I am not a comment reader, as a rule (apart from y’all), but when attentive people, doing more thinking than reacting, comment about the stuff I write, I usually learn something important. Like here:
Probably [Emily’s] biggest point is that “responsive desire” is not the same as low desire, but she’ll have her own book on the subject out pretty soon.
Yeah, okay, but (a) it’s not the case that spontaneous desire is just what men have while women have responsive desire — it depends on the circumstances, (b) spontaneous desire can be a lot more fun, and © it actually is a drag when you find yourself not doing things you like because it is hard to get up the enthusiasm to do them. That goes for a lot of things that aren’t sex, too.
(NB: The book will be out in March 2015. You can pre-order here!)
I’ll address © in its own post. For now:
(a) Of course not – and it depends both on circumstances AND on sexual temperament (SIS and SES). It is more common in women than men (no data on folks who don’t identify in the binary), but it does totally occur in men. It’s maybe 30% of women and 5% of men in the industrialized West experience as their dominant style, and the majority of women and men experience a blend of responsive and spontaneous desire, depending on the context. One of my other big points is that CONTEXT is a major component of desire problems, including particularly the chasing dynamic. There are no gender differences in who fills which role – chaser or chasee – in the chasing dynamic.
(b) This is what I’ve taken to calling “the privilege of spontaneous desire.” Our culture absolutely believes that spontaneous is better. “More fun.” More than that, we think spontaneous desire is how desire is “supposed” to work; desire should just come (like gravy) without effort. As though having to TRY to want something devalues the desire. And, yes, sure, it is fun and exciting both to want sex rapaciously and to be the object of someone else’s rapacious wanting, to want sex so much it feels like a need, like you’ll break apart if you don’t get it and you might even break apart if you do. It’s high intensity.
It can also be fun and exciting to explore with curiosity and creativity, to find the thing that will spark and ignite your own desire.
Welcome to meta-emotions. There’s how you feel… and then there’s how you feel about how you feel.
How our culture has taught us to feel about spontaneous desire is GOOD, and how it has taught us to feel about responsive desire is BAD. Guess which valence of meta-emotion increases sexual desire? Uh-huh. What if responsive desire were the “normal” desire type (as it would be, probably, if female sexuality were the “default” instead of male sexuality)? We’d look at spontaneous folks and be like, “Ew. Jesus, RELAX.” I don’t think we should do that, but it goes to show both how powerful cultural norms are in shaping our lived experience of our sexualities AND how not okay it is to judge someone’s else’s experience of sexuality.
We’re all DIFFERENT. And to the extent that we engage in mutually consensual sex, with integrity and respect, we’re all NORMAL. (Look at the name of the blog.) And that’s why I call it “privileged.” I can’t fix the culture (… though, all of us together… ?), but I can increase your awareness of your meta-emotions and I can point out that you have the option of trying on different meta-emotions.
Try these on: What if responsive desire were an opportunity to play, to be creative, to explore what contexts create desire, until you’ve discovered a range of contexts that keep you tuned in to your sexuality?
What if spontaneous desire is the easy, snack-size desire, while responsive desire is the gourmet meal that you take time to prepare, time to savor, and time to reminisce about. “God remember that AMAZING meal we prepared together?
How fun it was to make, how delicious it was, how beautiful it looked on the plate, and how I almost couldn’t bear to eat the last bite?”
When people don’t like roller coasters, people who DO like roller coasters may be inclined to call them cowards. When people don’t experience WILD INTENSE SPONTANEOUS DESIRE, people who do may be inclined to call them prudes. But they’re just different.
I wish there were already a big body of research telling us a bunch of amazing things that are associated with responsive desire, the way we now have an avalanche of research telling us how introversion has some amazing advantages. But I don’t know of any research along those lines (and if you do, please tell me!), and I think that’s at least in part because mostly sexual desire in humans gets studied in a clinical context – what’s WRONG, and how do we fix it, rather than what’s RIGHT and how do we maximize it?
So hey listen: if you’re a person with primarily responsive desire – or if you’re in a relationship with someone with responsive desire – and you’ve found strategies for making your sexual dynamic AWESOME, tell us all about it in the comments! It’s yet another gap in the research, and I need your help filling it, with info about:
- How do you manage initiation? - What gets you from “meh” to “YES!”? - If you encounter resentment or rejection or pressure, how do you manage those feelings? - Were there problems that you overcame, to get to this good place? How did you do it?
We want to see responsive desire made awesome!