Hi. Did you see this? I am curious about your view on the desire/arousal distinction…I wonder if… you think women can be categorized as either having hunger or responsive arousal…:)

This question, from a sexy reader who hasn’t yet sucked my cock, but who, I’m fully confident, will. (If you don’t follow the link, it’s a link to an article in the NY Times about “hypoactive sexual desire” in women, and the debates about a) whether it exists, b) whether it’s a disorder, and c) whether drugs can treat it.

Generalizations usually are wrong. The human sexual response cycle is not one thing. Masters and Johnson came up with the idea, but they got it wrong. They described it as linear, progressing from excitement, to “plateau,” to orgasm, to “resolution.” And they omitted “desire” entirely. For many, this sequence surely is (often) true. But for many it never is. For some it occasionally is. For some it mostly is. There are other ways – infinite other ways, I suspect – it can work.

Many people, probably more women than men, experience desire in response to arousal. This is an area where language is especially un-helpful, drawing lines between experiences and sensations arbitrarily, almost like colonial borders drawn on a map of Africa. Desire and arousal aren’t entirely separate phenomena, but neither are they entirely contiguous. Language doesn’t do well with concepts that are related in that way, implying, as it does, that they’re somehow different/separate, and either synonymous, different, or antonymic. But in fact, they can be multiple things at multiple times for multiple people.

For me, arousal barely requires desire to appear. Friction, or physical stimulation, often, is adequate. And desire is rarely predictive of arousal. I’ve written about Viagra, about my use of it, and about the frequency with which “failure to launch” occurs – everywhere, but especially in sex clubs and other group sex situations. I can remember many times my cock has been rock hard in the complete absence of desire, and equally many, alas, when it was limp and flaccid in spite of my raging desire. Incidentally, pretty much the only thing that can make me come without my affirmatively deciding to come is a woman’s orgasm. (It can’t often, but once in a while, it does.) So here’s an example of another person’s arousal affecting mine.

When I was seventeen, “on the bus” was, in my crowd, a euphemism for “having an erection.” That’s all it took. A little bouncing up and down, a little vibration, and poof – I was hard!

Nowadays, there’s a bit more alchemy to it – a mix, perhaps, of stimulation, desire, and arousal – mine, and my partners – all create a sort of synergistic feedback loop, and my cock stiffens.

We’re all ill served by assumptions that desire and arousal “work” in a certain, universal way. Or, in a certain gendered way. I’m much more interested in how your sexual response works tonight, with me, than I am in platitudes, generalizations, or assumptions.


  1. I am intrigued by your post and the NYT article, which I just read in yesterday’s paper. My knowledge and acceptance of my own sexual desire has been a roller coaster. I think I’ve always had what I call a strong libido – I’ve always been interested in sex, desire, pleasure, men’s bodies, women’s bodies – and have had vivid erotic fantasies since early childhood. Thoughts about sexual contact, in general, not even with a specific person, is enough to start physical reactions within my body, make my nipples hard and my pussy wet. (Just writing this is eliciting that reaction and I’m not saying anything overtly sexual.) The photographs of your Tumblr on the right of my screen enhances my desire for sexual contact. I masterbate every day and sleep with an arsenal of toys in a box under my bed. Sometimes, in order to make myself cum, I need still images or porn to increase my intensity, other times, the images in my head are enough. The more sex (alone and partnered) I have, the more I want. I love it when my partner expresses his desire for me and initiates sex – love knowing that I am desired and wanted (I guess that’s an ego and gratification thing) but I am just as comfortable initiating sex and plunging my mouth on my man’s cock when I want him, his arousal and his pleasure. For me it’s not linear, but circuitous. Thoughts, fantasies, desire, arousal, erotic / physical stimulation, pleasure, orgasm, release – it’s all in it’s own feedback loop. I am also multi orgasmic – I need multiple orgasms in a session to really feel stated – so it goes round and round and round.

  2. I would have to agree that it is a rather ambiguous thing. It is neither always, or never, one way. Even a circuit has a path, and yet I think what you’re getting at is that there is no delineated path, per se, but instead it is more of a quantum equation with many, varying paths depending on individual and circumstantial responses. Even the “release” phase doesn’t signal the “end” of the road for many of us It is simply a rung in the ladder of satiation.

    As a society we seem to have a need to “label” things. To label is to assert some sort of control over an object or behavior and, while I believe in the necessity for self control, for the most part, when speaking of adult, sexual desire/behavior, control cannot be exercised from an external entity except in the most extreme of circumstances and typically where self control is non existent (ie. rape). Even then, though a body may be medicated, incarcerated and otherwise restrained to avoid a loss of control in the future, unless that person is mentally brain dead, there is no way to exert absolute control of sexual thoughts, desires and behaviors.

    Just my 2 (and a half) cents 🙂

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