Do We Understand the Power of a Responsive Libido?

by | Jun 20, 2022 | Libido | 30 comments

Merchandise is Here!

Just because you have a responsive libido doesn’t mean you don’t have a libido!

I make this point repeatedly in our revamped Boost Your Libido course that launches next Monday, but I really want to drive this home today:

Just because you don’t have what we call a “spontaneous” libido does not mean you’re less sexual, that you can’t enjoy sex, or that you don’t want sex.

Emily Nagoski really made waves with her book Come As You Are when she popularized the notions of a “spontaneous” vs. “responsive” libido. I’ve talked about this a lot too, but basically a spontaneous libido is someone who feels the desire for sex before any kind of sexual activity starts, and a responsive libido person is someone who responds sexually when the sexual situation is started, or when her environment tells her, “it’s sexy sexy time now.”

More men have a spontaneous libido, and more women have a responsive libido, but, as with most things, this is on a bell curve, and women can have spontaneous libidos and men can have responsive libidos!

Right now we’re in our series on what’s killing women’s libido, and I want to talk today about how the way we see libido can actually kill libido.

Responsive libidos are libidos. Period.

There is nothing wrong with you if you are not a spontaneous libido person. It does not mean that you don’t want sex. It does not mean that you’re not a sexual person.

It just means that you need something to respond to, because sexual feelings don’t come spontaneously to you. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy sex!

One of the questions we asked in surveys leading up to the Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex was about arousal level when any kind of sexual activity started.

We found that there was no difference in the feelings post-sex between women who started sex already aroused (so more spontaneous people) and women who weren’t at all aroused, but were confident they were going to get there. 

In other words, whether you were a spontaneous libido or a responsive libido, as long as you were confident you were going to have a fun time, then sex tended to end the same way–feeling blissful and connected to your husband.

This is so important to understand, because one of the biggest libido killers is women thinking, “I’m just not sexual,” or “there’s something wrong with me because I never want sex.”

We didn’t find that! As long as you are able to respond (and you have something to respond to!), things can go very, very well.

When we don’t understand this dynamic, we can cause shame and make her retreat from sex.

I once had a question from a woman that went something like this:

My husband gets upset with me because he says I’m not attracted to him. He says that other women are all over their husbands, and they see their husbands and they immediately get turned on. But I don’t work that way. So he tells me that I’m making him feel insecure and I’m making him feel like I don’t want him because I’m never just in the mood.

When we do have sex I really enjoy it, but I have to admit the feeling doesn’t come over me very often. But he insists that other women aren’t like that, and I”m a freak. He insists that all of his friends’ wives are all over them all the time. Is this true? Is there something wrong with me?

One thing I found funny about this question was, “how would he know what other women do?” 

But it is true that in media, women’s libidos tend to be shown as the same as men. They’re panting first, they jump into bed, they want to get it on. 

That’s great if you’re like that! And many of us are at the beginning of a relationship. But often that does change.

Again, though, this does not mean that you can’t respond sexually or that you’re not sexual.

The problem comes when we assume that spontaneous libidos are the only types of libidos. 

If we assume that only people who are panting first want sex, then we can assume that we actually don’t want sex! We can say no. We can never initiate. We can feel schlumpy and distinctly unsexy.

That’s where reclaiming the power of a responsive libido comes in.

It sounds counter-intuitive, but there is a power in a responsive libido. If you know that your body can respond, and if you know that you can enjoy sex, then even if  your body doesn’t seem to be crying out for it, you can decide “this is going to fun tonight!” and jump in. 

Now, if you’re not sure it will be fun tonight because you have a hard time with orgasm, then that’s the piece you have to solve first. We’ve got an Orgasm Course specifically for that!

The Orgasm Course is Here to Help You Experience Real Passion!

Figure out what’s holding you back. Open the floodgates to orgasm.

But if you normally do enjoy sex, then it’s time to get your head in the game!

If you know you can respond; if you know your body can enjoy it; then much of that response and enjoyment comes from believing that it’s going to be fun for you! That’s what we found.

When you have confidence it’s going to be fun, it tends to be. (Again, it’s hard to have confidence if you don’t regularly reach orgasm, which is why that’s the piece to be solved first).

When you’re berating yourself for a libido that doesn’t work like your husband’s, though, then sex is unlikely to be very much fun.

Shame messages aren’t sexy.

But messages like, “You actually love this! This is something that is going to make you feel amazing and help you sleep. This is going to rock  your world, and you deserve it!”–well, those can get things started.

What are the messages you’re telling yourself about sex?

Are you telling yourself that you’re not good enough, that you don’t work like other women, that you’re inadequate?

Or are  you telling yourself, “Okay, this can be awesome! This is just what you need! Let’s go for it!”

It’s not about whether or not you’re turned on right at the outset. It’s about what you think can happen. And if we can reclaim the power of a responsive libido–well, then that distinction between responsive and spontaneous can actually start to disappear. Because we can start to say to ourselves, “this is something that I want, this is something that I deserve, this is something that is good for us…” and that can function just like a spontaneous libido!

In fact, when we measured the women who said their libido was equivalent to their husband’s, and we talked to them about it, that’s pretty much what they described. It was unclear who initiated. It was unclear when arousal started exactly. Because they just knew that sex was good, and so they saw it that way. And it became a self-fulfilling prophecy.

I wish we could all stop telling ourselves that we’re “less than” and start seeing our sexuality with confidence.

You don’t have anything to be ashamed of. I hope you can feel that to the very tips of your toes and the very hairs on your head. Even if sex has been difficult (it is for many!). Even if orgasm has been elusive (it is for the majority!). Even if libido has been hot and cold.

Your sexuality is a part of you, and it isn’t good or bad. it just tells you where you’re at. But the good thing is that as you accept that, then you can start to embrace it, rather than feel shame about it. And that can make sex a much more positive thing in your marriage!

We’re going to talk about this a ton in our Boost Your Libido course, and I’m so looking forward to the relaunch next week! I hope it really helps you.

Responsive Libido is Still Sexual

What do you think? Let’s talk in the comments!

What’s Killing Women’s Libido? Series

Plus don’t miss our revamped Boost Your Libido course, launching soon!

Sheila Wray Gregoire

Sheila Wray Gregoire

Founder of To Love, Honor and Vacuum

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

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Sheila Wray Gregoire

Author at Bare Marriage

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

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  1. Angharad

    “So he tells me that I’m making him feel insecure and I’m making him feel like I don’t want him because I’m never just in the mood…
    When we do have sex I really enjoy it, but I have to admit the feeling doesn’t come over me very often. But he insists that other women aren’t like that, and I”m a freak.”

    If I had a husband who was constantly complaining that I was a freak who made him feel insecure and that other women were much better at sex, I’m not sure I’d be feeling like sex too often either… Maybe this poor lady doesn’t just have a responsive libido, she has a libido that’s being squashed by her husband’s attitude to her.

    • Belinda

      Exactly. He is killing any libido response she may have otherwise had through his abusive language. If her story is similar to many, she’s also mentally overloaded.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Yes, totally agree! (and that’s what I actually told her in an email. 🙂 )

      This is such a terrible attitude from the husband. Just awful.

  2. Jo R

    Would any man anywhere ever consider that maybe his spontaneous libido is actually the libido that’s broken? That maybe his ease of getting an erection doesn’t actually mean that he is entitled to sex—wait, let’s be accurate, his orgasm—as soon as possible, because there are other things relationship-wise that might possibly be a higher priority than him getting his rocks off?

    The husband in the RQ sounds like he’s got the pornified syltyle of relating, because it’s all about HIS experience. He says his wife isn’t like other women sexually (smacking of violating the tenth commandment against coveting, but I digress); he doesn’t feel loved unless his wife acts the way he wants on the schedule he wants; her experience at being told she is broken, inferior, less than, or just plain not good enough doesn’t make him doubt what he should be thinking about, let alone saying OUT LOUD to, his wife; she’s almost certainly the one doing all the sacrificing and giving, because she’s undoubtedly saying yes when she doesn’t to; he’s apparently made zero attempts to put himself in her shoes because, again, it’s all about him, so her point of view is absolutely of no account in the matter whatsoever. He owNs her, she owEs him, and she better hop to it. 🤮 🤮 🤮

    • CMT

      “Would any man anywhere ever consider that maybe his spontaneous libido is actually the libido that’s broken?”

      No. Probably not. Much like the (supposedly) grown a$$ men who complain about teenage girls wearing yoga pants never stop to think that the girls might not be the ones with the real problem.

      For the record: I don’t think any kind of libido is actually “broken.” It just is. Privileging one style over others is really the issue, imo.

      • Jo R

        Well, I guess my underlying idea is wondering why men feel up for sex at the drop of a hat even when they’re not married or even in any kind of long-term relationship.

        I mean, men can’t say they want sex so they can be closer emotionally to their wives and ALSO say they have a spontaneous libido when they’re not even married.

        In other words, if they want sex even when they’re not in a relationship simply because they have a spontaneous libido, then can men really say that a spontaneous libido is “normal”?

        Because at that point, “spontaneous libido” really only means “men are horny from puberty.”

        (And yes, I’m oversimplifying to focus on men with a spontaneous libido, when some women also have that kind of libido.)

    • Chris

      Jo R. I have to admit. When I see your handle come up in the comments I always look forward to some sort of misandrist or obnoxious comment. BUT. This comment has indeed forced me to think. I read it here this morning and the perceverated over it all day. You pose an interesting question: what if the spontaneous libido is actually the “broken” libido? What if the modern world with all of its labor saving luxuries actually yields the luxury of a man having a spontaneous libido? What if in the time of Christ when men were working subsistence agriculture for 16 hour days that all that labor crushed their libidos? Could this be why in the Jewish custom it’s the women who are entitled to sex? The men’s bodies were so far thrashed that they had no interest in sex? Just sleep? Or are men (or anyone) just defective for having a sex drive that would ensure the survival of the species? All good questions Jo R. Good questions indeed!

      • Jo R

        So it IS possible that someone could be too tired for sex?

        That would be funny if it weren’t so sad that it could only affect men doing a physically demanding job, when women doing the physically demanding job of pregnancy and young infant childcare is so often dismissed out of hand.

        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          Yes, very ironic! Again–as my son-in-law says–if she’s exhausted and he’s raring to go, it’s likely a sign he’s not doing enough with the kids!

        • Chris

          “So it IS possible that someone could be too tired for sex?“
          Jo R, Absolutely it is possible for someone to be too tired for sex! But physically speaking, the male role in sex is about performance. A woman could just lay there if she wanted to. I’m not saying thats good or desirable because I don’t believe it is. But it’s just how the anatomy works.

          • Jo R

            Of course many people know that exhaustion can wreak havoc on a man’s ability to get and keep an erection, which in some circles would excuse him from sexual activity with his wife because the lack of erection would probably also mean he would be unable to orgasm.

            Women (generally) have to be able to concentrate on what their bodies are feeling, and concomitantly clear their minds of other distractions, in order to orgasm, and being tired can interfere with that ability pretty seriously.

            Just because she can lie there exhausted and be penetrated doesn’t mean her exhaustion is irrelevant to her sexual experience. She can “perform” her part of “just lying there,” but in such situations, she is unlikely to orgasm.

            Taking these ideas together, if a man gets a pass from sex because he’s too tired to be able to do what he needs to do to orgasm, then shouldn’t the same grace be given to an exhausted woman? At least some of the time?

            Would it be too mean to suggest that he has other ways to stimulate her that don’t require his erection?

            After all, women have been taught for decades that when they’re unable to do PIV (due to menstruation, postpartum healing, or plain old exahustion), they can give the gift of manual or oral stimulation so their husbands can orgasm.

            I vaguely remember a verse about doing unto others and another one about its being more blessed to give than to receive, but I don’t remember that those verses were directed at only wives. 😊😊😊

          • Chris

            Jo R. When I mentioned “performance” your mind went straight to “erection”. No no. There’s A LOT more to male sexual performance than merely getting and keeping an erection. In several instances that I can recall, being exhausted, getting an erection was the easy part. The desire to have to perform what amounts to aerobic exercise……that’s another story. Women very frequently render down a mans sexuality to his penis and what it does or doesn’t do. But truth be told, Jo R, there’s a lot more to it than that.

          • Jo R

            And truth be told, there’s a lot more to a woman’s satisfying sexual experience than just lying there.

          • Chris

            Jo R. We are agreed!!!! But what that means is that women have to take some ownership over their sex lives and also of their sexual response and orgasms! Tragically the culture we live in and even Sheila here on her blog sometimes, will basically say that a woman’s sexual experience is or should be all on the man. That the woman’s pleasure and frequency of orgasm are all on him. Under this view of sex, the woman does not take any ownership or responsibility for her half of the experience. She’s not having sex so much as she is having sex done to her. That’s sad and in no way mutual.

          • Jo R

            How is she supposed to own responsibility for her own pleasure when she has been told ***ad nauseum*** that (1) she doesn’t need sex, (2) her husband needs “release” more than anything else in the sexual arena, (3) she’s not allowed to tell him anything remotely in the way of instruction because women aren’t allowed to teach men and because she must respect her husband, no matter what, and implying he maybe is a complete ignoramus sexually would certainly not be respectful, but (4) how would she knows he’s a sexual igmo when she doesn’t even know that, lo and behold, women actually can, and ought to, orgasm? And repeatedly!

            I can’t even think of a comparable situation that boys go through as they’re growing up and getting married. Well, except maybe for (5) all men lust, (6) the most important thing about marriage is sex, which really means (7) he gets on-demand orgasms.

            If it’s so hard for men to overcome the wrong teachings 5, 6, and 7, is it so hard to imagine that it’s hard for women to overcome 1 through 4? (And that’s assuming men think 5 through 7 are wrong, which, based on some comments on this blog and most of the teaching in “Christian” marriage and sex books, is debatable, to put it mildly.)

            How can the most popular resource, good old Love and Respect “forget” to even mention the wife’s ability to orgasm…and multiples, to boot? That isn’t a mere oversight. That’s flat-out lying, by both omission and commission. But when women have been CONDITIONED to believe what male pastors, teachers, and authors say, because there’s always this background threat of the women sinning against God if they resist men’s “godly” oracles, then wow, what a shock that EIGHTEEN percent of Christian wives have NEVER orgasmed. And another thirty-four percent orgasm only sometimes (less than half the time). What man on the planet would accept those kinds of numbers for Christian husbands? NONE.

            So please stop pretending it’s been a level playing field for the last two millennia, because it simply hasn’t. If you think women should just give a nice, sweet, “oh, that’s okay that women been cheated out of great sex for the last umpteen centuries,” well, I suggest a serious rethink.

          • Jo R

            I don’t think Sheila, I, or any other woman who comments or reads here regularly would say that husbands should do all the work forever, but I think that until these horrible teachings women have been absorbing have been buried in the depths of the sea where they belong, Christian husbands really ought to make a concerted effort to help their wives unlearn all this bull pucky, be adamant that sex is every bit as much for women as for men, that their wives really ought to give themselves the chance to learn to orgasm (and multiples, if she wants), to fully embrace their sexuality the way men have had that permission for, oh, forever. Shoot, to show their sincerity, husbands could give up getting their own orgasms for a month or three or six and spend that time helping their wives learn to enjoy her own body. After all, if she’s been married for a decade or three and hardly or never orgasms, he’s already seen that someone, even a married person, can live for a mere six months without orgasms, so that doesn’t seem like too big an ask. So yeah, I kinda think that until she can orgasm as reliably as he can, he ought to put in some work. Be a gigolo to your wife, men!

            And just another thought… God is the one who gave women a clitoris, whose only known function is sexual pleasure. Perhaps He also gave women the ability to have multiple orgasms to help make up for periods, pregnancy, postpartum, breastfeeding, perimenopause, and menopause, all times when sex, let alone orgasm, is difficult or even impossible.

          • Jo R

            Oh, I see. You said “too tired for sex” but what you were actually thinking of was “too tired for man-on-top PIV.”

            Because the main sexual activity that involves a man doing what’s basically an aerobic workout is PIV with him on top. (I expect kneeling or standing rear-entry doggy style isn’t quite as aerobic, but maybe it’s similar in level of effort to man on top.)

            Well, ok, so man-on-top PIV is off the table. What about manual or oral stimulation, as I mentioned before? What about woman on top? None of those requires much movement by the man, certainly nothing approaching an aerobic workout, so if he’s “too tired for man-on-top PIV,” is he excused from all the other options?

          • Ktrig

            No, a woman can NOT just lay there.

            Intercourse is NEVER a passive act for the woman. It’s a lot of work for a woman to TAKE a man’s penis into her body, and to make sure she is satisfied.

            The man has to let the woman be a choreographer, a sexual leader and place her body where she will get maximum satisfaction.

            He must be responsive to her.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I think you’re really on to something here. I think that’s what I was getting at in the bit at the end about how, once sex is good and we know that we can respond, we both kind of just drift towards the middle and it’s not clear who initiated, that’s what’s going on. It isn’t that one of you is just raging hormones ready to go all the time, and one of you needs to be persuaded. It’s that in a relationship where you’re both sharing mental load, and you’re both equally tired, but you both also want to connect, you make that decision to respond to one another.

      That seems healthy and normal to me! And, yes, in the past men were often far more physically exhausted.

      It reminds me of something my son-in-law said about the postpartum period: “if a guy is getting too sexually frustrated, he’s likely not doing enough with the baby.”

  3. CMT

    “Responsive libidos are libidos. Period.”


    This is all spot on in my experience. We spent a lot longer than I would like to admit trying to make my body and sexuality work like his, on the assumption that his experience was the default, the norm. With predictable results. We’re doing a lot better now but I feel like we went through so much unnecessary hurt on both sides.

    “You actually love this! This is something that is going to make you feel amazing and help you sleep. This is going to rock your world, and you deserve it!” Does this sound familiar to people with spontaneous libidos too? Isn’t this what they think/feel about sex as well, but perhaps they are less conscious of it because they have a physiological edge plus lots of practice? In other words, what if this whole distinction is more trained than innate?

  4. Codec

    I want to talk with you about libido and porn use. I want to talk about what you said about what is normal for libido. I want to talk about what you said about porn and purity culture. I want to talk about the role of fathers. I want to talk about what men fear

  5. Sue R

    I’m NOT laughing at this woman, but I am laughing at this: “He says that other women are all over their husbands, and they see their husbands and they immediately get turned on” and this: “He insists that all of his friends’ wives are all over them all the time.”

    Uh, how does her husband know this? Oh, let me guess. His friends — other men — have told him this. And we all know that men are honest and accurate when describing their sexual adventures to each other. HAHAHA! This almost sounds like high school locker room talk to me.

    What is beyond horrible is that this “man” calls his wife a freak for not behaving the way women do in his friends’ juvenile and overactive imaginations.

    This woman sounds normal and healthy to me.

  6. Erica

    Is it just me, or does it actually make sense that having both types of libido in a relationship is helpful?

    If both people have spontaneous libidos, then what happens when partner #1’s libido spontaneously arrives but partner #2’s libido hasn’t? It seems like a math equation destined to frustration – waiting for that perfect moment when both people spontaneously want sex and there’s nothing (like work, kids, life) in the way.

    But with both types of libido, when partner #1 is sparked and the moment presents itself, partner #2 can be persuaded. And partner #1 is in the mood to behave in a way that is persuasive to their particular partner.

    I can see how if you don’t understand the two types there can be a lot of confusion and frustration, but once you understand it I think it makes a lot of sense for a relationship to work that way. A relationship isn’t just about you getting your way exactly when you want it – it’s about finding ways for both people to get what they need.

    • Belinda

      And thinking of the flip side–2 responsives–I imagine a potential struggle to stay connected through physical intimacy. 🤔

      • Jo R

        I don’t know. Two responsives might spend more time in nonsexual touch, with lots of snuggling on the couch, holding hands, maybe even extended kissing sessions.

        Kind of like the dating and engaged time frame, where neither person is expecting sex. Low key connecting, rather than one person doing a mental countdown to “doing it already.”

  7. A Mess

    I struggle because even though I know this information, I KNOW I have a responsive libido and that’s normal, I still feel like there’s something wrong with me.
    My husband doesn’t like to initiate much because he doesn’t want me to feel pressured, but I am so so bad at initiating. Every time I try, I send mixed signals, because I’m not excited at all so it feels forced, even though I know that I will enjoy myself in the end. Then if he asks me where I want the night to go (because of the mixed signals), I completely shut down and retreat. Because I honestly don’t know what I want, and then I’m thinking too hard about it.
    My responsive libido also makes him feel like I never desire him.
    It’s a mess.
    Even though sex is good for both of us, and my husband is wonderful and always makes sure to spend a lot of time on me, I feel so much confusion about my libido that I’ve started to not even want to orgasm. Like, the whole thing is too much pressure, and I’d rather just have fun with him without investing all the energy to have fun for myself anymore. Like that’s safer somehow.

    • Planner

      A Mess…. We feel you and might I suggest the rather than initiating he just talks to you about what his desire for sex. The problem with initiating is that you both know what is going on….a precursor to sex. If he is interested then way before anything sexual he should simply say something like….”would you be ok with going to bed a little early tonight because I want some kind of sex. Let’s just see where it goes and if you are not into it then that’s ok. “ Something along those lines. Also important is what type of sex he may want. Is it a drive by just because he is really turned on or is it a road trip? You need to talk through this together and be honest. We have found that an honest discussion about sexual desires that day is far better than an initiation you didn’t see coming as then you are feeling pressured.

  8. Husband

    My wife has a responsive libido and I am grateful for that she can enjoy sex and orgasm. The issue is she is not interested in sex and as she says she can take it or leave it. I have read Sheila and GSR and am considered safe according to her definition. I have written a letter and gave it to my wife. In that letter I apologize for unknowingly buying in to the obligation sex message. I assured her that marriage doesn’t equal consent and she can say no. I have been working so hard at not being all horny and all over her. I am trying to be sure she is indeed onboard before anything starts. But onboard for her means she is not compelled to say no. More like an attitude of “I’ll go along with it” I have talked to her countless times and told her that I want sex to be mutual, pleasurable and consensual. She agreed but she finds it hard because she is not interested and from what I perceive she could go the rest of her life without sex. She is past menopause at 55 and I am 47. So here I am trying to be the best husband I can as I navigate sex. Her response has been why is she the problem? Why should she work on being interested? In response I hold off as long as I can but when I do need sex it then becomes about me having a physical need met. I hate that. When I get to the point of really needing a release I don’t need her for that because at that point it’s more like an itch to be scratched. I can scratch it, but I try not to. But if I only go to her when I am at that point she has become a means to an end. That is wrong. Sex is not love and I now know that. There is a middle ground between sex is proof of your love and sex is simply physical release. How can sex be intimate, connecting and emtotinal without her being “horny” or interested? I understand her not being interested in sex and having that horny feeling because of menopause. I really don’t want to have yet another sex conversation because I think her response will be “well I can’t muster it up and I’m not pretending”. To which I just say nothing. What can I say?


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