NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Friday, September 30, 2022

Sexual Health: What is Arousal Nonconcordance?

Most people don't understand the concept of arousal non-concordance because they never learned about it in sex education class, so I want to clarify this concept in the current article because it's the source of many problems in relationships (see my article: Understanding Your Sexual Accelerators and Sexual Brakes).

What is Arousal Non-Concordance?

What is the Difference Between Arousal Concordance and Arousal NonConcordance?
Arousal concordance means that emotional, physical and mental sexual arousal are in synch so a person feels emotionally, mentally and physically aroused at the same time.

Arousal nonconcordance is a term often used in sex therapy to describe a common experience: A person is feeling physically but not mentally or emotionally turned on or feeling mentally and emotionally turned on but not reacting in the same way physically.  So one or more aspects are out of synch.

What is Arousal Non-Concordance?

For example, a woman could be mentally and emotionally turned on, but she doesn't experience vaginal lubrication, as described in the clinical vignette below. 

Or, she could experience vaginal lubrication, but she's not mentally or emotionally turned on and she's not interested in having sex.

Similarly, a man could experience arousal non-concordance when he has an erection, but he is not mentally or emotionally aroused and so on.

Physical Arousal is Not the Same as Consent
Since it's possible to experience physical arousal but not emotional or mental arousal, the only thing that counts with regard to sexual activity is verbal consent (see my article: What You Can Learn From the Kink Community About Consent).

Physical Arousal is Not the Same as Consent: No Means No

This is significant because men often assume that if a woman is physically aroused, it automatically means she wants to have sex.

There have been rape cases where the woman's physical arousal has been used against her in court to defend a rapist--even though the woman was clearly saying to him when he forced himself on her and she was trying to fight him off.  

No means no.

In addition, if there isn't clear verbal consent, consent should not be assumed.

A Clinical Vignette About Arousal Non-Concordance:
The following clinical vignette is a composite of many cases with all identifying information removed to protect confidentiality:

Mary and Bob
Mary and Bob were married for 23 years when they sought help in sex therapy because they were having sexual problems.

According to Bob, he felt discouraged about their sex life because, even though Mary would tell him that she was in the mood to have sex, he detected that she wasn't experiencing vaginal lubrication.

Bob said he believed Mary told him she felt sexually aroused just to appease him, which made him feel awful.  

He had a hard time believing she was turned on when she didn't get wet.  So, he stopped initiating sex and when Mary tried to initiate sex with him, he told her he wasn't in the mood because each time she didn't appear to be physically aroused, he felt he was being rejected.

When it was Mary's turn to speak, she told their sex therapist that she loved Bob very much, she still found him to be attractive and she was turned on by him.  She said she tried to explain to Bob that, since she was postmenopausal, she had difficulty getting wet the way she naturally did before menopause.  She wanted to use a lubricant, but Bob refused because he felt she was no longer sexually turned on by him.

After their sex therapist explained the concept of arousal nonconcordance and that this was a common experience, Bob was surprised and he finally believed Mary.

Subsequently, he felt better about Mary using lubrication to make sexual intercourse easier.  From then on, with assistance from their sex therapist, their sex life improved and they were happier in their relationship.

Arousal concordance is easier for most people to understand because it's how they normally think sex should be--everything aligns physically, emotionally and mentally.

What is Arousal Nonconcordance?

Arousal non-concordance can occur for many reasons.  Some people desire sex mentally and emotionally before they get physically aroused.  But once they begin to have sex, they also get physically aroused.  This is true for most women (85%) and some men (25%) according to the latest sex research.

There can be many other reasons why the physical, emotional and mental arousal don't align.  For example, as in the vignette above, a woman might not lubricate naturally--even though she is emotionally and mentally aroused.  

Nonconcordance can also occur for men, as mentioned above.

Communication is key.  Rather than rely on the physical signs of sexual arousal, ask your partner and be aware that if there is arousal nonconcordance, you should rely on your partner's word rather than assume you know how your partner is feeling.

About Me
I am a licensed New York City psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, AEDP, EFT, Somatic Experiencing and Sex Therapist.

I am a sex positive therapist who works with individual adults and couples (see my article: What is Sex Therapy?).

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.