The Universe of Desire
Let’s walk the path to sexual liberation together.
Before we start, I want to be clear that when I say “woman”,” I am referring to anyone that identifies with being a woman, be it the gender you were assigned at birth or not. Same goes for the term “man.” When I say “sex,” I am not necessarily referring to penetration; there are so many other ways to have sex that do not include penetration.
With that being said, last night I had the pleasure of talking about healthy libidos and sex drive with Airial Clatney of Intamo Pleasure Boutique. So many people showed up with questions like: “Why don’t I want to have sex?,” “am I normal?,” “how does medication impact my sex drive?,” “am I ok?,” “am I normal?!”
First and foremost, I suggest we either drop the word “normal” because there is no such thing as a cookie cutter “normal libido,” or we apply it to everyone. You are normal. Or rather, your normal is the most important measure of comparison. So, getting to understand what feels good for you is essential in establishing normalcy. And in all honesty, I prefer the term “healthy” instead of “normal” because what is most important is understanding what is healthy for you, meaning what feels good for you in your own body.
Through this lens, a healthy libido is really the expression of sexual desire when and how often you want it to be; healthy libido is a lack of distress, without shame or expectation of how often or how long you should be engaging in your sexual desires. A healthy libido is an expression of sexual agency. For some of us, a healthy libido may be a daily practice. For others, it may be once a week, once a month, once a year. For yet others, there may be no interest in engaging in sexual desires at all. And always, your desires may or may not include a partner/partners.
Secondly, there is a whole universe of desire out there, yet we often think that libido is only the out-of-nowhere hunger for sex — the magical, yet sometimes elusive, magnetism to the bedroom (or any other room, for that matter). Emily Nagoski, sex researcher and writer, refers to this type of desire as spontaneous sexual desire and writes that around 75% of men and 15% of women experience this type of sexual desire. Does that mean the 85% of women and 25% of men just don’t want to have sex? NO!
For some of us, we experience something called responsive sexual desire, which is simply the response to sexual stimulus, meaning that you need more than just sexy thoughts to want to have sex. And for others, we experience contextual sexual desire, which means that when the stars are aligned for whatever sets the mood, you experience sexual desire, i.e. the kids are out of the house, your space is clean, you’ve showered, you feel good in your body, and so on and so forth. For most us, men and women, we experience a combination of spontaneous, responsive and contextual sexual desire.
For those of us who identify as asexual, that may mean you don’t feel attracted to having sex with someone else, yet you still may want to feel pleasure and masturbate. There is a whole spectrum of the expression of sexual desire, so just because you don’t have spontaneous sexual thoughts doesn’t mean that you don’t have sexual desire. And it certainly doesn’t mean that you’re broken.
However, if your lack of desire is causing you distress, it is worth investigating the causes as to why.
There are are so many contributing factors, which are unique to your lived experience. Some of these factors may arise from a medical or organic cause, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, neurological impairments, chronic pain conditions and depression. In this case, addressing the core condition with a medical professional, like a naturopath, can be helpful.
Sometimes, the physical structures of our genitalia may make it painful to have sex, penetrative or otherwise. Phimosis, paraphimosis, lichen planus, vulvar atrophy, or vaginismus are just some conditions that can cause painful sex.
In other cases, medications that you’re taking, many of which are very common, may contribute to lowered sexual desire, such as antihistamines, antidepressants, antihypertensives, sleeping pills, or anticancer drugs.
Oftentimes, a lower sex drive has a psychological and emotional component wrapped up in it. Perhaps because of a medical condition, sex is painful, so you begin to associate sexual encounters with pain and respond with avoidance or fear to sexual stimulus. Unwanted pain is not conducive to pleasure. Unfortunately, another common contributing factor is surviving sexual trauma. It is possible that any stimulus that reminds you of the trauma can active your nervous system and cause a distressing emotional and physical response. this is referred to as the fight, flight or freeze response. If this is you, it is always helpful to find a support network of loved ones and professionals you can openly speak with about this.
And to all of you living with these experiences —medical, psychological, emotional, or otherwise — I see you and I honour your courage to explore your pleasure. Your experiences deserve to be heard, you deserve to live without pain and fear and shame and unreasonable expectation.
Should you want to guidance in answering your questions, a naturopathic doctor is a great place to start and I am honoured to walk the path to sexual liberation, pleasure and self-sovereignty.
You deserve pleasure, whatever that looks like for you.
Dr. Rachel Worth-Cappell