3 Keys to Understanding and Unlocking Sexual Desire


Have you ever wanted to want sex? But just couldn’t get there. Maybe you have been in a sexless partnership? I sure have. Or maybe you have felt like sex is an obligation? Ugh.

First for all, it’s okay to not want sex. If you have lost or have little desire for sex, there is nothing wrong with you. Fuck that noise!

If you want to want sex, there is hope.

Media messages often portray that you should spontaneously want sex and be ready for it any time. Claiming that if you don’t have a high libido… something is wrong. The medical establishment has tried to come up with the magical “pink pill,” the equivalent to viagra to “fix this issue” for women.

But for many people, not just women, building sexual desire is not as simple as changing brain chemistry with a pill.

Like pleasure, sexual desire is context dependent.


Photo by Dolor De Tu Corozon

If you haven’t already read the book “Come As You Are” by Emily Nagoski, cover to cover, I HIGHLY recommend that you do! In this one article, I am attempting to concentrate several major concepts that she talks about over a few chapters in her book. So again, read her book.

I am writing and sharing this with you now because I have found this info to be profound and extremely helpful to understanding and loving one’s own sexuality. As I continue to write more blog posts, I want to be able to reference back to this article and these concepts.

In her book, Nagoski talks about the Dual Control Model, developed by Erik Janssen and John Bancroft in the 1990s, a revolutionary model to describe sexual response. The Dual part, meaning there are TWO parts in your nervous system that control how you respond to sex.

You have both a sexual accelerator AND a sexual brake.

Your accelerator is what makes you interested in sex and is activated by all of the things that turn you on. These “turns ons” are unique to you and your life experiences. Your brain is constantly scanning the environment with your five senses and your imagination to pick up things that you personally find sexually relevant. For you, maybe that’s the natural aroma of your partner. Or maybe it’s explicit sex scenes in a film, tango dancing, fantasizing about a stranger, or being tied up. It could be any, none, or all of these things! There are a few generalizations. Many people are turned on by witnessing their partner teach/have authority in front of audience. For me personally, hearing authentic, heartfelt appreciations from a partner mixed with a novel and sensual experience can really help awaken my desire!

The sensitivity of your accelerator is also unique to you…if you have a fairly insensitive accelerator, you may need a lot of your favorite sexual stimuli to really activate it. However, you could have all of your personalized sexual stimuli right in front of you signaling your sexual accelerator and still not feel aroused because…

You also have a sexual brake! Your brake is signaled by all of the things your brain considers a potential threat, telling you “it’s an inappropriate time to have sex!” Imagine getting surprise attacked by a grizzly bear while making out…your brain knows how to tell you,

“Not now! Stop!”

These “potential threats” could be anything. Your nervous system has a hard time telling the difference between physical danger stress and work stress. Stress about sexual obligation, resentment, body shame, reputation, unwanted pregnancy, sexual performance, STI’s or lack of trust in a relationship are ALL potential stressors that can put pressure on your sexual brake. Similar to the sexual accelerator, what signals your sexual brake and the sensitivity of this brake, for the most part, is unique to you and depends on your current life situation.


Photographers and models unknown

 For example, as a Sexual Empowerment Coach, I sometimes feel like I should be super orgasmic and desire new sexual experiences more than I naturally do. When I am aware of these “shoulds”, it’s easier to not have them impact my arousal. But when they are subconscious, my self-inflicted expectations often put a lot pressure on my sexual brake and make me desire sex even less.

Your sexual accelerator and your sexual brake work simultaneously. That’s why you can have all of your personal turns on in front of you... maybe for you it’s candles, long slow kisses, R&B, and bath time, but you still don’t want to be touched by your partner because you are resenting them for not doing the dishes that morning...Resentment can be a serious sexual brake for lots of people.

If you want to increase sexual desire….try creating supportive contexts to amplify your turn ons AND decrease your turn offs! Emily Nagoski describes this as “turning on the ons and off the offs.”

Key One:  Awareness of Your Turn Ons.

Ask yourself, what are all of the things that turn YOU on?It’s totally normal if it feels challenging to come up with these. You may have been out of touch with what turns you on for a long time. Or maybe you never tried to think about it.

If you can remember at least one past erotic experience with another person, what made it erotic? What was the scenario? How were you feeling in your body? How confident were you? What were the character traits of your lover? What were they doing or not doing? What did they look like? What was the setting? Try writing down as many details as you can think of.

Some of my most erotic experiences have been when I felt little stress, when there was something novel about the experience, or when I saw my partner in a new light. Times where I was able to let go of and/or forget some of my resentment and instead focus my attention on their beautiful qualities... BAM, amazing sexy times.

Key Two: Awareness of Your Turn Offs.

Next, think of at least one past sexual experience that wasn’t so sexy. Not one that was awful, just one that wasn’t great. What was the context? How did you feel about yourself? About your body? About your sexual performance? Your stress level? What were the characteristics of your partner? What did you partner look like? What were they doing? What was the setting?

Here’s an extra KEY to figuring out if something is putting pressure on your sexual brake:

When it comes to your sexuality or your body, try noticing any thoughts with the word “should” in them. These thoughts are almost certainly causing you stress and putting pressure on your sexual brake.


Photo of Hayley @resin_lips by @jamesandtheirpeach

For example, not loving and accepting your body will most certainly put pressure on your sexual brake. I will have a whole future article devoted to radical body acceptance! Another common brake is stress or shame about not having desire for sex...which like I mentioned before, often leads to even less desire for sex! And finally another very common one is sexual performance anxiety, whether that is stress about orgasming too soon or not orgasming at all, this usually signals the brake, making it more difficult to feel any arousal or sexual pleasure. Read this post to redefine pleasure and orgasms…

Practice identifying and eliminating all “shoulds” from your sexual vocabulary and your body. Instead, practice radically embracing yourself now, just as you are. This internal revolution will naturally give the space and context for sexual desire...and pleasure... to grow.

Key Three: “Finishing Stress.”

For some of you, stress is actually something that activates your sexual accelerator, meaning you have more desire when you are stressed out. If this is you, you are normal! For you, the struggle may be a sense of feeling “out of control” with sexual desire when you are stressed. In general, stress isn’t great and it impacts everyone’s ability to perceive pleasure so managing stress is an important tool for embracing sexual wellness.

When you are stressed out, almost anything in your reality is perceived as threatening and a potential turn off…putting pressure on your sexual brake. Think about the difference of when you are feeling flirty and turned on and your lover starts wrestling with you…it could feel playful and exciting. However, what if you had an awful day at work, a long list of chores awaits you and you are angry at your partner… then they start wrestling you. May not go so well, right? You could be receiving the same exact sensation but the context is completely different.

A clear exampled happened for me in college with my clitoris. Once when I was stressed about a test, I tried being intimate with my partner, but when they touched my clit it felt too ticklish and uncomfortable to continue. However, later, when I finished my test, they touched me in the same exact way and it felt extremely pleasurable. What makes the difference is that my INTERNAL state was totally different. Stress sucks. What to do about it?

First, identifying and eliminating stressors from your life will generally help reduce stress and take pressure off of your sexual brake.

Ask yourself, what are some energy sucking vampires (bad habits, humans, etc.) in your life that you can decrease your exposure to or let go of completely?

Awesome! Now, what about the challenging life situations that are hard to change because modern culture is FULL of stressors. From the horrifying news to the daily work grind, there are many reasons why your body may enter the stress response. The complete stress response very simply put is


Stressor -> Stress -> Safety.

The complete part is that you finish with safety. First, you come in contact with a perceived threat, the stressor (like a grizzly bear, a screaming child, or a disappointed lover) and fight/flight/freeze is activated (stress). But if you aren’t actively fighting, running away or shaking (what animals commonly do after “freeze”), your body doesn’t ever finish the response! You’ve never escaped the grizzly bear! Instead, your body is stuck in stress. You need to let you body know it’s safe. How?

You need to “finish the stress.” Exercise helps to finish stress because your body is mimicking the motions of fighting, running away, or shaking off the freeze state. However, letting your body know it’s safe doesn’t have to be done through exercise. What works can and will look different for everyone. For me, sometimes all it takes is a quick shower, intentionally stepping outside to breathe deeply, or literally shaking! I also love yelling, dancing, and expressing my emotions with a good listener.

Photo by Ashley Armitage, @ladyist of Dreezy @dreezydreezy

Photo by Ashley Armitage, @ladyist of Dreezy @dreezydreezy

 Usually whatever feels like self-care to you (hint: not self-numbing) probably supports you “finishing your stress response!”

What are 3 things that support you finishing stress and feel more relaxed?

You have probably heard and read so many people preach about the importance of self care. Here it is again, one more incredible reason to promote self care! Practice doing that thing that makes you feel authentically more relaxed. It will most likely open you up to possibility of sexual arousal. Yum!

Do you find these techniques helpful? 


Take This Work to a Deeper Level

Pleasure Witch Academy, my 3-month online course and community for deep integration and guidance, is currently open for enrollment.

If you feel in your body that you are ready to prioritize what feels good to you; if you are ready to name what you want; if you are ready to actively build and pursue the life you desire….

Then Pleasure Witch Academy is for you.

Luna Dietrich