, communication, family situation, stress, time management, hormones, and more — so medication shouldn’t be your first resort. But while you’re working on all those other areas in your marriage, it’s probably worth your time to talk to the wife’s doctor about any health problems that may be contributing to her disinterest or dissatisfaction with sex. This can be an embarrassing topic to bring up, but your sex life is worth an awkward conversation!

Along with the other tools available to your marriage, it appears that the drug flibanserin is effective at improving female libido.

Flibanserin is used for hypoactive sexual desire disorder among women. Those receiving flibanserin report a 0.5 increase compared to placebo in the number of times they had “satisfying sexual events”. In those on flibanserin it rose from 2.8 to 4.5 times a month while women receiving placebo reported also an increase of “satisfying sexual events” from 2.7 to 3.7 times a month. The onset of the flibanserin effect was seen from the first timepoint measured after 4 weeks of treatment and maintained throughout the treatment period.

Let me translate:

  • Baseline low libido women: 2.7 satisfying sexual events per month
  • Baseline low libido women taking placebo (sugar pill with no medical effect): 3.7 satisfying sexual events per month
  • Baseline low libido women taking flibanserin: 4.5 satisfying sexual events per month

As is often the case, placebos alone show significant improvement over the baseline. This means that you can do almost anything to improve your sex life as long as you believe it will work! The human mind is a powerful thing.

However, the results also indicate that flibanserin is significantly better than a placebo, so it’s worth asking your doctor if it’s a good option for you.

Have any of you tried flibanserin? Did it help you? Leave a comment.

Here’s a fascinating study about using light therapy to increase the libido of men with low sex drives. Don’t worry, it’s not some hippy thing!

Exposure to bright light – similar to daylight – boosts levels of the male hormone testosterone and can triple sexual satisfaction, the research found.

“Before treatment, both groups averaged a sexual satisfaction score of around two out of 10, but after treatment the group exposed to the bright light was scoring sexual satisfaction scores of around 6.3 – a more than three-fold increase on the scale we used. In contrast, the control group only showed an average score of around 2.7 after treatment.”

While average blood levels of testosterone in the “control” group remained at around 2.3 nanograms per millilitre (ng/ml) before and after the study, those of the men receiving active light treatment rose from 2.1 ng/ml to 3.6 ng/ml.

“The increased levels of testosterone explain the greater reported sexual satisfaction,” said Prof Fagiolini. “In the northern hemisphere, the body’s testosterone production naturally declines from November through April, and then rises steadily through the spring and summer with a peak in October. You see the effect of this in reproductive rates, with the month of June showing the highest rate of conception. The use of the light box really mimics what nature does.”

The article doesn’t mention it, but testosterone is also essential for women’s libido. (Though, of course, at lower levels of the hormone than men require.)

And best of all, you don’t need a fancy “light box”! Just go outside and bare some skin to that giant ball of fire in the sky that God helpfully provided — for free! The study quoted above indicates that as little as 30 minutes per day in the sun will have an effect, so go get some exercise.