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Libido: the difference between Desire and Arousal

Posted November 5 2017

Here is an excellent article by sex therapist and relationship coach Jacqueline Hellyer
which explains how to untangle some of the problems you may have in your sex life just by defining the issue clearly:

Mis-matched libidos, difference in desire, high and low sex drive, etc. These are very common terms used to describe a very common issue.

But what are we really talking about here?

What is libido, what is desire?

Firstly, it’s not a ‘thing’. Libido is not something you have or don’t have.

Secondly, desire is not arousal.

Often people say that one partner has a high libido, high desire, and the other partner has low libido, low desire. But when we get talking it often turns out that they are confusing desire with arousal.

Having fast arousal is not the same as having high desire, and having slow arousal is not the same as having low desire.

Quite often I find that the supposedly ‘low libido’ partner actually has quite high desire, they want and like sex, they’re just not feeling aroused. Yet.

And often the supposedly ‘high libido’ partner doesn’t really have ‘desire’ as such, they’re just horny, they’re aroused, but it’s more like an itch that needs scratching rather than a genuine desire for being with their partner.

So, you can have high desire but slow arousal; and you can have fast arousal but little desire.

Desire is a wanting, a moving towards. This can start in the head, with a thought that it would be good, and it can start in the heart, with a feeling of wanting to share something lovely with your beloved.

Arousal is a physical experience, it’s what’s happening in your body.
Libido is the interplay of desire and arousal.

Sometimes I see someone who has zest and life, clearly a strong libido, but they claim a low desire. Actually, they have strong desire they just have slow arousal. They’re thinking that because they’re not aroused in the moment that they don’t have desire.

And I can see someone who claims high desire, but they’re flat and disconnected from their partner. Actually they have fast arousal, they’re horny, but it’s just that itch that needs scratching. There’s not a lot of actual desire.

Of course, sometimes someone can have both low desire and low arousal, which could be due to stress, tiredness or illness, or because they’re not finding their partner desirable for whatever reason.

And of course, having desire and arousal at the same time is great.
The point is don’t assume that if you don’t have arousal that you don’t have desire.

And most importantly, both desire and arousal need to be cultivated.
Every couple is going to have differences in libido at different times, if not all the time. Understanding each person’s sexuality and exploring the interplay so that you keep yourselves ‘simmering’ is what makes for a good strong sex life.


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