What is Responsive Desire?

I write mainly about sex. Which makes me some sort of an authority on the matter, right? And some would think that I have sex all the time.

This is definitely not the case.

I have had many — and lengthy — dry spells. With no sex at all.

Actually, I’m in the midst of one right now, seeing my last relationship has ended some 5 months ago.

But even while I’m in a relationship, I can have dry spells. To be honest, 2 out of my 3 long-term relationships were definitely falling into the “sexless marriage” category. Which means I didn’t have sex all that much at all.

Only in my last relationship did I get to enjoy the ongoing, reliable, wonderfully loving sex life that a healthy couplehood provides.

Which means I finally got to see that my desire pattern is mostly of the responsive kind.

What is Responsive Desire?

In the movies, we see two people doing something benign (or half-benign, at least), then, out of the blue, they look into each other’s eyes and start kissing passionately. Before we know it, they are having sex.

This is how we believe desire “should” look like: it comes spontaneously. Almost by itself. And we think that if we don’t feel this type of desire than something must be wrong. Either with our relationship or with us.

However, what every couples therapist knows is, that responsive desire is very common — especially in long-term relationships. Responsive desire doesn’t just happen all by itself. It needs a more substantial trigger to kick it off.

Something like a very specific touch from our partner. Or a build-up of anticipation toward the next time we are hoping (or planning) to have sex.

It is explained in detail in Emily Nagoski’s book Come As You Are (highly recommended!).

And in my last relationship, I could see exactly how that feels like.

This is how a typical night in my last relationship panned itself out:

I so don’t feel like sex tonight. As in, really, I am not in the mood, I’m too tired and need some fucking rest.

When my man arrives later this evening, I will let him know. We are not going to have sex tonight. We can enjoy each other’s company without sex, right? I know we only get to see each other once a week and that he drives for about an hour to see me, and I know there’s this expectation of us to have sex… But really, tonight it ain’t gonna’ happen.


“I really need my 8 hours of sleep tonight,” I tell him when he arrives.

“That’s totally understandable,” he replies, “I know you’ve had a very busy week. We can just go to sleep”, He says while giving me his warm reassuring hug. “It would probably do me good to get a proper rest, too,” he continues.

Well then… But his hug feels so good… As in, so completely inviting me to stay in his arms forever. And now I can feel a bit of arousal trickling in my body. Alas, it doesn’t really matter. I need my sleep tonight and that’s it.

Only that’s not it.

“Perhpas,” I say, “perhaps I’ll just have a shower and we could cuddle a bit before we go to sleep.”


The arousal that crept in during the initial hug does not leave. It gradually grows with every touch.

Tender strokes. Sweet whispers. Lots of laughter.

It’s not the intense, lustful type of desire. It’s the gentle desire that draws our bodies closer and closer together until I don’t remember that I am tired anymore. There is no denial. I am fully aroused and — surprise, surprise — all of a sudden, I soooo want to have sex tonight.


Funny thing with this slow sex is, even though we were fully engaged in it for a good hour or more, I don’t collapse when it ends. I actually feel invigorated and energized.

It seems like I did have my fucking rest after all.


Published in P.S. I Love You Oct 22, 2019.