“My sex drive used to be great. My partner would give me ‘The Wink’ and boom, I was stripping off my undies and desperate to have sex right here, right now. These days I choose Netflix over naked. Am I broken?”
I look at the couple on my screen. Even online I can see they are tensed, eyes strained, as they wait for me to diagnose their relationship as an abject failure. Instead, I utter the three most powerful words in a sex therapist’s arsenal: “You are normal.”
Jose and Talisha*, like so many of us in long-term relationships, believe they should be instantly turned on by the slightest touch or look. They’ve been told that is normal.
But it’s not.
There are some longstanding myths about sex that seem to stick around like cockroaches after the apocalypse. It is time for us to crush them.
Myth #1: Sex is a ‘drive‘
I work with so many couples in my online relationship program that share variations of one major complaint: something’s wrong with my sex drive. Javin wants sex way more than Melanie. Samson wants sex in the morning, but Hikiro wants sex at night. Simon and Cynthia never want sex at all. So many other couples tell me their sex drive feels non-existent when stress, kids, menopause, or erection changes kill their desire.
Oh, the tyranny of the belief that we should all have a great sex drive pretty much all the time. No, we shouldn’t.
In fact, sex is not a drive.
Basic biology teaches that a drive is a physical need that must be met or we will die. If you don’t drink water, you die. If you don’t eat, you die. Hunger and thirst are drives. Sex isn’t.
If you don’t have sex, you don’t die. Yes, there may indeed be a biological need to mate and ensure survival of your gene pool, but the belief that you “have a sex drive and it’s broken” can get in the way of you enjoying a rich and passionate sexual life.
Look at it this way. Most of us have experienced the marvelous feeling of “falling in love.” The biochemistry of lust creates urgency, a hunger for contact, for touch, and for sex. We feel excited, focused, and yes, horny. Experts call this experience spontaneous desire. I have a sexy thought. You kiss me or your fingertips brush my wrist, and I am quickly and urgently sexually aroused. Yum. This type of desire feels like a drive, but it is not. It is a temporary state of emotional and physical excitement. Over time, for the majority of couples, spontaneous desire wanes. Our appetite subsides, and we can go weeks, even months, without wanting to devour our sweetheart.
Myth #2: If I don’t feel like jumping your bones, our relationship is in trouble
The first thing I teach Jose and Talisha and all the other couples in my program is my model of the three keys to passion: intimacy, thrill, and sensuality. I reassure them that the exciting feeling of spontaneous attraction and arousal—what I call thrill—is the most difficult passion key to sustain in long-term love. Regardless if you are in a male body or a female one, no matter whom you love, the crazy lust of early days tends to fade over time as you move from pursuing a mate to nesting with that mate. (So, you are normal, remember?)
Couples get into trouble when they expect lust to last. When lust doesn’t show up on demand, they assume they are not attracted to their partner anymore. This is not true. Couples need to understand that there is a second way they can become turned on, which experts call responsive desire.
This is sexual desire and arousal that arise in response to circumstances or context. For example, when you first kissed your person in those early days, you felt turned on with almost no effort. But after years of kissing them, the quick rush of lust—spontaneous desire—is as rare as your teenager saying “hey, how about I clean out the garage for you today?” I mean, it might happen, but you shouldn’t count on it.
So, when you kiss your sweetie, you might think “that was nice,” then reach for the remote. But what might happen if you decide to keep kissing whether you feel turned on or not?
According to the research on responsive desire, you can choose to start making love and trust that desire will arise—not instantly, but in response to a number of stimuli. There are multiple reasons for making love; being horny is only one of them. What about beginning the sexual dance to seek emotional closeness or the relaxation that follows orgasm, or because you believe regular sex is important? I call my online couples immersion program Become Passion for a reason. Instead of waiting for passion, choose to create it and become the passion you seek.
Many of us believe exercise is important. Do you go to the gym because a spontaneous desire to sweat in spandex sends you running for that kettlebell? Of course not. Yet you still choose to go.
Jose and Talisha are relieved to hear they are not doomed to a sexless marriage. They commit to making their sexual life more intentional by following the Passion Plan I help them create. More on that in the next article. For now, take heart. Responsive desire suggests you treat your sexual life like the gym. Go because you know it’s good for you. Get your sweat on and make an effort. Most important? Do it regularly, and you’ll always be glad you did.
*All names changed for confidentiality.
LOVE SKILL: Rate Your Passion Triangle
Do you want to know where your relationship is currently strong, and where is it weak? Rate yourself on Thrill, Intimacy, and Sensuality by taking the free Passion Quiz. You will receive scores and feedback to help you re-ignite great love, romance, and passion. Click here to take the quiz