There are a lot of questions about sex.
What happens when our bodies don’t respond in ways that line up with our desires? Or when we feel we don't have much desire at all? How do we decide whether we want to have sex or not?
Sexual health is complicated - yet there's a lot of stigma when it comes to talking and learning about it. This can make it hard to have a fulfilling sexual experience! Our bodies and our minds are two separate systems that are involved in sex. Looking at them as two separate pieces that need to be tended to can help us feel more satisfied and empowered.
Sometimes we don’t feel in the mood; we don’t want to engage in sex or sexual activity because our libido is low. We think because our bodies aren’t feeling the ‘feel good’ sensations of arousal that we don’t desire sex. Desire in reality may be something we have to awaken rather than wait on (Tips on how to do this here!)
So what’s the real difference between arousal and desire?
Sexual arousal is the physiological sensations and experience; the changes in our body we can see and feel happening.
Sexual desire is the feeling or emotional and mental component; WHAT we want and HOW we want it.
Why does it matter?
Often many confuse arousal and desire thinking they have to happen in a certain order or simultaneously. We have some control over our desires. We can engage in thoughts, set up our environment, dress in certain ways, and really be playful to evoke desire. Even with these efforts, our bodies may or may not respond when we want them to. Not having full control over our bodies arousal response is not uncommon! Sometimes we may have a sexual response when we don't expect it (like when we’re sleeping!) or we may not have one when we are hoping to (bummer!). This can cause us to get in our heads and feel stuck.
Physical arousal for some may or may not happen for a variety of reasons (examples: mental health, medical conditions, or medication side effects). Physical arousal may also not happen because of issues with desire! If we aren’t having the kind of sex we want to have or we don't know what kind of sex we want to have, then it’s tough to get in the mood!
Understanding the difference between the physical arousal and sexual interest and the relationship they have with our overall sexual health is important in enhancing your sex life. It frees us from pressure to respond physically when we may not be able to control our bodies.
Low libido or low arousal may be plaguing you. Some of us may think there's something wrong with us or even feel we have a sexual functioning disorder. Not sexy thoughts! If we know that these are two separate pieces of sex and sexuality then when we have struggles it can help us understand how to approach the problem!
Look at your expectations
We don’t often think about where we get expectations from (porn? movies? friends? internet?) but many have unclear or conflicting expectations about sex and desire. Women as sexual creatures are more about responding to stimuli in our environment. We may have learned to expect to just be 'in the mood' when in reality we may need to help make the mood.
Sometimes expectations need to either be communicated and/or supported! Do we expect our partner to initiate? Do we expect our body to be ready or be lubricated naturally or perhaps need a little help? A lot of our expectations of what 'should' happen leave us waiting or feeling powerless. Sex isn’t always natural feeling or easy! Sometimes we have to be explicit with what we want and need to have the experience we desire. If we can begin to look at our expectations for sex and how and why we hold them we can more clearly communicate what we need!
Learn about your body
Knowledge really is power! Do you know the difference between a vagina and a vulva? What about your own body, have you ever really looked at your own genitals?
Many folks never really got a formal sexual health education- including learning about our own body parts! Lack of information can lead to a lot of discomfort and fearing the unknown! By learning more about what you want out of sex, how bodies really function, and even what your own body parts are(!) you can increase comfort with the whole sexual experience and get a deeper understanding of what turns you on!