Episode 230 – Sex Isn’t A Drive

sex drive

Have you heard the phrase “sex drive”? I’m sure we all have. But in truth, sex isn’t a drive, it’s a mindset. Why is this important? Because when we think that we need it, or should need it, it becomes a release rather than a way to get closer to our spouse. Listen to this episode to find out what a biological drive actually is, and why it is so important to know that if you don’t want sex, you aren’t broken.

sex drive

Show Notes:

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References for this episode:

Sex is NOT a Drive Like Hunger, and Here are 2 Reasons This Fact Matters

Come as You Are by Dr. Emily Nagoski

Passionate Marriage by Dr. David Schnarch

Show Summary:

We often talk about sex as if it is a drive.  The words “sex drive” is used all the time, sometimes even by doctors and scientists.  But sex isn’t a drive, it’s a mindset.  In the book Come As You Are by Dr. Emily Nagoski, she explains that thinking about sex as a drive is not only factually wrong, but it’s also dangerous.

Before we get into why it’s important for you to understand that sex is not a drive, let’s talk about what a drive actually is.

Nagoski explains “a drive is a biological mechanism whose job is to keep the organism at a healthy baseline – not too warm, not too cold, not too hungry, not too full.”  She goes on to say “we can starve to death, die of dehydration, even die of sleep deprivation.  But nobody has ever died because of not being able to get laid.”

In other words, drives are motivational systems that keep you from dying.  The desire for sex does not fall into this category.  Instead, sexual desire is an “incentive motivation system.”  It is something you are drawn to because you know that it feels good when you get it, but you don’t actually need it.

Why does this matter?  It means you are normal.  You are not broken.  The standard narrative when it comes to sexual desire is that you see someone and you think “I’d like to have sex with them.”  You just desire them, all of a sudden.  This is called spontaneous desire, but it only happens reliably for about 75% of men but only 15% of women.  In other words, women don’t look at their husband and immediately or spontaneously feel in the mood for sex.  About 30% of women rarely or never experience spontaneous desire.

Most women experience what we call responsive desire.  They need to actively decide to start thinking about sexy things in order to feel aroused.  They also need to feel safe, they need to feel trust, they need to feel like they have the freedom to choose yes or no, and they often need to be touched first.  Once all of those are in place, only then can the blood start flowing.  It’s very much about a mindset.

It’s important to know that sex is not a drive so that people who don’t want sex all the time (mainly women) are not made to feel abnormal for not wanting something they “should” want.

Nagoski says that thinking about sex as a drive “fosters men’s sense of sexual entitlement.”  According to a study, sexual entitlement is a primary reason men sexually assault women.  I would also say, from my own anecdotal experience, it is what most often fosters duty sex, like we talked about last week.

Even if the desire for sex is our number one desire,  even if that desire is stronger than any other desire we have for anything else, it doesn’t mean that we need it, and it certainly doesn’t justify taking it from someone else (including your spouse) without their enthusiastic consent.

I understand that sex can often feel like a drive, even if it really isn’t.  In our culture we have been taught to want, want, want, want it now.  We’ve also been taught that our wants are actually needs, when they really aren’t.

I would guess that the majority of men and many women love sex and feel like it’s something that we should be having regularly.  After last week’s episode on duty sex I even had one man commenting on my posts that it was a sin to not have sex with your spouse.  And while I wouldn’t go so far as to say it was a sin, I would say that it’s important to understand this part of yourself so that you can show up as your best sexual self in your marriage.

But, I was recently reading a passage in the book Passionate Marriage by Dr. David Schnarch and I really liked what he had to say about it.  He said “We don’t realize that seeing sex as a “drive” makes us focus on relieving sexual tensions rather than wanting our partner.  It may be true that the more tension people feel, the more they tend to seek relief – but if that’s the only reason you think your partner wants to be with you it tends to kill sex and intimacy in marriage.”

Another thing Dr. Schnarch said was “seeing sexual desire as a biological drive sets us up to believe we’re automatically supposed to know how to have sex. It also makes us think we should want sex all the time – although human sexual desire is more affected by circumstance and meaning than in lower species.  But you can’t make sex more intimate or ever want to feel wanted or chosen using this approach because hormones, hunger, and sex “drive” don’t choose.”

I agree with Dr. Schnarch 100%!  Which is why, when I am working with women, I much prefer to work on the mindset piece as well as the emotional piece.  To help them understand why they aren’t desiring their partner and sex now and how to create that desire for them.  Because it really is about how they are thinking and feeling and not just if they have the “drive” because of hormones.   If they can shift their perspective about sexual desire, and view it as a product of the emotions of sex as opposed to a “drive,” desire can be sparked again.  The “drive” of sex is really just a combination of emotions and it can be affected in both positive and negative ways.  Emotions are always our guide.  They help us understand what we need, help us express those needs, and push us to act on them.

Women often have the mindset that “he just wants sex” instead of “he wants me” which makes them feel unloved, unchosen, and often used.  And that’s really what it comes down to.  Do you desire to relieve that sexual tension that you have in your body or do you desire to make love to your spouse?  Maybe, as a woman especially, you don’t desire sex, but can you work to desire your spouse?  Can you choose them?  Love them?  And show them how much you love them with not only your words, but with your whole being, mind, body, and soul?

If you want to keep the sex alive in your marriage, you have to grow up.  You have to shift from a desire out of horniness (like you maybe had when you were younger) to a desire for your spouse – wanting to share something with them that you can’t share with anyone else.

You may have heard me share before that I am the higher desire partner in my marriage.  But my husband is not low desire.  He’s probably just slightly lower than I am.  We are both pretty high desire.  But even with being high desire, I don’t have this drive or this need for sex all the time.  But I do have the desire for my husband all the time.  To communicate with him, through my body, through my words, through my soul how much I love him, choose him, and desire HIM as a person.  I think a lot of times we have suppressed that need to connect with another person through our body because of how we have viewed sex.  But if you think about it, you often connect with your children through your body.  You hug them.  You kiss them.  You stroke them.  My son always wants me to scratch his back.  We connect to each other all the time through our bodies, but if we feel used and our partner just wants sex out of horniness rather than actually wanting connection, it makes sense that it can be a turn off.  So I challenge you to ask your partner if it’s just about sex or if it’s really about you.  I’m guessing for most men, it’s really about communicating to you how much he loves you.

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