THE BLOG

The Arousal Principle: The Complexity And Simplicity Of Female Erotic Desire

03/09/2015 06:56 am ET | Updated May 09, 2015

When it come to female sexuality it's all about desire and arousal. The issue for many women is the order in which desire and arousal flow.

As a sex coach who works primarily with women, the lion's share of my work is helping women understand that they are not broken, and helping them find their own individual portal to their unique erotic expression. Getting there may require working through their own personal myths, fears, body hatred, shame, and the assumptions they may hold about sexuality.

In large part, the biggest speed bump many women face, especially in midlife, is this myth: If you are not walking around turned on and wanting sex, then you have "low sexual libido" and you are in some way sexually broken. But what if their sexuality does not work that way? My experience working with hundreds of women at my "Back to the Body: Sensual Retreats for Women" is that for most women, it doesn't. What these women eventually learn is that this belief they, and perhaps their partners, have been holding about their sexuality is hogwash. And even more, that their erotic potential can be quite enormous once they figure out their own key to turning themselves on.

Emily Nagoski, a sex educator who recently published an op-ed piece in the New York Times and her upcoming book, Come As You Are: Surprising New Science That Will Transform Your Sex Life, is offering some wonderful new language to help us articulate to women (and their lovers) what is going on, making a distinction between spontaneous and responsive arousal.

Emily writes:

Researchers have begun to understand that sexual response is not the linear mechanism they once thought it was. The previous model, originating in the late '70s, described a lack of 'sexual fantasies and desire for sexual activity.' It placed sexual desire first, as if it were a hunger, motivating an individual to pursue satisfaction. Desire was conceptualized as emerging more or less 'spontaneously.' And some people do feel they experience desire that way. Desire first, then arousal. But it turns out many people (perhaps especially women) often experience desire as responsive, emerging in response to, rather than in anticipation of, erotic stimulation. Arousal first, then desire. Both desire styles are normal and healthy. Neither is associated with pain or any disorder of arousal or orgasm.

Women can learn how to "turn on" their own "arousal response" through some very simple practices and an understanding of their own erotic nature. But the fact is, most women are never introduced to their own arousal and skip this in their rush to get to sexual intercourse and orgasm.

I love how Emily states my exact experience with many of the women who show up to me on a daily basis:

But I can't count the number of women I've talked with who assume that because their desire is responsive, rather than spontaneous, they have 'low desire'; that their ability to enjoy sex with their partner is meaningless if they don't also feel a persistent urge for it; in short, that they are broken, because their desire isn't what it's 'supposed' to be. What these women need is not medical treatment, but a thoughtful exploration of what creates desire between them and their partners. This is likely to include confidence in their bodies, feeling accepted, and (not least) explicitly erotic stimulation. Feeling judged or broken for their sexuality is exactly what they don't need -- and what will make their desire for sex genuinely shut down.

Here is the thing about great sex and female desire: The psychology of female desire has very little to do with sexual prowess. Whether you are a woman or in sexual partnership with a woman, having an understanding of responsive sexual desire and spontaneous sexual desire can be fundamental to whether or not you're going to have sex tonight.

For women who have responsive sexual desire (which is an extraordinarily large number), it can be really important that they feel sexually desired. If the woman doesn't feel the desire, she will probably not be inspired to have sex. This is why so many people are addicted to what is known as "New Relationship Energy." They need to feel hot desire and the game of pursuit to access their full erotic turn on. It's amazing how quickly a steamy love affair can fade with a woman who has responsive sexual desire, when she feels the hot desire from her lover turn to warm desire .

Women with responsive sexual desire really want you to want them and require erotic stimulation in order to first feel arousal then desire for sex. I think that's why so many women love to read romantic novels. First off, it's erotic stimulation -- what I like to call Bibliotherapy -- and the formula goes directly to their core desire. It's simple and predictable: The woman is being chased after by a lover who wants them madly. Go on, make the rest of the story up. It really doesn't matter. "Fifty Shades of Grey" had this exact formula, but added in the spice of spankings and ropes. Female directed erotica or porn is usually all about "the lover" wanting the woman so much that they would "take her".

Once again, sexuality is not politically correct, nor can it be "turned on" with a pill.

Marta Meana Ph.D may have said it be best: "Desire is the real female orgasm."

Sex Tips For Lovers With Women Who Have Responsive Sexual Desire:

1. Women with responsive sexual desire will probably not think of sex or get "turned on" without their lover or some stimulation such as erotica prompting them. And this is completely normal for countless women.

2. How can you show her that you desire her? Use all your tools. Your words, your presence, your attention, your actions, and your body. Women with responsive sexual desire need attention.

3. Read chapters of erotic books to each other, or look at sexy photographs or watch erotic movies with each other before initiating sex.

4. Use technology to flirt and express desire to stimulate her sexual response. Yes, to texting, private messages, or flirty responses on social platforms such as "Facebook".

5. Let her know that you love her body. Tell her this more than you think you need to. Women carry way too much body shame, and you can turn her on by supporting her in feeling beautiful in her body. Don't just tell her that you care -- show her.

Try on some of these "arousal" tools" and you might find a turned on, wild and free -- ready to play sex goddess.

Earlier on Huff/Post50:

6 Kissing Tips