Many people think about sexual desire in absolute terms: it's either there or it's not, it’s either high or it’s low. This approach to sexual desire can seem straightforward, but it misses the whole picture.
In fact, sexual desire can be spontaneous, responsive, or a mix of the two. It also fluctuates and changes through these different types over time and in different contexts. Your age, physical health, mental health, and stress levels can all impact how you experience sexual desire.
Learning more about it now can help you live the sex life of your dreams when (not if) your sexual desire changes in the future!
Spontaneous desire is a spark — or eruption — of interest in sex that seems to come out of thin air. It’s when the mental interest in sex arises before there’s any external stimulus for it. For instance, simply seeing your clothed partner as you go about your day and wanting to have sex with them is spontaneous desire.
Think back to the last movie or television show you watched with a sex scene. Chances are that it involved two people suddenly exploding with lust and having sex almost immediately. Media portrays sexual desire just like this – spontaneous, always on the boil and good to go. However, it's a bit more complicated than that in real life!
While everyone can experience primarily spontaneous desire, research suggests it’s more common in men (to use researchers’ language around gender). As many as 75% of men compared to 15% of women report spontaneous sexual desire, as Dr. Emily Nagoski notes in Come as You Are: The Surprising New Science that Will Transform Your Sex Life.
Responsive desire is the growing interest in sex that occurs in reaction to sexual stimuli. Often, responsive desire is sparked by touch, physical closeness, or sexual contact. It’s when mental interest in sex comes after external stimulus. For instance, seeing your partner undress for you and wanting to have sex with them is responsive desire.
Your own awareness of responsive desire can impact your sex life in positive ways. This knowledge helps to remind you that sometimes, you might be mentally neutral about having sex, and it's still worth inviting your partner to engage sexually with you anyway.
What is it like to leave room for the possibility of sex? What is it like to, for example, sext or share a little dirty talk before worrying about whether you want to follow through? By giving yourself the opportunity to respond to sexual stimuli, you can open yourself up to more frequent sexual experiences.
If you previously experienced more spontaneous desire, a shift experiencing more responsive desire can sometimes feel like something is wrong. Yet shifts in sexual desire are completely normal. They don’t mean that something is wrong with you, with your partner, or with your relationship.
About 5% of men and 30% of women report feeling primarily responsive desire. Even people who report spontaneous desire in the early stages of their relationships may experience more responsive desire over time. That shift is completely normal.
Mixed desire is the combination of responsive and spontaneous desire. If you experience mixed desire, you might at times feel mental sexual interest out of nowhere, and at other times need stimulation, touch, or erotic inspiration first. About 55% of women and 20% of men experience mixed desire.
There's no right or wrong when it comes to spontaneous, responsive, or mixed desire. No matter where you are now, your sexual desire style will change over time, many times. Knowing about the different possibilities for sparking and engaging with your desire can help you stay in touch with it as it evolves.
No matter what your type is, the Lover app has everything you need to learn how to take the reigns of your sexual desire. You can download it here.