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Responsive Desire vs Spontaneous Desire

Which one is better?

In a world that often glorifies spontaneous desire as the epitome of sexual health and fulfillment, it's crucial to broaden our understanding and embrace the spectrum of desire that includes both spontaneous and responsive types. Emily Nagoski, a renowned expert in the field, sheds light on these concepts, helping individuals and couples navigate their sexual journeys with more compassion and knowledge.

What is Spontaneous Desire?

Spontaneous desire is that sudden urge for sexual activity that seems to arise out of nowhere. It's the kind of desire often depicted in movies and books, where a glance, a thought, or even nothing at all can ignite sexual longing instantly.

What is Responsive Desire?

On the other hand, responsive desire is not about waiting for the stars to align to feel that spark. It's about responding to sexual stimuli or emotional connections. It's the kind of desire that grows from a touch, a word, an intimate moment, or a deep emotional bond.

Misconceptions and Cultural Narratives:

Our culture tends to spotlight spontaneous desire as the norm, leaving many feeling isolated or "broken" when their experiences don't align. This misunderstanding can add unnecessary pressure, creating more "brakes" in their sexual response system.

The Science Behind Desire:

According to Emily Nagoski, our brain operates with two mechanisms in the realm of sexual desire: the Sexual Excitation System (SES) and the Sexual Inhibition System (SIS), or simply put, the accelerator and the brake. The accelerator responds to all the "yes" signals, while the brake responds to all the "not now" signals.

Accelerators and Brakes in Real Life:

  • Accelerators: Seeing a partner in a flattering situation or attire, receiving undivided attention, or initiating physical touch.

  • Brakes: Feeling stressed, unsafe, or distracted by external factors like work or family responsibilities.

Understanding Your Drive:

Your sexual drive is essentially how your body balances the accelerator and the brakes. Recognizing what triggers each can help you navigate your desire more effectively.

Responsive vs. Spontaneous: The Journey Matters:

Both spontaneous and responsive desires lead to the same physiological responses—it's the journey that differs. Most people experience a mix of both, with the context of relationships influencing the prevalence of one over the other.

Life Stages and Desire:

  • Dating Phase: Desire may appear more spontaneous due to constant thinking about each other and fewer life stresses.

  • Post-Marriage: Desire may transition to being more responsive as real-life responsibilities increase, introducing more potential "brakes."

Navigating Responsive Desire:

Responsive desire doesn't mean consenting to sex regardless of your mood. It's about finding what activates your accelerators to overcome the brakes, which varies for each person.

The Key to a Satisfying Sex Life:

Surprisingly, responsive desire is often more aligned with satisfaction in long-term relationships. It allows for a deeper connection and understanding between partners, fostering a more fulfilling sexual experience.

Call to Action:

  • Reflect on what triggers your accelerators and brakes.

  • Communicate with your spouse about your findings.

  • Remember, understanding and respecting each other's desire type can significantly enhance intimacy.


Embracing both spontaneous and responsive desires as normal and healthy can enrich our relationships and sexual experiences. By understanding these dynamics, we can foster deeper connections with our partners and ourselves, navigating the complexities of desire with empathy and insight.

For more in-depth information on this topic, we highly recommend reading Emily's book, Come As You Are.

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