This article takes a closer look at a sexual response model that more accurately depicts the responsive components of desire and the underlying motivational forces that trigger it, particularly in women in long-term relationships. Dr. Rosemary Basson proposes a model of a sexual response that is circular and more complex than the traditional linear model put forth by Master’s and Johnson. Basson’s Non-Linear Model of sexual response incorporates the need for intimacy, acknowledges that desire can be responsive or spontaneous and that it may come either before or after arousal. The model recognizes that orgasm may contribute to,but is not necessary for satisfaction. Relationship factors impact the cycle as costs or rewards and affect one’s willingness and ability to participate in sex. Another unique aspect of Basson’s circular model, is that one can enter the cycle at several points.

Understanding motivations for sex

People’s motivations to have sex are diverse. They include things that one would expect such as emotional intimacy, physical pleasure, to express love, and attraction. Motivations can be divided into approach motivations and avoidance motivations. Approach motivations are those that focus on something positive (e.g. pleasure and intimacy). Avoidance motivations are characterized by a desire to stop or prevent something (e.g. to stop a partner(s) from leaving the relationship or fear of not being loved).

Mindful of sexual stimuli

Certain stimuli will turn individuals on or increases ones interest in having sex. Perhaps a kiss, or certain type of touch from a partner(s). It could be something visual or it could be a smell or a certain sound. This is what initiates sexual arousal when all other conditions are met, including one’s willingness to engage in sex and practicing mindfulness to remain engaged in the act.

The context of the sexual encounter and state of mind might be the most important part of the sexual response cycle

Context refers to the current situation or environment in which intercourse could happen. The predominant context is the relationship. For example, a relationship characterized by trust, emotional connection, and flirty playfulness is much more likely going to increase the strength of the sexual response as opposed to a relationship that is in turmoil, with resentment, contempt, and conflict at play. Mind includes all of ones inner psychological processes such as emotions, thoughts, beliefs, and schemas. If one is feeling calm, confident, attractive, and secure, they are going to be much more likely to become aroused and desire sex than if they are feeling anxious, unattractive, distracted, or unsafe. Sexual scripts (i.e. what one thinks sex looks like or should look like) will also have an impact. If someone has a particularly negative view about sex, it may contribute to being closed off and less likely to be open to sex.

Ability to experience sexual arousal

When there is motivation, sufficient sexual stimuli and both context and state of mind are appropriate; sexual arousal will typically take place. This can be physiological (e.g. erection, vaginal lubrication, becoming flush, erect nipples, change in breathing) and/or psychological (e.g. feeling sexually aroused, horny, turned on, etc.).

The sexual response can be ignited during any phase

Not all sexual encounters begin with spontaneous sexual desire. It is common for partners to feel desire at different times, especially in long-term relationships. However, if one is open and willing, there is a likelihood to feel desire with appropriate sexual stimuli and context, and a willingness and ability to be mindful and engaged— this is responsive sexual desire. 

A rewarding sexual experience will lead you to wanting more sex in the future

A rewarding sexual experience, which may or may not involve orgasm, will encourage willingness to engage in sex in the future. On the other hand, a pattern of negative experiences may decrease your interest in sex.

Spontaneous and Responsive Sexual Desire

Spontaneous sexual desire manifests in the sense of sexual urgency, passion, or ‘horniness.’ It can feed into the model at several points, and is particularly evident at the beginning of relationships when sex is frequent. However, spontaneous sexual desire is not necessary to become aroused and have fulfilling sex. Responsive sexual desire is equally as powerful. Responsive sexual desire occurs when one is willing to engage in sex although they are not initially feeling desire or sexually aroused. With sufficient sexual stimuli and appropriate context one can move from a place of neutrality to feeling aroused and desirous.

Applied knowledge is power

Significant problems at any stage of the sexual response cycle can lead to conflict in relationships, sexual difficulties, and dysfunction. It is important to know your mind, body and areas for growth regarding intercourse, arousal and desire.

Sexology International, like all of our work, is for people of all sexual preferences and all forms of gender expression, including people whose identity is something other than male or female. As such, we like to use gender-neutral pronouns. More recently accepted alternatives include words like “ze” and “hir” or the universal pronoun “they.” Throughout our work, we will be doing our best to use alternative pronouns, such as “they,” whenever gender or plurality is unimportant. In doing so we hope it helps everyone to feel included in the discussion and that it inspires you to think outside of traditional sex and gender binaries.


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