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  • Lillie Brown

The truth about low sexual desire

You're not broken for not feeling turned on.

A woman with dark hair in a bun is sitting on a chair looking off to the side. She is wearing a pink striped shirt and orange pants.

Can we stop pathologising low desire, please?

I consider my professional purpose to help you live your best (sex) life. And as such, I need you to strap in and read on for some long-overdue mythbusting about low desire. Class is in session.

One of the most common concerns that I hear from people, particularly from women, is that they have no desire for sex. They’ll often tell me “my libido is dead”, “I could go the rest of my life without sex” or “I’d rather do anything else”. These claims are quickly followed by confessions like “I feel broken.” “There is something wrong with me.” “I’m a failure.”

These sentiments are heartbreaking. And they’re heartbreakingly common. I vehemently disagree with the idea that if you experience low desire there must be something “wrong” with you. This is a pathologising way of looking at desire and it’s also downright incorrect.

In my work with clients, this is often our starting point—unpacking what desire actually is.

What is desire?

Desire, at its core, is a wanting, an interest, or a yearning for sex.

We tend to misconstrue desire with arousal. Arousal is the physical and mental state of being sexually turned on. We often think that desire must precede arousal, but that's not the case. In Dr Emily Nagoskis seminal book, Come As You Are, she affirmed that desire doesn’t always come before arousal and that this is just one way of experiencing desire.

Spontaneous vs Responsive Desire

There are two main desire types—spontaneous and responsive. Spontaneous desire emerges in anticipation of pleasure. It’s the type of desire that seemingly appears out of nowhere and the type often depicted in film and TV, as the actors swipe everything on the counter to the floor before pounding into one another and having an impeccably timed simultaneous orgasm twenty seconds later.

Responsive desire emerges in response to pleasure. It’s the type of desire that begins to simmer when you’re exposed to sexual stimuli like a kiss on the neck, a loaded gaze from your partner, or a specific type of touch.

If you have a responsive desire type, your desire kicks in and arousal begins to build when you experience pleasure. Pleasure sends signals to your brain and nervous system that say “Oh yeah, sex! That would be hot. Let’s get into it.”

Both types are normal, healthy, ways to experience desire and importantly, they’re not fixed states. They sit at either end of the desire spectrum and you’ll flow between the two of them during your lifetime based on different contexts.

It’s normal not to feel turned on

When clients come and see me for low desire, they want recommendations for a hot new position, a sex toy that will make their eyes roll back in pleasure, or a tantric sex tip that will make the sex feel like it did when they first got together.

We think that if we add more accelerators, things that turn us on, our desire will start simmering.

But the reality is, there is no quick fix for low sexual desire.

Most of the time, problems in our sex lives arise when there is too much stimulation on our brakes. No matter how much gas you apply to your accelerators, if your brake is flat to the floor, you’re simply not going to be interested in engaging sexually. 

This means it's normal to feel less arousal and less desire when:

  • Sex is boring, unpleasant, or painful

  • You're worried about money (hello, cost of living crisis) 

  • You’re stressed about work

  • You’ve been fighting with your partner a lot lately

  • You feel obligated to satisfy your partner sexually or like you “owe” them sex

  • You feel overstimulated as fuck

  • You’re sick, living with chronic pain, or experiencing health issues

  • Your kids have been nagging and hanging off you all day

This is not a dysfunction and doesn't need to be pathologised and labeled. Experiencing low desire as a result of these contexts is pretty fucking human.

You're not going to want to have sex, to surrender to the unknown, to unravel into pleasure—particularly with a partner—when all of those things are adding pressure to your brakes.

Through the lens of the nervous system, exposure to these stressors can activate a fight-or-flight state. This stress response releases a surge of adrenaline and cortisol through your system, signalling to your body and brain that sex isn’t a priority right now, effectively flatlining your desire.

Reduce pressure on your brakes

If you want to increase your desire for sex, you need to reduce the pressure on your brakes.

I invite you to ponder these questions:

  • What activates your accelerator? ie the things that dial up your arousal or interest in sex

  • What slams on the brakes? ie the things dampen your arousal or interest in sex

  • How can you create a context that activates your accelerator more and your brakes less?

  • What kind of sex is worth not doing anything else?

This process intends to identify your turn-ons and turn-offs and then use this information to reduce the pressure on your brakes. And if you’re having sex with other humans, it’s essential that you share this with them.

Sex is a co-created experience. Your partner isn’t responsible for your pleasure. But they are responsible for coming to the table, being curious, and co-creating a context that makes sex a drool-worthy, pleasurable experience for both of you.

If you'd like personalised support to navigate low sexual desire, please book a session with me. You're welcome here.


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