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1. SPONTANEOUS SEXUAL DESIRE
Spontaneous sexual desire is exactly what it sounds like. It shows up instantly, with or without stimulation. Nagoski notes 75% of men experience spontaneous desire, as well as 15% of women. When it comes to Marcie and Joe, Joe falls into the “75% of men” category.
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This means 25% of men and the vast majority of women, 85%, do not experience spontaneous desire.
Spontaneous sexual desire as a prerequisite for sex supports a linear view of sexuality dating back to the late 1970s. In fact, researchers did not include desire on the spectrum of human sexuality until Helen Kaplan Singer created the Triphasic Model of the human sexual response cycle. Singer included three distinct phases: desire, excitement, and orgasm, with desire as the entry point.
So how do 85% of women experience sexual pleasure or “excitement” if they do not experience spontaneous desire? Nagoski noted two other types of desire that women more often fall into: responsive and contextual.
2. RESPONSIVE SEXUAL DESIRE
Responsive sexual desire is when desire shows up in response to stimulation, meaning something sexy happens and the body responds. Marcie falls more into this category. When Joe initiates, her mind and body enjoy the stimulation, and desire—or “wanting more of that feeling”—activates.
Nagoski found 5% of men and 30% of women experience responsive desire, meaning these folks, like Marcie, need more than a sexy thought to “want” sex.
Yet there remains a large percentage of women and a smaller percentage of men who do not fall into the responsive desire category, either.
3. CONTEXTUAL SEXUAL DESIRE
Contextual sexual desire is when the circumstances and environment impact the ability to feel sexual desire. Think about what it’s like to drum up desire when your kids are in the next room, you feel stressed out by financial burdens, or you just ate a huge steak dinner. Sex may not be the first thing on your mind.
Nagoski notes most people, regardless of gender, fall within a blend of responsive and contextual desire, but for some, desire can feel
spontaneous. They simply may not be aware of the other factors at play. For many individuals, context matters.
Marcie felt confused when she learned about the “universe of desire” because she always considered herself a non-sexual person. In therapy, our work focused on normalizing how she experienced desire—not as a flaw, an inadequacy
, or something wrong with her, but as perfectly normal.
This work helped her shift her sexual self-concept so she could see herself as a woman capable of desire, lust, and erotic energy. It also helped her recognize she did indeed experience desire, just not in the same way Joe did.
Our work also helped Joe better understand how Marcie’s desire worked. He learned to view both responses as healthy and normal. This helped Joe depersonalize Marcie’s lack of sexual advancements and see himself as desirable.
Together, they embraced their differences and worked on improving how to meet each other’s natural sexual responses.
Differences in sexual desire often compel couples to seek sex therapy. Increased understanding about the various types of sexual desire can prove helpful.