Hi there.

So my site stats showed a weird little spike over the last week or so, and it turns out to be entirely from this relatively small subreddit called “DeadBedrooms,” which they describe this way:

A support group for Redditors who are coping with a relationship without any physical intimacy in it. Advice is always appreciated, just don’t be surprised if we’ve heard it all.

My original posts about responsive desire have gotten a lot of play there, helping people to understand that what seems like low desire may in fact be openness or willingness that needs the right circumstances to turn into active desire. They’ve also been learning about what women want.

They have some questions about responsive desire and the dynamics that emerge in a relationship with differential desire (which is, by the way, the most common sexual dysfunction, and in het relationships men and women are equally likely to be on the higher desire end of things). Like this question:

So the “responsive desire partner” only wants sex in response to another’s desire – but if the other expresses desire, it is treated as “pressure,” and sex is withheld as punishment?

To which another redditor replied, very cogently:

If the relationship is healthy, then a responsive desire person will feel arousal when their partner initiates and enjoy sex with their partner.

If the relationship has soured, the responsive partner stops accepting advances from their partner and then experiences no other desire spontaneously. If pressure persists, the responsive desire person feels a range of emotions with time and situation – sometimes guilt, sometimes anger that their partner only cares about sex and not them, sometimes vindictive refusal of sex – its become a battle in a larger war, i suppose.

On the other hand, a spontaneous desire person (HL) in a relationship that has soured will feel loathing for their partner but still have a desire for sex, persist in pursuing it, and when they get it, they fuck with anger and loathing in their heart.

edit: arousal isnt a choice. Do you think you’d get aroused for sex with a donkey if it made your partner happy? For many people, their feelings about their partner matter a lot in regard to their desire.

Well, exactly.

Several people asked about medical problems or hormones – a possibility, but not a probability. Depression or other mood, anxiety, or personality disorder is more likely, if it’s a mental health thing. But mostly it’s probably just stress and chasing dynamic.

You fix the chasing dynamic by deliberately changing the rules of initiation in your relationship. This is easiest to do when you have a therapist to referee, but if you’ve got great, open communication, you can do it on your own.

How common is responsive desire in women? That’s another question they have. Answer: 30% of women report never or almost never feeling spontaneous desire for sex. Maybe 40-50% more experience something in between spontaneous and responsive desire, and the remainder, about 15-25%, are predominantly spontaneous. And yes, it can change across a person’s lifespan; older women appear to be more likely to report responsive desire. And the folks who experience a combination of spontaneous and responsive desire often feel spontaneous when their sexual circumstances are highly conducive to trusting, connected sex.

Changing a “dead bedroom” usually requires some kind of change in the relationship, with curious, affectionate collaboration between both partners, because it is the relationship, and not anything specific about either individual in that relationship, that is creating the dynamic.

Can I offer one suggestion about how to do this successfully?

Humor. Don’t take it too seriously. There are things you want, and if your relationship is healthy then your partner wants to give you the things you want; and there are things your partner wants, and you want to give your partner those things. Sometimes your needs don’t overlap perfectly. I realize both people have A Lot Of Feelings and Even More Feelings about it, and those deserve and need to be allowed space to be released, but they aren’t going to facilitate the solution.

SO hey! It’s okay! If you can have the conversation from a perspective of humor and curiosity, rather than all the intense emotional drama described above, you’ll be MUCH more likely to sort out an effective solution!

And my grandmother’s advice: both people have to give 100%. If each person gives 50/50, you have half a relationship.

Hope that helps. Feel free to ask questions in the comments! (I’d say “email me,” but honestly I’m at the tail end of writing a book so my inbox is just a shitshow. Sorry.)

EDIT: Also this post about how you know when you end the relationship may or may not be relevant.

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