I drew this graph about sexual desire... and I think it might change your life.

Regular readers know that I often talk about responsive desire, a completely normal and strongly evidence-based desire “style” that contrasts with “spontaneous” desire.

“Spontaneous” desire is sexual desire that feels out of the blue, whereas responsive desire emerges once a person is in an erotic context. The mainstream cultural understanding of desire tends to be that it’s “spontaneous,” and I’ve been looking for a way to show that responsive desire is just as normal and healthy as spontaneous desire.

Well. I decided to draw a graph.

See, while I was writing the book, I figured out rough estimates of what proportion of men and women experience their desire as “spontaneous” or “responsive” - as you would guess, men more often feel “spontaneous” while women’s desire is more varied and more sensitive to context.*

But when I drew this graph and SAW it… I mean, look:

  responsive desire graph  

What this means is that about 30% of women and 5% of men experience their sexual desire as more or less exclusively “responsive,” while about 15% of women and 75% of men experience their desire as more or less exclusively “spontaneous.” And most of the other folks – about half of women – experience is as some combination of the two, depending on the context.

So yeah. About half of people – 85% of women and 25% of men, for an average of 55% of the total population – don’t have spontaneous desire as their dominant desire style.

Can this settle, once and for all, the question of whether or not responsive desire is just as normal as spontaneous desire?

And if you’re wondering, “Where do I fit on this graph?” here’s a quick, non-sciencey guide to spontaneous v. responsive desire:

 

+-----------------------------------+-------------------------------+
| **Spontaneous Desire**            | **Responsive Desire**         |       
+-----------------------------------+-------------------------------+
| - Sexual desire feels like it     | - Sexual desire emerges only  |
| appears "spontaneously," out      | in an erotic context, after   |
| of the blue                       | sexy things start happening.  |
|                                   |                               |
| - Totally normal and healthy      | - Totally normal and healthy  |                                               
|                                   |                               |
| - Culturally sanctioned as the    | - Culturally medicalized as   |
| "expected" desire style           | "low" desire -- perhaps       |
|                                   | because it's less frequent    |
|                                   | in men?                       |
|                                   |                               |
| - May include more frequent       | - May include less frequent   |
| desire for sex - multiple         | desire for sex - less than    |
| times per week                    | once a week in most contexts  |
|                                   |                               |
| - May include desire in a         | - May include more            |
| wider range of contexts           | context-sensitive desire,     |                                      
|                                   | preferring things to be       |
|                                   | "just right."                 |
|                                   |                               |
| - May feel like "too much"        | - May feel like "no desire,"  |
| desire, in a negative context     | in a context that hits        |
|                                   | the brakes.                   |
|                                   |                               |
+-----------------------------------+-------------------------------+

 

And there are folks who are “in-between,” too. Their desire style may feel spontaneous or responsive, depending on the context. Like, it might feel spontaneous while they’re falling in love or when they’re trying to make a baby or when they’re on a sexy vacation. But it might feel responsive ten years into the marriage, a year after the birth of the baby, or in the stressful life that makes them need the vacation.

  * Notes for the nerds in the audience (*fistbump* to you, my peeps):

The actual numbers I use are estimates – how desire is measuredvaries so much (PDF) that I found it really difficult to pin down anything very specific and reliable, but I feel pretty good about these, plus or minus about 5-10 percentage points. Here are some examples: