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Emily Nagoski (a fantastic scientist and feminist) came up with a framework for how sexual desire works in her book “Come As You Are: the surprising science that will transform your sex life” (*affiliate link*).

In it, she talks about the “Dual Control Model”

Instead of our sex drives being in constant motion, she believes we have:

  1. a sexual accelerator (the things that turn us on) and 
  2. a sexual brake (the things that turn us off)

These two energies are in a constant state of flux, and experiencing a sexual response depends on the balance of how much brake and how much accelerator you have at any one time.

This brilliant image explains the dual control model, taken from Emily Nagoski’s excellent website:

Or you can watch the video below to learn more about the Dual Control Model:

Women and the dual control model

The Dual Control model is AMAZING because it shows us that far from having a set high or low sex drive, our desire for sex is constantly varying based on both internal and external factors. Which means that we can influence our levels of desire… if we know how!

But first, a bit more on the model. Interestingly, Emily Nagoski believes that women have more brakes than men (e.g. they face more barriers to getting turned on) and they’re also much more sensitive (e.g. their brake is more likely to be pushed down). 

This doesn’t mean that women have less sexual desire generally than men, but that there are many reasons that women experience more (or maybe different) brakes than men that are often created through biological, societal and cultural expectations of women.

And even more importantly, instead of feeling broken if their interest in sex fades, we want women to see that their desire doesn’t just dip for no reason- in fact, it’s usually a very natural and normal response to what’s going on in their lives.

It makes SENSE that you might not fancy sex if you’re experiencing even a few of the above factors- for example: 

  • you’ve just had a baby 
  • or you’re under lots of work pressure 
  • or you’re the main caregiver for your family 
  • or you’ve grown up with negative messaging around female sexuality 
  • or your relationship doesn’t feel quite right.

How does this model explain disinterest in sex?

The traditional way we’re told to increase our desire is by putting our foot down on our “sexual accelerator” to try and turn ourselves on more…

E.g. Dirty weekends in Bognor, sticking on a naughty film, going on a spending spree in Ann Summers, porn, butt plugs….

 

Although this works for many women, others find this has no effect.

 

This is because either:

 

  • our “sexual brake” is down as hard as it can be, and no amount of accelerator pressing is going to get us off. So understanding exactly what those individual brakes are, and learning how to reduce or remove them, is KEY to maintaining a great sex drive. Emily Nagoski calls this turning off the offs!

  • AND/OR, you’re not sure what your personal accelerators are (e.g. what turns you on, or what conditions you need to be open to sex), which means you’re not pursuing what you need from a sexual experience. And the only way to make sex desirable is to have desirable sex!

We are all different in what makes us feel open to sex, and what closes us down. So finding out your own preferences and obstacles to desire is a really important part of increasing your motivation for sex. 

Luckily, we’ve put together some fantastic tools to help you on your way…

“…body image, relationship satisfaction and learned values intervene to shape women’s experiences of lust”- Katherine Rowlands