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We often think that the “right way” to have sex is that we need to WANT it beforehand. 

To experience desire first.

Because of this belief that sexual encounters should start with desire, we might not entertain the idea of sex or intimacy if we don’t feel “in the mood”. 

As Karen Guerney says- “if you expect desire to come first you stop it in it’s tracks”.

However, there’s something called responsive desire (you can find out more about it here), and it means you won’t experience an urge to have sex until after you’re aroused.

So for women to experience desire, there is a rather simple solution. Instead of focusing on wanting sex first….

Create a space with your sexual partner that means focusing solely on pleasure before thinking about anything to do with sex, including:

  • physical touch
  • kisses
  • sensations
  • fun
  • creating intimacy
  • sounds
  • … whatever feels good and helps you relax!

This shift into allowing yourself to receive pleasure and create intimacy with your partner even if you’re not up for sex, can be a gamechanger. It allows you to open yourself up to the sexual experience rather than closing yourself down through pressure to “feel” a certain way. 

Emily Nagoski calls this idea the “Window of Willingness”– creating a sense of openness for desire to emerge.

And weirdly, you might just find that desire emerges as soon as you start to have fun, let go, and take your mind off the idea that you have to want sex first!

Magic, huh.

We’ve also put together 6 tips on how to get aroused quickly to help you in the moment if you need a bit of help working out how to get turned on!

A note about this approach...

There’s a couple of things we need to be aware of with this approach.

Firstly, when we talk about wanting sex– what do we mean by sex

Many of us have a really narrow definition of what sex is… usually that it ends with penetration, and chiefly penis in vagina penetration. This understanding of sex- and everything else being foreplay- is really problematic because it suggests other sexual acts (e.g. cunnilingus, fellatio etc) are always the preamble to the main/best event- penetration. Only about 25% of women orgasm through penetrative sex, and experience more pleasure from the clitoral stimulation that comes with other sexual acts which seem less valued in our culture. This explains why so many womens desire fades if the only sex they’re having ends with PIV penetration!

Take a read of this article about how the term foreplay should die in a fire and instead, as Coffee and Kink argues, consider that sex should be seen as an umbrella term for ALL sexual acts. So when you’re considering whether you’re open to sex, ensure you and your partner both know that can mean being open to A LOT of different things, and try mixing things up to ensure both partners are experiencing pleasure. 

Secondly, about pressure. The MOST important factor in the window of willingness working (and desire arising) is to make sure that there is no pressure to go any further from your partner, and you know that if you say NO to anything else that will be respected. This is the only way the safety and receptivity for desire can be obtained, in order for it to build. 

However, for many couples this can be really tricky to navigate. Experiencing responsive desire means you might initiate sex less (because your desire only comes after arousal). It is navigating differences in *this* issue that can cause conflict, pressure, guilt and other difficult emotions to handle. 

For couples struggling with this issue we’d recommend scheduling in time for intimacy (not sex). In addition, check out some of the Desired State workshops on offer around relationships, sex, pressure and conflict for more.

And lastly, about other factors standing in the way of desire. There are occasions where this approach is too simplistic. For example if sex hurts or doesn’t feel good, no amount of shifting your approach to desire is going to make you want it. Certain medications can impact on our desire for sex, as well as things like the menopause and breastfeeding, as well as our relationship health. 

We’ll explore all of this in the next post about your sexual accelerators and brakes….