Sexual desire is often presented as one of life’s great mysteries. Who can say why we are attracted to one person, and not to another? Or madly attracted to someone at first, but after a few months or years, the same person leaves us cold?
Many damaging myths and misinformation campaigns have arisen to explain this apparently contradictory, unpredictable beast – sexual desire.
Myths and Lies About Sexual Desire
“Women don’t really want sex; they become willing to do it for a man they love.”
“Men are always up for sex with someone new, but they get bored quickly in monogamous relationships.”
“Treat ‘em mean and keep ‘em keen.”
“Oh, you just need to spice it up a little – buy some lingerie, or some sex toys. Watch dirty movies together. Have a threesome.”
And, in recent times, courtesy of the Neo-Tantra gurus “You have lost polarity. Spend more time apart and act more like the stereotypical man or woman.”
As a relationship coach, I have worked with many couples over many years, and I can assure you that women can want sex, and men can not want it. People can be monogamous without getting bored in bed, manipulative games are at best a band-aid and at worst a disaster, and “spicing it up” might work for a brief while, but if you don’t address the real issue, the problem will be back.
And “polarity” – don’t get me started on the horrible distortions that I have seen enacted in the name of “polarity”!
The Truth About Sexual Desire: Lust
Sexual desire operates on a number of levels. According to scientists, there is a basic, biological component to sexual desire, based on genetic and immunological compatibility. If this component is present when two people meet, it will be present for a lifetime, because it is based on aspects of the physical body that don’t change much over time.
The one exception to this rule is when women start or stop using hormonal birth control – the hormonal changes affect the desirability of the woman in general, and they change the type of man to whom she is attracted.
But that is not the issue with the vast majority of couples I work with. The basic biological polarity is in place, and it doesn’t change.
The Truth About Sexual Desire: Romance
The next level of sexual desire is attraction. This is the fascination we experience in the early stages of a relationship, when we (almost literally) can’t keep our hands off each other.
This is the level at which visual and behavioural cues bring us together. Holding the gaze for a little longer than usual, playing with the hair, moving into one another’s personal space, and so on. These “flirting” behaviours are often gender-specific, with the female version being more coy on average, and the male version more assertive.
The big mistake is to imagine that the attraction between two people is caused by these gender-specific behaviours. In truth, the attraction is communicated by these behaviours. The cause of the attraction lies elsewhere.
The seeds of this level of attraction lie in the social self – the persona that has been constructed since early childhood, based on messages from outside.
This is where we get our exaggerated images of the “ideal woman” and the “ideal man”. The ideal woman was a stick-figure in the 1990s, an hour-glass in the 1950s, and a voluptuous, curvy goddess in Raphael’s time, and the ideal man has always had muscular shoulders, and a square jaw, and only recently has come to require a six-pack.
The ideal woman is soft, kind, and never argues. The ideal man is masterful, understands intuitively what his woman needs, and surprises her with thoughtful gifts on a regular basis.
When we are in the romantic early stages of a relationship, we are motivated to do all sorts of things to express our love and appreciation for our partner. We say loving words. We shower them with gifts and acts of service. We can’t wait to see them again. We touch. A lot. Especially sexually.
The thing is, this motivation arises from the reward/punishment centre of our brain, not the emotional centre. We think of it as love, but it is, quite unromantically, an addiction to our own reward chemical, dopamine.
This crazy, obsessive romantic period has a time limit. We can’t perpetuate the species if we are staying up late and ditching work to be together every day for the rest of our lives. What will we eat? And how will we pay the rent? At some point, we need to settle into a more sustainable pattern of relating, so we have the energy for feeding and housing ourselves (and the offspring that evolution intends us to have).
The Truth About Sexual Desire: Love
The third type of sexual desire is so different from the first two that many people aren’t even aware that it exists.
Sexual desire in the context of a long-term bond is based on feelings of safety and comfort. Your partner might have “love handles”, and not have shaved for a few days, and you would never look at them twice in a singles bar, but you feel warm and comfortable in bed with them on a Sunday morning, and one thing naturally leads to another …
This is almost the exact opposite of the crazy highs that come from dopamine in the romantic phase. Dopamine is heightened by risk-taking, so someone who is “bad for you” in some way can be even more rewarding, because it is a more risky situation.
In a long-term relationship, the opposite is true. Someone who hurts you unpredictably might make an exciting lover. You might enjoy the passionate reunions and make-up sex after a big fight. In a long-term relationship, over time, that unpredictable hurtfulness will totally kill sexual desire.
The Unromantic Secret To Keeping Sexual Desire Alive For A Lifetime
It all comes down to this – does your partner feel SAFE with you?
Do they feel loved, wanted, and accepted, just the way they are, or are you forever trying to change them “for their own good”? Do you see them for the unique soul they are, or are you casting them as the enemy in your unresolved childhood dramas?
We all have patterns wired into our brains from our childhood, and those patterns run our romantic partnerships. So check your patterns – are they healthy, constructive patterns, or are they patterns that hurt your partner from time to time?
- Purify Your Relationship Patterns. Make sure you are consistently showing up as an empowering, supportive, affirming partner.
- When You Mess Up, Clean Up. Nobody expects perfection. You will have bad days, discover new dysfunctional patterns, and go through periods of intense stress, illness, and other issues. All these things make you less patient and your partner less resilient.
If you handle it well, you can heal the emotional wound before it undermines the sexual desire in your relationship. Sit down, take responsibility for your part in the hurt, listen, give empathy, apologise, and, if necessary, do something to make amends.
Your reward? A lifetime of rich, fulfilling sex on tap!