When we talk about “desire,” we usually think we know what we’re talking about. But, as with most things related to sexual pleasure, it’s not as simple as we’re taught to believe.
In this awesome, and frankly, life-changing piece for Medium, Emily Nagoski draws a distinction between responsive desire and spontaneous desire.
Spontaneous desire is how we’re usually taught to think of desire: Desire somehow awakens within you, leading you to seek out sexual pleasure. Responsive desire flips the narrative: an experience of pleasure causes you to feel desire (for more pleasure). Both types of desire are valid, healthy, wonderful, and common; the problem, as Nagoski explains in depth, is that we are taught to think there is something wrong with us if we don’t routinely experience spontaneous desire.
She points out the ways that this problematic dynamic is at play in the creation and marketing of Flibanserin, the “female Viagra.” The main issue? “It makes women focus on whether or not they ‘CRAVE’ sex, distracting them from whether or not they ENJOY sex. (That’s not just a problem. That’s patriarchy.)”
Like moving our focus from goal-focused to pleasure-focused sex, shifting the paradigm when it comes to sexual desire can revolutionize our sexual experiences. As Nagoski points out, “it’s the fun – not the desire – that matters. Wanting sex is not the central feature of sexual wellbeing. The central feature of sexual wellbeing is: Liking the sex you have.
Spontaneous desire can be amazing and healthy. Responsive desire can also be amazing and healthy. Either way, it’s time we all learn and own the mantra: Pleasure is the measure.