Sexual Turn Ons: Understanding Your Libido

sexual turn ons

“My husband gets turned on at the drop of a hat. At times I can just give him a hug and I can feel he’s getting hard. If his libido was a car, it would be a Ferrari with a full tank of gas and his foot already revving the engine. My libido is very different, more like a hybrid car that requires the batteries to be charged in order to go…” ~ Lucinda, married fifteen years

Lucinda’s libido (her sexual desire) doesn’t follow the same path as her husband’s. His is pretty straightforward while Lucinda’s is a bit more complex (or, at least, different from her husband’s). Understanding these differences can help couples navigate the sexual complexities of their marriage or relationship; especially around the issue of initiating sex (the common dynamic of one person wanting sex while the other doesn’t).

Sexual Turn Ons: Understanding The Complexities of Your Libido

In the Masters and Johnson book Human Sexual Response, a linear model of sexual desire was described and later updated by others—a model that was assumed to capture the sexual experiences of both men and women equally. In this model, sexual desire arises within the individual and motivates him/her to engage in sex with another person. In this model, desire (leads to) => arousal (leads to) => orgasm. This model also highlights orgasm as the pinnacle experience to be achieved.

More recently, others researchers, including Rosemary Basson, MB, FRCP, of the University of British Columbia, have emphasized that for many women, the desire to be sexual is more likely to be a reaction to relationship factors rather than arising spontaneously from within. This is consistent with Lucinda’s description of her libido. In this model, factors such as relationship satisfaction, level of emotional intimacy, as well as sexual stimuli (think seduction) all contribute to the stirring of a woman’s desire to engage in sex. It is the relationship context that becomes central to one’s libido, allowing women who may not feel spontaneously sexual to be more open to sexual engagement—an engagement that then leads to sexual arousal and a further increased desire for sex.

In this newer, more complex view of women’s sexuality, it is normative for sexual desire (and your sexual turn ons) to be more responsive to external conditions (especially relational factors) than spontaneous (arising within the individual like it does for many men). Of course this doesn’t capture every woman’s experience (many women have strong libidos and can feel a sexual hunger independent of having a close and satisfying relationship), but it offers an alternative to the male-centric model of sexuality that can help couples understand any gender differences that may exist.

It is important to note that any model used to understand human behavior is limited and doesn’t capture the uniqueness and complexity of every person. A case in point: I’ve also worked with many men who don’t feel sexual unless they feel close to their partner/spouse, and in these instances, these men need to be seduced so that sexual arousal leads to the motivation to have sex. These men don’t walk around with raging libidos that are readied for action. Instead, their libidos need to be stirred and awakened via contact with a loving other who they feel attracted to.

A Quick Note about Non-Orgasmic Sex

For many of the men I worked with over the years, the idea of not having an orgasm is akin to going to a restaurant in a ravenous state without being allowed any food. This would only increase one’s frustration and lack of satisfaction. But this need for orgasmic relief isn’t chased as relentlessly by some of the women I’ve worked with, as compared to their male counterparts.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard a wife (or female partner) turn to her husband and say something like, “It’s OK that I didn’t have an orgasm. The sex is enjoyable to me even without one. I feel so close to you while we’re having sex. And the harder you try to make me have an orgasm, the more self-conscious I become. Like I’m failing you somehow if I don’t have one. I don’t want us to emphasize me having orgasms…” Of course, this isn’t the case for all women, but if this is the message you receive from your wife/partner, it’s important to take this message seriously and not let your own ego stand in the way.

Why do so many men have a more difficult time with their wife’s or girlfriend’s lack of orgasm?

Here is one husband’s response when I asked him this question:

“If my wife doesn’t orgasm it feels like I failed. I failed to give her the pleasure I want her to have and the pleasure she deserves. Even if she tells me it’s OK, I feel like she is disappointed at some level, and I hate the way that makes me feel.”

I’ve heard this from many men, and while the sentiment is loving (I want to give my wife pleasure) there is also an egocentric element to it (“I failed somehow; I’m inadequate as a lover if I don’t bring my wife/partner to orgasm”). Men need to keep this limiting perspective in check, because if we let our sense of sexual inadequacy motivate our behavior (“I’ve failed if I can’t give my wife an amazing orgasm”), then our own motives will prevent us from really hearing our wife’s/partner’s truth.

Understanding Your Turn Ons/Libido Action Step:

While this post focused on two models of sexuality used to understand human sexual behavior, the real take-away is for you and your partner to have a greater understanding of each other’s turn-ons and turn-offs. Effective communication is always vital in furthering your discoveries about each other’s sexual richness.

Which of these models works best for understanding your sexuality? Your partner’s?

Discuss these responses in order to deepen the sexual and emotional connection that you both desire.

(Featured Image “She is my drug” courtesy of Bryan Brenneman Attribution 2.0 Generic CC BY 2.0)