Sexual desire in women – spontaneous or triggered?

If you want “more sex”, this may be the most important tip I have ever written.  So please slog through it!  I have added this issue to the original “How do you get an uninterested or unwilling wife to have more sex?” article as it has come to my attention since that was written.

Here is the meat of the issue:

Previous definitions of women’s sexual dysfunctions unfortunatelyassumed that the cycle of a woman’s sexual response always beganwith sexual desire, sexual thoughts and fantasies, and thattheir absence was evidence of a disorder. In a 1992 survey ofAmerican adults,1 the most common sexual dysfunction among women18–59 years of age was low desire, reported by just undera third of those surveyed, with little variation by age.2

In other words, we have said women are all like men – they feel desire, that leads to arousal, and that leads to orgasm. Thing is, this is wrong: for some women it’s never like that, and for most (possibly all) women it’s only like this some of the time.  Yes, some women do sometimes start with desire, but this is neither the norm, nor is it required. Many women rarely or never feel desire until arousal has occurred – for them desire is triggered by arousal. Such women can have a very active and satisfying sex life.  However, if a woman does not understand this, or if her husband is unwilling to accept it and work with it, problems will arise.

I understand wanting to be desired.  I get it – we each want our bride to have the deep lust for us, a force within their bodies and minds that drive them to beg us for sex. It’s a nice dream, but some women will never feel that, and others only feel it occasionally (most likely because of pre-ovulation hormones). This is not a dysfunction, it’s not a result of some previous sexual trauma or being uptight – this is what is normal for many, many women.

Several potential problems come from not understanding this very normal and valid female form of sexuality.

  • She tries to be what she is not, and gets frustrated: If she buys into the lie that she is supposed to feel spontaneous desire, and that this is the start of sex, she will be confused or feel inadequate if this is not how God made her. Her attempts to be what she is not will cause her frustration, self-doubt, and other negative feelings – all of which will further hurt her ability to be sexual.
  • She decides she is broken, and stops trying: How many women just give up on sex because they can’t do what they are told they should do? No one keeps trying once they realise what they are trying is impossible.
  • She does it for him, but misses enjoyment she could have: Some women learn that they get aroused and enjoy sex once it starts, but those who don’t know this is possible may miss out. If their husband does not understand that he can arouse her, and that her arousal will lead to desire, then he may not do what he could to make sex good for her.
  • Her husband’s unrealistic desires hurt her: He says, “I appreciate that you have sex when I ask, and that you usually end up enjoying it, but it hurts me that you never desire me.” She is being told she is hurting him, and the implication is that it’s her fault. She feels bad, and guilty, and those negative emotions are tied to sex. This can kill her ability to enjoy sex all together.
  • She – possibly at his insistence – spends a lot of time, energy, and money trying to fix something that is not broken: At best, this is a huge waste – more likely it delays or prevents her from learning to enjoy sex the way she was designed to.

If your wife sometimes or always feels arousal before desire – and research seems to indicate this is the vast majority of women – you need to understand that, and modify accordingly.

  • Questions like “Do you want to?” or “Are you horny?” miss the mark. She won’t feel any desire until sex starts, so what you want to know is if she is willing.
  • You need to put your ego and pride aside, and learn to make sex good for both of you even though she does not feel the spontaneous desire you would like her to feel.
  • She needs to have more control about what happens sexually. She needs to be able to say yes to sex knowing that 1) she may get aroused and enjoy it, and 2) if she does not, it’s okay with you to continue this one “just for him”.
  • You need to be okay with always being the one to ask. If she lacks the desire that causes someone to seek sex, she is not going to think to ask you.  That does not mean she is unwilling.
  • You both need to be okay with more asking by you, and more saying no by her.  If her saying yes or no is never about desire, then the way to have more sex is to ask more often.  If you triple your requests, and she doubles her saying no, the result is that 1) the two of you have more sex, and 2) she will say no more often. Can you live with that?  Can you accept a higher “failure rate” if the total number of successes is higher? Can she say no when she needs to, knowing that this way is better for both of you?

Think about this. Pray about it.  Then discuss it with your bride. Maybe print this tip out, or forward it to her.  Give her time to think about it, to see if it feels true for her. If it seems right, start working on changes that incorporate the truth of her sexuality into your marriage.

Below is a graphic and some discussion, if you want to think on this a bit more.

The parts I have made yellow are what we think is normal – what we all want – for women to “just feel horny and want sex”. Now notice that those parts are “extras”. Removing those parts does not break the sexual cycle – it does not prevent a woman from saying yes to sex, getting aroused, enjoying sex, and even having an orgasm – or two, or three. In addition, notice that having sex results in both sexual and non-sexual “rewards” that feed motivation to say yes in the future. As long as she does not hate it, having sex increases the odds of her being willing next time.




Graphic – Copyright 1995-2005, Canadian Medical Association. All rights reserved. ISSN 1488-2329 (e) 0820-3946 (p) Modified from Basson – (Basson R. Female sexual response: the role of drugs in the management of sexual dysfunction [erratum Obstet Gynecol 2001;98:522]. Obstet Gynecol 2001;98:350-3.)- and published with the permission of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

1 Laumann EO, Paik A, Rosen RC. Sexual dysfunction in the United States: prevalence and predictors [erratum JAMA 1999;281(13):1174. Comment JAMA 1999;282(13):1229]. JAMA 1999;281(6):537-44

2 Women’s sexual dysfunction: revised and expanded definitions Rosemary Basson Copyright 1995-2005, Canadian Medical Association. All rights reserved. ISSN 1488-2329 (e) 0820-3946 (p)Article here

Other parts of this series (current page in bold):

10 Comments on “Sexual desire in women – spontaneous or triggered?

  1. That’s amazing, Paul. It really helps to understand the way my wife ticks. Thanks very much for that.

  2. Wow this was an eye opener. Just when I thought I understood my wife after 13 years, this really opened my eyes. Looking back, I can see how totally true this is for my wife. Understanding this not only should greatly inform my approach to our love life, but creates a greater intimacy between us as I understand her better.

  3. “If your wife sometimes or always arousal first” Which word is missing here? It doesn’t make any sense as written. Great article, otherwise! You’ve said what my wife and have been trying to communicate to each othert, but unsuccessfully so far.

  4. I’m struggling with this article (or rather it’s implications). I can only speak from my personal experience, I’m not an “expert” in the broad sense – but I think there is more to this than what is covered in this article. However, If I started describing my situation to explain what I mean, that would be too “revealing” for the public audience.

    I think that a woman can change, or might change from one which is more desiring sex to one that is seeing it more as a burden. And I’m struggling to understand why that happens. Any advice? I would love to elaborate on that further in a personal email, Paul.

  5. Paul,

    Thank you for this article. While I have struggled for the last few years to get my DW to open up and attempt to be more like what I want her to be, this article hit the nail on the head. I printed it out and had her read it, and she agreed. She even replied that she felt that I had been trying to fix her in the past, and that she never felt that anything was wrong. In any case, it will cause me to be more open in what I ask for, even if I get turned down sometimes.

  6. @matthy – I hear you on moving from desiring to seeing as a burden. My feeling is that in most cases the woman was not enjoying sex nearly as much as was thought – maybe thought by both of them. I’ve seen the reverse situation, from burden to can’t get enough, when a woman finally “get’s it”.

    Feel free to use the contact form to e-mail me –

  7. Pingback: 3 Reasons Not to "Give Your Husband More Sex"

  8. Thank you for writing this article. I have never read something more right on about myself!!! I have honestly never felt so validated and understood as a woman.

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