Why isn’t sex an “engine” and how does libido actually work?

Fver the past few years, mainstream society has gradually shifted towards a culture of sexual acceptance and celebration of pleasure. While it’s great that wanting and having sex is becoming more and more normalized, the idea of not wanting sex started to get more and more pathologized, which isn’t so great. In reality, both conditions can be true: people can naturally desire sex, and people can naturally be uninterested in it. And equating sex with an instinctual “drive” doesn’t accurately reflect that range.

To say that sex is not an urge, again, don’t not This means that people don’t naturally want to have it, because a lot of them do (more on how it works below). It just means that sex is not a drive in the same way that a drive connotes an inherent human need for something. “Physiologically, urges are reserved for survival-related activities such as the need for oxygen, food, and water,” says gynecologist and sexual medicine specialist Christie Cobb, MD. And we all know that you won’t die without sex, even if you feel like it.

“Physiologically, urges are reserved for survival-related activities such as the need for oxygen, food, and water.” —Christie Cobb, MD, gynecologist and sexual medicine specialist

The strong sexual desire that many people feel, however, may be why sex was first linked to the idea of ​​a “drive” – ​​back when sex was much more discreet than it is today, especially outside of marriage or for non-procreative reasons. “‘Sex’ and ‘drive’ became associated in the late 1800s due to Sigmund Freud’s theory of infantile sexuality, called ‘drive theory’,” says clinical psychologist and AASECT certified sex therapist Lori Lawrenz, PsyD. Generally, his concept of the development of the libido (his term comes from a Latin word for desire and lust) included the idea of ​​being leads having sex, she said.

It’s true that people are driven to have sex, in a colloquial sense, which is perhaps why the idea of ​​a “libido” has become so popular in the zeitgeist. But, it’s crucial to clarify what someone means when they talk about their libido, says Dr. Lawrenz. “Are they driven to have sex like they are driven to succeed at work?” she says. Because, in that case, driving might be an appropriate term.

Yet, just as it is normal not to have the drive to excel at work, it is also normal to not having a “drive” for sex, which is why sexual “desire” is often a more accurate term than “drive”. “The desire because sex is a motivational system,” Dr. Cobb explains, differentiating it from the physiological nuance of a “drive.” “With this motivation for sex often comes a reward, which reinforces the cycle.”

If sex isn’t an urge, then why are some people motivated to have it?

Sex can certainly be a natural desire, if not technically an urge. And usually, this happens in two ways: spontaneous and reactive. The first is probably what you associate with libido or a sexual “drive” that seems randomly (ahem, spontaneously) generated: it’s that feeling of arousal that makes you want to jump someone’s bones ( or bring you to orgasm) for no apparent reason. Because the libido has been widely portrayed this way in pop culture, it’s easy to assume that’s the only “normal” way to experience sexual desire, and that there’s something wrong. home if you don’t usually or never experience that random sexual fervor. .

But in reality, the other type of desire – reactive desire – is not only just as valid, but may also be more common in people with female sex organs. It’s about having sex in response to physical arousal or other motivations, such as a desire to be more intimate with a partner. And the simple fact that sexual desire is often only prompted in this way, by external factors, is another key reason why sex is not inherently a drive.

While “libido” also implies a constant motivating force, spontaneous and reactive desire allows room for change over time, which is very common. Biological factors (like being pregnant, postpartum, or in perimenopause) can cause fluctuations in sexual desire, as can cultural or societal norms regarding sex, the relationship you have with a sexual partner, and even mode-related factors. of life. Some of these factors are known to lower libido, such as chronic stress or lack of sleep, while others are known to increase libido, such as exercise or regular masturbation.

How the Concept of “Libido” Excludes People on the Asexuality Spectrum

Although a “workout” is not an entirely precise term to describe how and why people get aroused, it also implies that humans need have sex, the same way they need food or water. Not only is this inaccurate, but it also erases the existence of a category of people who do not often or never want sex.

“People who don’t experience much, if any, sexual attraction may identify as asexual,” says Dr. Cobb. But that doesn’t stop people on the asexuality spectrum from having an interest in romance or intimacy. “Many asexual people have healthy, committed relationships, but their attraction just isn’t based on gender,” she adds.

“There is nothing wrong with existing on the spectrum of asexuality.” —Dr. Cobb

It is also not emblematic of an underlying sexual dysfunction, as the person who identifies as asexual feels no distress regarding their lack of sexual desire. “An asexual person accepts their experience of being a person with little or no sexual desire,” says Dr. Lawrenz, “whereas a person with hypoactive sexual desire disorder, as characterized by DSM-5 , saw it as a problem don’t want sex.

In the latter case, when a person is experiencing distress from lack of sexual desire, there are certainly treatment options, including sex therapy, psychotherapy, and medication, that can help boost libido. But in the first case, simply on the spectrum of asexuality, the problem is not a pathology and, in turn, does not need to be “treated”, says Dr. Cobb: “It does not there is nothing wrong with existing on the spectrum of asexuality. And if this is you, know that you do not lack a kind of natural human “dynamism”.

The only reason why asexuality seems to be such an ‘abnormal’ or pathological identity is because it comprises a very small percentage of the population, says Dr. Cobb, ‘so most people live with different sexual expectations [than those of asexual people].” Since many queer people (i.e. people who do experience sexual desire) equate sex with romance and intimacy, it is important for asexual people to communicate their needs and limits to any romantic partner to ensure that their expectations of having – and not have – of sexual relations are known and respected.


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