What Are the Brakes and Accelerators for Your Libido?

by | Jun 13, 2022 | Libido | 11 comments

Brakes and Accelerators for Libido
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Sex is supposed to be a great gift from God–and most of us would love to experience it as that great gift!

But often we never seem to want it. We want to want it–but our bodies don’t seem to cooperate. Our minds don’t seem to cooperate. We wish we could feel more passionate.

I’m in the middle of our “What’s Killing Women’s Libido?” series, and I want to talk today about two things which influence whether or not we feel the urge to have sex. 

First, though, if the problem isn’t lack of libido as much as it is that sex just never gets you to orgasm, and you don’t experience pleasure, the orgasm series is likely a better place to start! If sex isn’t doing much for you, it’s no wonder you don’t have much of a libido!

At the same time, our ability to respond sexually and reach orgasm is highly influenced by outside cues. When our brains say, “Oh, hey, this is sexy-sexy time!” then our bodies can respond and want to respond. But if our brains aren’t saying, “this is the sexy-sexy time!”, then it’s much harder to get in the mood. So we have cues that tell us this is sexy time, and that get us to start wanting sex. 

Emily Nagoski, in her book Come as You Are, talks about this phenomenon, and relates it to brakes and accelerators. 


When it comes to libido:

Brakes: Anything that says, “no, wait, this isn’t really sexy-sexy time right now.”

Accelerators: Anything that tells you, “Oh, wow, it’s sexy-sexy time!”

Here’s the problem: Many of us have super sensitive brakes or super sticky accelerators–or both. 

When you have super sensitive brakes for your libido

Many of us may think, “hey, it could be sexy-sexy time!’, but then it’s really, really easy to get us to stop thinking that way or feeling that way. So the feeling comes over us, but then it quickly gets extinguished, like someone threw a bucket of water on it. Think of that as super sensitive brakes.

You think, “you know, it might be really fun to have sex tonight!” You may even start to think happy thoughts about it. But then you realize how tired you are. Thoughts come into your head about everything you have to do tomorrow. Or maybe you mention to your husband that you might like to get it on, and something in his face looks like he’s thinking, “well, it’s about time,” and now you’re done. Nope. No way.

It’s not that you weren’t interested; it’s that suddenly you feel nothing remotely sexy anymore. In fact, if anything you feel a little ticked off. A little overwhelmed. Totally distracted. Or exhausted.

It seems that unless conditions are absolutely perfect, you can’t maintain that desire to have sex. Sure, the thought occurs to you and you may even get excited, but it’s just so easy to extinguish it. The wrong smell. The least bit of physical discomfort (shoot, I think I’m going to fart a bit!); the most subtle signal from your husband that he’s not thinking exactly the same thing you are.

Maybe when the kids are still up you’re actually hurrying to get them to bed because you’re excited about what you have in mind for tonight! But then as soon as they’re in bed you checked notifications from your phone and there was an annoying one from your sister and now you can’t stop thinking about it. Or you noticed that there’s a ton of laundry to be done.

You just can’t sustain it.

Your brakes are super sensitive.


Passion 4 Dancing

When you have a really sticky accelerator for your libido

Then there’s the other side of it–where the accelerator just doesn’t work that well. You have to push down super hard to get the car to go at all, or to get the car to speed up.

You’d love to want sex more. Evening’s coming up, and you’re really hoping the feeling strikes. You try to get rid of distractions.

But no matter what, you just don’t feel it. Nothing feels “sexy” to you. It’s almost like you’re dead down there. You have to concentrate so hard to get aroused, and you never seem to think of sex spontaneously. Or when you do think of it, it’s like a duty or a chore rather than as something to look forward to.

Nothing in your surroundings or your emotions or your thoughts is really telling you, “this is my sexy sexy time!”

And, of course, sometimes both of these things can come into play!

When figuring out libido: What says “sexy sexy time” for you?

One of the ways to get over this brakes and accelerators problem is to figure out, “what cues do I need from my environment, and my emotions/experiences, to tell me: hey, this is sexy sexy time!”

What is that time for you?

Sometimes our accelerators aren’t working simply because we haven’t actually been pressing them at the right time. Figuring out what you actually associate with sexy sexy time can help a lot!

So here’s an exercise you can do:


Identifying your accelerators

Think back to two specific sexy escapades that you really enjoyed.

Now ask yourself: What led up to that escapade? Ask yourself questions like:

  • Were we away on a holiday or at home?
  • What was the day like with the kids?
  • Did we eat out or eat at home?
  • Was it spontaneous or was it planned?
  • What time of day was it?
  • What were we doing just before this? Watching a movie? Talking? Snuggling?
  • Where in the house were we?
  • What was I wearing? What was he wearing? What was on the bed? (or wherever we were)?
  • Where was I in my cycle?
  • What had I been thinking about that day?
  • Had we just watched a movie/TV show?
  • Did I exercise that day?
  • Had we had any good conversations that day? if so, what were they about?
  • When we started to have sex, how did we lead into it?
  • What was work like that day?

Compare your answers for the two escapades. Were there any similarities? Do you notice any themes?

This is a good habit to keep doing over the next few months, whenever you have a particularly good sexual experience. Get out a notebook and write down what led up to it. What were you feeling that day? What were your interactions like that day? How did sex actually start?

You may start to have an idea of what gets you turned on. Maybe it’s “he put the kids in bed that night so I had some time to myself.” Maybe it’s “we spent an hour just watching a show and I was lying in his lap.” Maybe it’s “I had an amazing day at work and I felt on top of my game.” Maybe it’s “we spent time talking about what we wanted to do on vacation, or with work schedules, or planning for the future.” Maybe it’s “I just came in from a 2 mile run and I felt amazing!”

You may start to see that certain things get you more in the mood. Certain things get you invigorated, excited, or something else.

What about identifying your brakes?

Our post on 15 things that kill a woman’s libido can likely help with that!

But you can also repeat the accelerator exercise, but do it in a different way. Think back to two unsuccessful sexual escapades–nights (or days!) that you were hoping were going to go in a different direction, and then it just didn’t work. And ask yourself those questions. Do you see any similarities? Are there things that kill the mood for you?

What do we do once we know our brakes and accelerators?

Do more of the accelerator things, and do less of the brake things! Try as much as you can to minimize the brake things in your life, and to maximize the accelerator things in your life.

Our Boost Your Libido course (which we’re revamping as we speak; the new edition launches later this month!) helps you do just that–minimize the things that dampen libido and maximize the things that tell you, “this is sexy sexy time.” 

And once we understand these things about ourselves, then it’s easier not just to blame ourselves for having no libido or for being so unsexual, but instead to understand, “oh, my body just doesn’t think this is a sexy time right now. So what can I do to change the narrative?”

It’s not about blame but empowerment! And after all, that’s what can really awaken libido.

Are you TIRED of always being too tired for sex?

Do you yearn to actually WANT to make love--and figure out what all the fuss is about?

There is a way! In this 10-module recently revamped Boost Your Libido course I take you through what libido is (it may surprise you!), what affects libido, and how we can reclaim the excitement that God made us for.

Course totally revamped in summer 2022!

Brakes and Accelerators for Libido

Do you have an accelerator issue or a brake issue–or both? Let’s talk in the comments!

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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. A2bbethany

    I think for me, a requirement for almost every encounter, is time together. Talking and or cuddling in person. Because otherwise I feel like I’m not in touch with him.

  2. SL

    Thanks for this. I’m in recovery sexually and it seems like my libido is more hit than miss. It’s frustrating because we’ve worked through beliefs and hurts and I’vebeen ser free! I’m very willing to play but my window seems to be so little.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I get that, SL. It can just take some time to discover who you really are sexually even after recovery. The big thing is to give grace to yourself and don’t overthink things. If something doesn’t work one night, that doesn’t have to mean that it will never work, or that you’re spiralling downwards.

  3. Jen

    Wow this is exactly what I feel and what I want my husband to know! Any time I try to put it into words I get it all wrong. How do I work through this with my husband? How donInopen his eyes? I basically feel like it’s all my responsibility to fix it which puts a whole extra layer of mood killing on top…

  4. Stefanie

    After 10 years of no-orgasm obligation sex, we discovered TGSR around this time last year. The past year of trying to fix our sex life has brought up a lot of wounds and trauma responses. Like when my husband kisses me with a passionate kiss, it triggers me and brings me back to all of those times that I was not able to say no. A passionate kiss from my husband doesn’t feel like an invitation. It feels like a demand. Like, “Now it’s time to serve me, woman!” It’s like throwing cold water on me and I haven’t been able to fix this. It doesn’t help that my husband never touches me affectionately, even after plenty of conversations about it. I’m actually pretty angry with him because I don’t feel like he’s putting in any effort to fix our sex life. I feel like he’s passively waiting and letting me do all of the labor. It’s so annoying. And then he makes comments like, “I wish you would grab my crotch to let me know you want me.” Umm, dude, you haven’t touched me all week. I don’t know what kind of scenario he’s waiting for. Is he expecting for me to do all of this soul-searching, getting in touch with my sexual side, and then when I’m hot and heavy and ready to go I grab his crotch to let him know I’m ready, and we do it? At what point do I expect that he’s going to take some initiative to become a student of his wife and work and learn how to get my engine running?

    Do you think he has a responsive libido? What if we both do? How do we handle this?

    (Also, can I just confess that I’m really tempted to just buy a vibrator and take care of myself. Forget this nonsense.)

    Also, we read both Guides, so it’s not like he doesn’t have information about a woman’s sexual response cycle. I don’t know where the block for him is. Is he just dense/ a slow learner? or is there a deep insecurity/wound that prevents him from working with me to improve our marriage? It’s not like this hasn’t been discussed ad nauseum in our house. And we are in couple’s therapy.

    • Jo R

      I am so sorry for what you’re going through. For the little that it helps, know that you are most certainly not alone.

      If men think of marriage as meaning they have a live-in maid and personal prostitute, then it makes complete sense that so many of us live in the situation you describe so eloquently.

      Women, on the other hand, tend to think that the kind of attention they received while dating and engaged will continue at close to the same level after the wedding, while also adding sex. That is, women want those dating behaviors to continue just as much in the marriage, because if men can do them before the wedding without expecting sex every three days, they should be able to do so after the wedding as well.

      Too many men seem to think that a year of nonsexual affection, attention, and care entitles them to a lifetime of sex without continuing those same actions, when it’s those very actions that are a large part of what drives a woman’s libido in the first place.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      That’s so tough, Stefanie! I’m sorry. It could very well be a deep insecurity where he feels as if unless you initiate in a particular way he’s not worthy and you don’t love him.

      But it is totally legit to want sex to be mutual and to want to matter. It may be that you say that you need a 30 or 60 day break from any kind of climax on his part, so that he can prove to you that he doesn’t just need sex. And then the focus is learning how to be intimate without sex. Learning how to kiss again for fun. Learning how to talk. And seeing what happens when he doesn’t get sex. You need to feel safe, like you matter, and you need those triggers healed, and that can only come when you feel like you’re truly free to say no.

    • Nessie

      If he can get into counselling alone, that might help, or focus couples more on him for a time… you mention a year of trying to fix your sex life, but who is working on it? Kinda sounds like just you, which is insanely frustrating. Does your therapist chime in on that?

      I felt like my husband was dense/slow learner, too, and he is, but also (because?) deeply insecure and was raised/trained to be non-autonomous. Add in being raised to obliterate any emotion that might come up plus ADD… It is a slow road. Maybe your husband has similar issues or layers of issues which really complicates things?

      Reading a couple chapters of Andrew Bauman’s book (though my hubs claims his ADD keeps him from finishing any books), How Not to Be an *ss, helped him finally realize to himself- and admit to me- that he has, unintentionally, sexually and psychologically abused me for 20 years. Maybe that book would help your husband?

      I feel much of your frustration/pain/exasperation. You’re not alone, and I’m so sorry you are going through this. Praying for you now.

  5. Anon

    After 8 months of being married and no orgasm (yet, I’m still hopeful), I feel like Ive FINALLY learned what my accelerators and brakes are, and I can get aroused and I know what arousal feels like. What do I do after I’ve gotten to the arousal stage?

  6. Kay

    As much as your posts make me feel so seen, free, and not “broken”, they also make me sad/mad for all the beliefs I’ve held and acted on in my marriage. I have very sticky breaks & accelerators and have come to figure out that I definitely would be interested more if/ when he shares things or just tells me something outside of what we need to do for the kids. Breaks are definitely if he looks at me funny (totally subjective!) for something, being grabbed at, or I feel defensive about something. This all doesn’t help though when I’m definitely responsive & he is spontaneous.

    But I so so appreciate coming across your blog & book, GSR. Probably should read it again. I finished it so quickly the first read!


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