Sex! What comes first..Desire or Arousal?

As I have been working with both individual and couples in my practice, the issue of intimacy and sexuality comes up quite often. Our needs as humans for connection, touch and intimacy is hard wired into our brains from birth. Working with individuals from the ages of three to 76 years young, I see this demonstrated on a daily basis. The topic of sexuality, desire and how we relate to others and our partners changes over time due to many factors such as: relationship dynamics, hormones, trauma we have experienced, the family life cycle we are currently living through, emotional, physical and psychological health to name a few of the important factors that impact our sexuality either positively or negatively.

One of the many traditional sexuality models (Masters and Johnson, for example, and there are many more researchers) teaches us that most adults go through 5 stages of a human sexual response model. Desire, arousal, orgasm, plateau and resolution. The key being Desire follows Arousal. For most people, especially in their younger years, this makes sense and is what normally happens. Your with your partner, you find yourself in a situation where the sexual energy and mood is heightened, Desire is the first emotional state you find yourself in, and then comes arousal! And potential, sexual activity of some sort might follow.

However, as adult couple/partners, get married, have babies, age, bodies change, hormones perhaps get out of balance, abuse or trauma might unfortunately impact families or individuals, this typical sexual model changes and can have devastating impact on relationships. One important point to consider is that perhaps Arousal could follow Desire. This is especially true in menopausal women when desire wanes and is sometimes non-existent for periods of time. If we as women and their partners, could allow themselves to put arousal first, not always desire, and be open for intimacy; once aroused, desire can open up and follow. This is a possibility, and does work for many couples. Sometimes we forget how nice intimacy feels, it just takes a little nudge to get us there! For many women, there is a feeling of Wow! I forgot how good sex and intimacy really is..this is the situation of arousal first and than desire.

Another major implication to sexuality and intimacy is described and outlined in beautiful detail in Sue Johnson’s article, in the link and connection below, outlining her therapy model on attachment and intimacy:

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I love how she describes Passion as an attachment longing and tied into, for most woman, a need for emotional safety and security. She is not just stating this from a belief system, this is based on brain research conducted over years of research. It is riskier for woman to have sex-the outcomes are more impactful, relationally there is more at risk. She explains further the “Desire first or the arousal first topic” discussed in the above paragraphs in more detail from an attachment perspective. A safe, secure attachment with a partner actually increases risk taking and the potential for erotic adventures and the ability to reach out, connect more fully with our loved ones on all levels. I have found this to be true with my clients that I work with and look forward to hearing from you.