NYC Psychotherapist Blog

power by WikipediaMindmap

Saturday, March 11, 2023

Understanding Your Sexual Arousal Type: What Happens When Both Partners Experience Responsive Sexual Arousal?

I've been focusing on sexual arousal types in prior articles and the issues that come up when two people have different arousal types (see my article: Understanding Why You and Your Partner Might Experience Differences in Sexual Arousal).

Understanding Your Sexual Arousal Type

See my articles about:

Reviewing Spontaneous and Responsive Arousal Types
There are two different types of arousal: spontaneous and responsive sexual arousal.  

There is a shorthand way of distinguishing the two arousal types: 
  • Spontaneous Arousal: People with spontaneous arousal get mentally turned on at the drop of a hat by just thinking about sex and then get physically turned on immediately afterwards. 
  • Responsive Arousal: People with responsive sexual arousal often need more time to get turned on. They usually need to start having sex to gradually get physically turned on and then they get mentally turned on after they are physically aroused.
Both arousal types are normal.  

Neither is better than or worse than the other.  They're just different.

What Happens When Two People Both Experience Responsive Sexual Arousal?
In the current article, I'm focusing on potential issues involved with people who both have the same arousal type: responsive arousal.

Although everyone is different, when two partners both experience spontaneous sexual arousal, it's often the case that all they need to do is think about sex and they're both ready to have sex.

However, when two people are both responsive sexual arousal types, they each might wait for the other person to initiate sex since neither of them is turned on by just thinking about sex. 

This usually means it takes more time for them to get started or they might not get started at all. Weeks, months or years can pass without sex.  This is especially true after the new relationship energy (NRE) period (when dopamine and oxytocin create sexual passion) subsides (see my previous article for a more in-depth description of the responsive arousal type).

Clinical Vignettes: A Relationship With Two People Who Have Responsive Sexual Arousal
The following clinical vignette which, as always is a composite of many cases, illustrates the challenges faced by a couple where both people have a responsive sexual arousal type. It also illustrates how sex therapy can help a couple to revive their sex life.

Cara and Jane
Cara and Jane, who were both in their mid-30s, met at a Lesbian Pride party and they were instantly attracted to each other.  

Both Partners Experience Responsive Arousal

Sex was passionate and pleasurable for both of them at first during the first few months, and they couldn't keep their hands off each other.  They often had sex several times a day during weekends when they spent a lot of time together.

Six months into their relationship, they both noticed they were less interested in sex.  Whereas they were having sex almost every day when they first met, now they were hardly having sex at all.  They also both waited for the other one to initiate sex, which meant that neither of them initiated sex.

They were still in love with each other, but sex felt a lot less compelling than it did when they first met.  They were both concerned about this, but they didn't know what to do about it. 

By the time they were together for two years, they hadn't had sex in several months. So, Jane talked to Cara about opening up their relationship (see my article: What is Consensual Nonmonogamy?).

But Cara feared that they might never get their sex life back if they got involved with other people, so she told Jane that she didn't want to open up their relationship.  She suggested that they attend sex therapy instead to get help (see my article: What is Sex Therapy?).

They learned in sex therapy that the initial stage of most relationships is a time when people experience new relationship energy (NRE) where dopamine and oxytocin fuel erotic passion.  But after that initial stage, the erotic passion usually cools off somewhat.

While they were attending sex therapy, they also learned that they both experienced responsive sexual arousal and that rather than waiting to "get in the mood," if they wanted to revive their sex life together, they would need to intentionally start having sex in order to get in the mood.

Their sex therapist gave them homework assignments to practice together at home between sex therapy sessions. The assignments included Sensate Focus (sensuously touching each other without having oral or penetrative sex) as well solo sex (masturbation) practices to understand what got them each turned on as individuals.

Once they understood that they needed to get themselves in the mood by starting sexual activities in order to get in the mood for sex and by taking turns initiating, they resolved their problem.

Although the clinical vignette is about two lesbians, responsive sexual arousal can occur between any two people regardless of gender or sexual orientation.

Understanding Your Sexual Arousal Type

The problem for most partners who both have responsive sexual arousal is neither of them are thinking about sex and each person waits for the other to initiate sex once the erotic energy involved with new relationship energy subsides.

Many people with the responsive sexual arousal type are too ashamed to talk to each other about sex--let alone seek help.  So, this often means that they might not have sex for months or years.  At that point, each person might assume that the relationship is doomed and they might end it.

One of the reasons why I write these articles is to provide sex education so people in these situations will know that there's nothing wrong with them.  They just need to learn how to interact sexually to revive their sex life (see my article: Changing Your Sex Script).

Getting Help in Sex Therapy
Sex therapy is a form of talk therapy.  There is no physical exam, nudity or sex during therapy sessions (see my article: What Are the Most Common Misconceptions About Sex Therapy?).

If you and your partner have lost the sexual spark you both experienced during the early stage of your relationship, seek help in sex therapy.

A skilled sex therapist can help you to explore your sexual arousal type and assist you to change a sex script that's not working for you.

Getting help sooner rather than later is often the key to reviving a passionate sex life.

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

I work with individual adults and couples.

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.