Understanding Your Sex Drive: Willing V.S. Wanting

When we talk about your “sex drive,” we are talking about where your sex drive is at a certain point in your life and on a very large spectrum. You can have a high sex drive and one point and a low one at another. As with everything in your life, your sex drive fluctuates and changes. No matter where you sit, you’re probably “normal.” Why? There is no one universal normal.

A “willing” partner is willing to have sex when the other initiates; however, a “wanting” partner is generally the one initiating sex. When you and your partner are not always aligned, or when one partner frequently asks for sex and the other seems merely willing or indifferent, you may begin to experience tension—especially if it didn’t always used to be this way. There are ways to deal with this mismatch, though.

It is quite common for coupes to have fluctuating sex drives and quite common for people to experience both a “wanting” and a “willing” sex drive at different ti. A sexual desire mismatch can cause a great deal of stress in a relationship, putting immense strain on every other aspect of your relationship. However, understanding how to make your sex drive work for both of you could be a game-changer—or relationship-saver.

Factors that affect your sex drive

There are many factors that contribute to your sex drive.

  • The state of your relationship
  • Past trauma
  • Hormone levels
  • Stress levels
  • Energy levels
  • Life changes

If you think any of these factors is affecting your sex drive or your sex life, take some time to talk to your partner about where you are and what you want out of your sex life.

What is the difference between a “willing” and a “wanting” sex drive?

A responsive sexual desire, or a “willing” sex drive, is a sexual desire that is, as it is aptly named, trigged in response to stimuli. A willingness to have sex even if you’re not the one initiating it. People with a responsive sexual desire often have to think about whether or not they want to have sex and wait for the nerves throughout their body to connect before becoming aroused.

Someone who has a “wanting” sexual desire, on the other hand, is driven by an underlying desire and readiness to have sex or intimacy.

Are some people more inclined to be one or the other?

Yes and no. Your sex drive is a part of your sexuality and is dependent upon a multitude of factors at any given point. Your sex drive is fluid—it can change over the course of your life and over the course of your relationship. According to Barry McCarthy is his book Good Enough Sex, he cites that research has shown that couples have the most sex within the first 12-24 months of a relationship. Once the relationship settles down, so too does the sex drive.

Some people’s sex drives are determined by past trauma, such as sexual abuse as a child, sexual abuse as an adult, an embarrassing experience, and other forms of violation. Additionally, the current state of your relationship profoundly impacts your sex drive. If you are unhappy in your relationship, it will likely present itself in the bedroom.

Another thing that will likely impact your sex drive is the stress that sex is already putting on your relationship. When one partner wants sex more than the other such that it creates tension in the relationship, this can further exacerbate the mismatch in sexual desires, leading to a cycle of frustration and tension. Saying “no” constantly can be as much of a burden for the “willing” partner as it is a frustration for the “wanting” partner.

Just because you are a “willing” partner now doesn’t mean that you always will be, and just because you are a “wanting” partner now doesn’t mean that you won’t become a “willing” partner.

Your sex drive in context

Emily Nagoski, Ph. D. writes that we all have an “accelerator” and a set of “brakes.” Our “accelerators” respond to sexual stimuli and our “brakes” respond to potential threats. Some people’s “accelerators” are stronger than their “brakes” and visa versa. The thing about sex is, as she discusses in great detail in her book Come as You Are, sex happens in context. It’s not just the sex itself but it is every external factor contributing to your current state—the risk of pregnancy, the risk of STIs, a familiar smell, an overdue bill, a distinct touch. Everything around sex influences sex—and influences how sensitive your “brakes” and “accelerator” are. The responses that seem automatic are actually learned. Our “accelerators” and “brakes” are the result of learned behaviors are content-driven.

Because sex happens in context, while you may be naturally inclined to have more sensitive “brakes” or a more sensitive “accelerator,” your sensitivity and your sex drive can fluctuate. Often. However, knowing what contexts push your “accelerator” and what pushes your “brakes” can be really helpful when working with your partner. Perhaps it’s not that you don’t want to have sex but rather that the context in which you’ve been trying to have sex is hitting your “brakes,” not your “accelerator.”

In Dr. Nagosaki’s book, you can take a quiz to learn more about which system is more sensitive for you and learn more about how to work with your sex drive in your relationship.

How to deal with a desire mismatch

No couple will be on the same page all the time. In fact, it’s not as common to be simultaneously stricken by a burning desire to make love as we might think it is. The media plays up a society that is filled with people who are always ready to have sex. This is not, however, the case.

The person with the lower sex drive in your relationship is the person who regulates how much sex you do have. Being the person asking for sex and being the person deciding whether or not to have sex are both taxing positions to be in, and dealing with this mismatch effectively is essential in healing your relationship.

Knowing your sexuality and your sex drive is power. To really take charge of your life, take stock of your sexuality and get intimate with yourself. Your partner will thank you.

Assess what has changed in your relationship

Having kids, bills hanging over you, a death in the family, buying a new house, and about a thousand other things can change the tension in your relationship. Partners are, as the name implies, partners, and when an external force puts pressure on your partnership, your sex drives can change.

Check in with your partner and see what has changed in your relationship—externally and internally—to help get down to the root of the mismatch.

Go with the flow

Going with the flow does not mean that you should have sex when you don’t want to. Consent is everything. It just means that if you’re not feeling it but are willing to try, give foreplay a shot. When you go into foreplay without the pressure to actually have sex—and the clear understanding that you can stop at any point—you may find yourself enjoying it after all. Your responsive desire may kick in.

Have open communication

When things change in your relationship, you may experience a change in sex drive. Open communication with your partner is essential is maintaining a healthy sex life. A simple “I’m really not feeling it right now. I’m really stressed out with work.”

If you’re unhappy in your relationship, your sex drive will, understandably, take a hit. For many, feeling connection emotionally is essential to one’s willingness to have sex. Conversely, some people get their feeling of connection through sex. In this case, it can be a harmful cycle that leaves both (or all) partners unsatisfied.

Your relationship is yours, and you deserve the relationship you want. If something in your relationship is leaving you unsatisfied, be open and honest about it.

Check in with each other

Take time every day to check in with your partner—even if only for 10 minutes. This should be sacred, non-sexual time for you and your partner to connect and build intimacy outside the bedroom. Intimacy doesn’t have to mean sex, and this check-in time should be dedicated to expanding the definition of intimacy.

This time can be really healing after a long period of frustration brought on by a desire mismatch. Not only will it rekindle the intimacy of your relationship, but it will also open up lines of communication between you and your partner.

Schedule sex

Scheduling sex can seem really unsexy at first, but many couples swear by it. That hot, sexy, passionate, spontaneoussex that we’re trained to expect through the media is simply not the reality for most people. Life is busy. Life is exhausting. Life gets in the way.

Scheduling sex can be a really great way to take care of your relationship

Consider the structure of your relationship

Some people open their relationship up after a desire mismatch. While polyamory doesn’t work for every couple, it may work for some. Polyamory may take some stress of the relationship because it allows the partner with the higher sex drive to be sexually fulfilled. If done carefully, with open communication, clear boundaries, and a lot of trust, polyamory can be effective. However, if the relationship is not healthy or solid, it can lead to jealousy, distrust, and even the end of the relationship.

Opening up your relationship should be done with clear communication and great care, but it can work.

Dealing with a sexual mismatch with your partner can be frustrating, but you can also fully heal your relationship and be more intimate than ever before.

If you and your partner need help navigating this stressful issue, a therapist may be an excellent resource for you and your partner. Don’t be ashamed to ask for help. Your relationship deserves care and love, and asking for help is a meaningful act of (self) love.

 

 

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