Regardless if you’re partnered up or flying solo (and ain’t mad about it), there are always times when there’s nothing else we’d rather do than have a little fun in the bedroom. Not only does sexual intercourse and foreplay help to release stress, it also produces feel-good hormones that can instantly boost your mood and confidence. Even so, while you might be fantasizing on a Tuesday morning, by that evening you could be totally put off and would much rather cuddle with Netflix than your partner.
This is because our sex drives — no matter our sex or gender — are often complex and confusing for couples to navigate. There’s also all sorts of misconceptions and surprising truths about what entices our bodies for sex, making the connection between two people pretty difficult to describe. Why? It’s always changing, and oftentimes, there’s no rhyme or reason for our varying shifts in desire and lust.
As sex educator Anne Hodder says, “Sex drive is how our culture refers to one’s desire for sexual activity of some kind. I like to refer to it is as simply ‘desire for sex’ rather than “drive,” because the latter often associates sex with something humans need to survive, like food or water. But a person’s desire for sex can change throughout their life and there is no ‘normal’ level to experience,” she explains.
Now that you’re reassured that you can be hot and cold whenever you feel like it, consider these facts about sex drives (or desire for sex), as explain by sexperts:
1. When it comes to getting in the mood, it’s not about your genitals.
When it comes to what makes you excited to get naked, either alone or with a partner, Hodder emphasizes that traditional gender roles need to be eliminated. Why? Because it’s less about what’s going on between your legs and more about mental attraction. “People of all genders feel desire for sex in different capacities and it can be affected by a variety of outside influencers: stress, anxiety, sense of emotional safety with a partner, hormone balance – these are just a few factors that can affect whether or not we want to get busy with someone, regardless of the gender with which we identify,” she explains.
2. Soy can lower female sex drive
You don’t need us to tell you that what’s in your diet can impact all aspects of your life! From giving you an energy boost before working out to helping you get through that 3 p.m. afternoon crash at the office, what you fuel your body with is the driving force that connects your body to action. According to sexpert Colleen Singer, women who have high-soy diets might experience a decreased desire to get jiggy with it. “It has been reported that women who eat a lot of soy products usually have a low sex drive. Although soy products are high in nutritional value, they have phytohormones, which are known to change the endocrine system. This in turn lowers the female libido by seventy to eighty percent,” she explains.
3. Men struggle more with feelings of shame about their arousal.
While women might feel a some shame about what gets them going and process their turn-ons more emtionally than visually, for men, Hodder explains that staying in-line with the traditions of his friends, family, peers and overall society is often difficult to navigate when it comes to arousal. “Our culture holds strong ideals and expectations about what people should and shouldn’t find arousing – especially for men – and sometimes that pressure to feel or behave ‘normal’ can overpower what we might innately or naturally be aroused by,” she explains. This is why being with a partner who is willing to navigate the intimate, personal details that bring you pleasure is a plus for a healthy, happy sex life.
4. Women don’t like sex less than men — they just experience it differently.
The running joke in nearly every television show or sitcom — apart from maybe The Brady Bunch and Sex & the City — is women complaining about their partners initiating sex on the reg. Hodder says this couldn’t be further from the truth. “Some people are surprised to learn that there is no scientific evidence that supports the assumption that women simply have a lower sexual desire level than men. Our culture bases our understanding of sexual desire using male desire as a default, so anything that appears different from men’s sexual desire must be abnormal in some way,” she explains.
Do you initiate sex with your boyfriend more times than he does with you? No biggie. Every couple, every person is different — and there’s no reason to compare yourselves to other folks (who obviously prefer different strokes).
5. Everyone needs to feel safe to have great sex.
Consider what motivates you to act on your desires. It could be something tangible: the way someone smells or looks or the way they move. It could also be the setting — a night away from your kids or a special occasion. But most of the time, the largest (and most convincing) selling point is less about physical attributes and more about how comfortable you feel. This goes for men, too. When you don't feel like you can trust your partner (maybe you’re in a fight or they did something to betray your confidence) or frankly, they’re a new partner and you’re still getting to know them, you might be less keen to hop on a mattress.
“Lack of desire for sex can often be attributed to, among other things, a general lack of feeling ‘OK’ or safe. It’s not always about how attracted he feels toward his partner; he could be staring at the ultimate sexpot, the partner of his dreams, and his desire level won’t budge,” Hodder explains. “In this case, increasing his feeling of well-being (maybe with physical touch, words or affirmation, or some act of service) often will have a more effective result than simply revving up the stuff that turns him on (like porn, sexy underwear, or dirty talk).”
6. Acts of kindness can go a long way.
While putting in the extra effort for romance — from flickering mood light candles to lingerie — is appreciated, especially in long-term relationships, Hodder says for most people, it’s an act of kindness or a thoughtful gesture that can make the difference between getting it on and going to sleep. “For many people, stress and a distracted mind also can quickly pump the breaks in the bedroom, so I recommend in-bedroom activities that can combine foreplay with mindfulness and stress-reduction,” Hodder explains. “As simple as it might sound, taking time to breathe can do wonders to calm a buzzy nervous system – before any clothes come off, offer to rub your partner’s shoulders while they focus on breathing in and out with a steady rhythm. Steady, meditative breathing can have a noticeable effect on stress levels after just 5 minutes and make it easier to focus on the intimate moment, rather than what happened at work that day or the bills that just arrived in the mail.”
7. Men actually do go through "men-o-pause."
Depending on how old your partner is, you might notice that the days when he was ready to have sex no matter where you were — from your best friend’s housewarming party to the balcony of your honeymoon resort in Mexico — are long gone. As Singer explains, men go through a different type of ‘menopause’ than women do, causing them to desire less boogie time. “In most men, testosterone, the brain chemical that is the major driving force behind the male libido, goes on the decline beginning in middle age. When it does, they experience something very similar to menopause,” she says. “It’s called andropause, and the symptoms — lowered sex drive, fatigue, lack of interest in work and hobbies, mood swings, loss of muscle mass, hot flashes -- are often mistaken for run-of-the-mill aging.”
8. Female sex drives might be more complex than we think.
Because of how women’s bodies are built and the various chemicals we process, the act of getting it on is a different experience than it is for men. According to researcher Emily Nagoski, a female’s sex drive is more responsive, meaning that we don’t get ‘spontaneously’ turned on, but rather, we react to what our partner is doing in a given moment. Angie Gunn, LCSW, sex therapy expert at Talkspace explains, “Women respond to situations, initiation, or closeness with arousal. They may require more emotional intimacy, relaxation, relationship happiness, as well as sexual stimulation to build arousal. Cuddling and physical closeness has been found to have the same positive chemical response in women as sex, and may be the thing she desires in that moment. Testosterone was linked to desire in women if their cortisol levels (amount of stress) were low.”
Another thing that might make a woman’s inclination toward intercourse more complicated is that what turns us on one day isn’t always the same thing that turns us on the next day (or sometimes, even the next hour). “Women also tend to have more flexible sexual arousal patterns and orientation over time, meaning the things that get them hot change and can include different genders or sexual expressions,” Gunn explains. “So while men have more spontaneous sexual feelings, women’s desire may be more complex, and highly linked to other factors that may need to be awakened to start a sexual connection.”
9. Men are actually turned on more by how much they masturbate.
If you’ve ever found yourself angry at your partner for masturbating (or walked in on him in the act), you might take it to mean that he doesn’t want to be intimate with you. While that’s a pretty widespread belief, Gunn argues that a man’s choice to discover and explore his own sexual impulses by solo play will actually make him a better partner when you’re intimate together. “Men’s desire increases with masturbation frequency, which is contrary to the belief that if your partner jerks off too much he won’t desire sex with you. If he’s struggling to connect with you sexually, it’s likely not a factor of his level of desire but perhaps differences in arousal, sexual interests, insecurity, body image, stress, or mismatched expectations,” Gunn says. “The influence of the social construct of desire functions differently with men as well. They feel more pressure to perform, to be in charge, to facilitate pleasure and last forever. This stress can impact drive too. “