People can sometimes be quick to slap on the label “libido issues” when they have a complicated relationship to sex. Women, in particular, can feel as if they have trouble with sexual desire, when in reality, the issue may be much more contextual.
There are two types of sexual desire: spontaneous desire and responsive desire. Spontaneous desire means you can get turned on and feel like having sex almost randomly out of the blue, whereas responsive desire means you find yourself turned on when you’re already in a sexual situation. Sometimes people with responsive desire think they have a low libido, especially if their partner has spontaneous desire. But in reality, these responsive folks generally may have plenty of desire for sex—they just need a specific context to access it. It’s not gonna just happen out of the blue.
In her groundbreaking book Come As You Are, sex researcher Emily Nagoski, Ph.D., describes sexual context as one of the most important elements of female sexual desire. She writes, “Context is made of two things: the circumstances of the present moment—whom you’re with, where you are, whether the situation is novel or familiar, risky or safe, etc.—and your brain state in the present moment—whether you’re relaxed or stressed, trusting or not, loving or not, right now, in the moment.”