To increase libido, boost “closeness” and “otherness”

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People’s sexual desire for their partners is not constant. In fact, for a variety of reasons (eg, novelty fading), sexual desire tends to decrease over time. However, this is not true for all couples. Why?

According to a recent study by Goss et al., published in the August issue of youhe Journal of social and personal relationshipsthe answer may have something to do with self-expansion.

The study investigated the predictions of self-expansion theory – in particular, that “people are naturally driven to grow and that romantic relationships are the primary means for people to expand their sense of self” . Self-expansion, this research concluded, is associated with “greater closeness and otherness, and, in turn, higher sexual desire.”

Before continuing, some definitions:

  • Proximity: Feeling connected to your love partner and taking on their aspects as your own.
  • Otherness: Feeling that you are learning new or unique things about your romantic partner.
  • Self-expanding: Shared (new) experiences with your romantic partner that expand your worldview and sense of self.

Investigate personal expansion and increased sexual desire

Study 1

To taste: 242 sexually active people (48% men); average age of 33; average length of relationship nine years; 66% white; 81% heterosexual and 9% bisexual; 47% married; 69 percent with children.

Methods and Measures

Participants answered daily surveys for 21 days. Were measured:

  • Self-expanding. Six items of the Self-Expansion Questionnaire (SEQ). Example: “How much has knowing your partner made you a better person?”
  • Proximity. A single item from the Needs Satisfaction Scale: “Today, when I was with my partner, I felt a lot of closeness and intimacy.”
  • Otherness. Two items: “Today I learned something about my partner that I didn’t know” and “Today I saw a new side of my partner”.
  • Sexual desire. “Today I felt a great sexual desire for my partner.”
  • relationship satisfaction. An item from the Components of Perceived Relationship Quality Inventory: “Are you satisfied with your relationship?”

Study 2

To taste: 368 people (48% men); average age of 32; average length of relationship eight years; 70% white; 81% heterosexual and 19% bisexual; 41% married; 22% with children.

Methods and Measures

The survey included a 45-minute background survey followed by three weekly surveys.

The measures included the following:

  • Self-expanding. Three items of SEQ.
  • Proximity. The scale of inclusion of the other in oneself (IOS). Participants had to indicate their identity as a couple by choosing from seven pairs of progressively overlapping circles representing the person and their romantic partner.
  • Otherness. Three questions, similar to study 1.
  • Sexual desire. Same as previous survey.
  • relationship satisfaction. “I felt satisfied with my relationship.”

Study 3

To taste: 319 people (42% men); average age of 37; average length of relationship 12 years; 85% white; 86% heterosexual and 7% bisexual; 53% married; 45% with children.

Methods and Measures

Participants were randomly divided into three groups: A familiar and comfortable group A self-expansion group and a control group.

The first two conditions required performing a recall task. Specifically, participants were asked to recall a time when they had engaged in one of two types of activity with their partner:

  • A new and exciting activity (self-expanding condition)
  • A familiar and relaxing activity (familiar and comfortable condition)

They were asked to describe “how the experience made them feel when the experience happened, and how difficult it was to remember.”

Subsequently, all of them completed a number of measures:

  • Proximity. As in the second study.
  • Otherness. Four items. Example: “I’m still learning things about my partner that I didn’t know before.”
  • Sexual desire. “How much sexual desire or interest do you feel for your romantic partner right now? »
  • relationship satisfaction. “How satisfied are you with your relationship right now?

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“Closeness” and “otherness” increase sexual desire

The results supported the link between self-expansion and sexual desire and suggested that the link can be explained by proximity and otherness.

But the proximity alone is insufficient to explain the relationship between self-expansion and sexual desire, as some people with high levels of intimacy and closeness still experience low sexual desire.

Thus, sexual desire also requires high levels of otherness – the psychological distance that allows one to see one’s partner in new ways and to learn new and interesting things about them.

Why do high relationship satisfaction and sexual desire require that increased closeness be accompanied by increased otherness?

Perhaps because proximity alone leads to the “fusion” of partners. And, as self-determination theory has suggested, people should not only feel connected and intimate, but also perceive themselves as distinct, autonomous and competent individuals.

This is why it is important to engage in self-expanding activities. As Goss and coauthors note, engaging in self-expanding activities can present “opportunities for otherness by placing partners in new, exciting, or challenging situations in which to learn something new about [the person’s intimate partner] is more likely and can promote desire as they present opportunities for personal expansion.


According to the theory, self-expansion is associated with higher sexual desire. However, personal expansion and sexual desire tend to decrease over time.

Self-expansion is linked to desire because it “creates opportunities for partners to feel closer to each other and appreciate the unique and new ways each person contributes to the relationship”, “thereby fostering desire “.

Indeed, individuals in a romantic relationship often function best when they feel connected yet separate and have both a sense of belonging and autonomy.

So, to maintain the spark, both partners must maintain their personal expansion. How? Here are some suggestions:

  • Take classes together or use online resources to learn something new.
  • Visit a new place: museums, botanical gardens, wineries, zoos, antique shops, etc.
  • Try a new activity: making pizza, picking fruit, dancing, hiking and kayaking.
  • Share opinions on a topic you rarely discuss, from your favorite childhood TV shows to retirement plans.

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