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The Invitation to Desire: Differences in Sexual Arousal

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Movies, TV, and social media have a lot to teach us about sex.

And most of it is startlingly inaccurate (surprise, surprise, amirite?!).

One of the biggest criticisms of how media portrays sex (particularly a sex scene between a woman and a man) is how linear it is. The male actor "climbs on top" of the female actress. They kiss and then it's fireworks.

This is not many people's experience.

I thought today would be interesting to look into two of the many different models of sexual desire and satisfaction that are out there.

The first is more in line with media portrayal and was developed by Masters & Johnson (the famous duo that inspired the series Masters of Sex).

Here you can see their model: one in which someone feels desire, then excitement which leads them to engage in sexual activity. There's a plateau, a rise, an orgasm, and then a resolution.

This has been the more longstanding model of desire, and clearly one that has influenced popular media.

But- it absolutely doesn't describe everyone's experience.

Enter: Dr. Rosemary Basson. A psychiatrist who thought we needed a new model to explain the many different responses a human being can have to sexual desire.

Her model is a circle- which reflects the flow of relationships. The circle "starts" at Sexual Neutrality: that is, moving through the day and maybe thinking about sex and also maybe not.

Her model is also called "receptive arousal/desire" because of this part: the person is neutral about sex but open to receiving an invitation to desire. That's the "sexual stimuli" part, maybe that person watches pornography, reads erotic literature, or starts to engage in something physical with their partner.

It's the invitation that brings on the arousal. Which continues to heighten until there is a sexual/emotional satisfaction (but not necessarily an orgasm, though those are great).

The cycle both ends and begins at emotional intimacy.


Basson's circular model can be a really helpful tool to help us understand natural differences in sexual desire and arousal. A lot of people walk around feeling ashamed or "less than" because they're not always down to...flirt. This model shows how completely normal that experience is.

This can help to change our narratives about ourselves in our head: it's not that something is "wrong with us", it's just that our baseline is neutral. That's not a bad place to be!

It can also help us start to narrow down what "Invitations to Desire" speak to us. For some humans that might be erotic films or books, it might be a massage, or it might be getting to take a long bath.

There's a million different invitations to desire, it's just a matter of finding the one that works for you and your partner(s).


Looking for help navigating the world of sex and desire? You've come to the right place! Click below to schedule a free consultation, the first step on the road to sexual freedom and satisfaction.

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