Understanding The Loss of Sexual Desire written by Sarah McMurchie, Sex and Relationship Coach, first appeared on her website.
Emily Nagoski is a badass Ph.D. who teaches human sexuality. She wrote a book – Come As You Are. Here’s a secret: the entire sexology community was eager to get their mitts on her book, it was very exciting. I can’t recall the last time there was that much hullabaloo about one book.
In this important book, Dr Nagoski explains the interplay between sexual desire and stress — a concept that gives us a unique insight into what is going on in women’s sex lives.
The Accelerator and the Brakes
This concept is a big deal. Think of the accelerator and the brake of a car. Each pedal acts independently from one another; you can press on the accelerator and you can stomp on the brakes. You can even press both at the same time. We don’t often press them at the same time – in fact, I was specifically told NOT to do that in driver’s ed – but anyhow, pretend you do. If you press both pedals all the way to the floor of the car, do you stop or go?
That’s right, you STOP!
Ok, now get this, your brake pedal is all the stress you have and your accelerator is your sexual desire. In the same way that the brake and accelerator of a car are two separate pedals yet also inextricably linked, so are your stress and your arousal. They are not the same things, yet have everything to do with one another.
If your stress level is high, the majority of women have brakes that turn on, meaning, no matter how much sexy stuff is going on around her, she does not want sex at all. It is like she is pressing down the brakes and the accelerator at the same time.
This isn’t the case for all women; some women have extremely sensitive brakes or extremely sensitive accelerators. And as Nagoski has found, while this correlation between stress and sexual desire is more common for women, men experience it too (just not quite as often).
Sexual Desire: Let’s take a real example
Candice has had a tough day. Her boss called her into the office to tell her about the impending layoffs that are likely to happen, her kids got their report cards from school and two of the three are skating by with C’s, she hasn’t had a day off in over a month, and she forgot to buy milk at the store on her way home. To top it all off, they’re having pizza for dinner, again, even though they are supposed to be eating healthy.
When Matt, her husband, gets home, he is bearing flowers for Candice. They had planned on being able to cuddle up together and have sex that night, they had even made the bed and strewn yummy smelling candles about their bedroom that morning in anticipation. But sex was the last thing Candice wanted that night. No matter how sexed up their bedroom was or how sweet Matt was being with her. As Matt leaned in for a kiss, Candice thinks to herself, “Fuck no, there is no way in hell we’re having sex tonight.”
Let’s take a step back. All those sexy things – the freshly made bed, the candles, the sweet texts Matt sent her throughout the day, and the flowers – all activated her accelerator. In any other situation, with all those sexy things around Candice, she would have wanted to have sex. However, all the stressors – the conversation with her boss, her kids’ grades, forgetting the milk, and pizza for dinner, again – activated her brake. And her brake overpowers her accelerator.
See, both her accelerator and brake were being pressed, but her brake won out.
This is important because…
Often, women wonder why they are wet or horny even if they don’t want to have sex. The accelerator and brakes can both be activated at the same time, but you still won’t have sex because the brakes tend to win out.
Arousal and desire are two different functions in the body and there ain’t nothing wrong if her body is saying one thing and her mind is saying another.
Does stress dampen your enthusiasm for sex?