NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Thursday, June 8, 2023

Why Is Sexual Context So Important For Sexual Desire?

In Dr. Emily Nagoski's New York Times bestselling book, Come As You Are, she discusses why sexual context is so important to understand sexual desire (see my article: Understanding Why You and Your Partner Experience Sexual Arousal in Different Ways).

Sexual Context is Important For Sexual Desire

Understanding sexual context is key to understanding why you might feel sexual at certain times and not others.  

What is Sexual Context?
According to Dr. Nagoski, sexual context includes: 
Your Circumstances in the Moment:
  • Whom you're with
  • Where you are
  • Whether the situation is novel or familiar, risky, safe, and so on
Your State of Mind in the Moment:
  • Whether you're relaxed or stressed
  • Whether you're trusting or not
  • Whether you're loving or not
Examples of How Sexual Context Makes a Difference
The following scenarios are examples of how sexual context makes a difference:
  • When her husband, Mike, suggested that they have a quickie while their teenage children went out on a short errand, Betty didn't feel like having a quickie because she had a long stressful day at work.  She knew she would need to unwind first, take a shower to relax and she would need plenty of foreplay to get in the mood for sex, so a quickie wouldn't work for her.  They decided to wait until the weekend when the children would be away for the day visiting their aunt and they would have more time to enjoy sex.
  • Ida was excited by the prospect of having sex in public places that felt prohibitive and taboo.  She suggested to Bill that they have sex in a secluded place in a big park, but Bill said he would feel too anxious they would get caught and charged with public indecency, so this idea wasn't a turn-on for him.  He told her he needed privacy to enjoy sex.  Eventually, they decided to be in a consensually non-monogamous relationship so they could each get certain of their sexual needs met and still remain in a primary relationship together.
  • John wanted to have sex with his partner, Sara, after they had an argument about his infidelity.  But Sara said she was too angry about his cheating. She felt she couldn't trust him, and she needed to feel safe and trusting to have sex with him (see my article: Learning to Trust Again After an Affair). Eventually, they attended couples to work on their relationship.
  • On their first date, Dan invited Lynn over to spend the night with him after a romantic dinner.  Although Lynn was very attracted to Dan, she told him she wasn't comfortable having sex with him on their first date and she wanted to get to know him better before they had sex.  Dan said he was fine with this, and they continued to date.
Sexual Context is Important For Sexual Desire
  • Abbie and her partner, Sue, decided their sex life had become too routine and this contributed to the lack of enthusiasm they each felt about having sex.  So, they decided to try something new, sexual role play, to spice things up sexually (see my article: Exploring Sexual Role Play).
  • Roy had a leather fetish which really turned him on. But when he asked the woman he had been dating for two months, Nina, to wear leather during sex, she told him she wasn't into it.  She preferred to wear latex instead.  Roy was fine with this. They also talked about the particular kinks they each liked and they discovered they had certain kinks in common (see my article: What's the Difference Between a Fetish and a Kink?).
  • Sid preferred to have sex after dinner, but Jen found it difficult to get sexually aroused after the big meals they usually had for dinner. She felt too full and bloated. So, they decided to have their big meal for lunch, a smaller meal for dinner before they had sex, and a snack after sex when they were both cuddling and relaxing.
  • Ann liked to have sex with his partner, Jack, at night before going to sleep because that's when she felt most relaxed, but Jack was often too tired at night. Jack preferred to have sex in the morning when they both woke up together, but Ann felt too rushed in the morning because she had to be at work early. So, they came up with a compromise where they would have sex earlier in the evening during the week and on Saturday or Sunday morning when neither of them was stressed or rushed.
Confusing Issues Related to Sexual Context with Low Sexual Desire
Many people, especially women, who think they have low sexual desire, are really dealing with issues related to the sexual context they find themselves in.

It's not unusual for medical doctors, who aren't trained in sexual health (this includes many gynecologists) to diagnose a woman with low sexual desire when the real problem is that the sexual context isn't right for her (see my article: Heterosexual Women Are Often Mistakenly Labeled as Having Low Sexual Desire).

Many Women Are Mistakenly Diagnosed With Low Desire

Many of these women get unhelpful recommendations from their health care practitioner, including suggestions to have a glass of wine to relax.  But this doesn't help when the problem is related to the sexual context.

One of the reasons for this is that most health care practitioners, including gynecologists and couples therapists, aren't fully trained in sexual health. As a result, they don't know how to do a thorough psychosocial sexual history to fully assess the problem.  

Differences in Preferred Sexual Contexts Aren't Unusual
When it comes to sexual context, differences between people aren't really different from many other circumstances in life.

For instance, according to Dr. Nagoski, a person might enjoy being tickled while being sexually playful with their partner. However, the same person is unlikely to enjoy being tickled by the same partner if they're having an argument.  That would be annoying.

So, in general, this shows that context is important in most areas of life, including sex.

Understanding the Sexual Contexts of Your Core Erotic Themes
In a prior article, I discussed the importance of getting to know your Core Erotic Themes (CETs) as discussed in Dr. Jack Morin's book, The Erotic Mind (see my article: What Are Your Core Erotic Themes?).  

My prior article explains how CETs originate in childhood and provides examples of CETs.

When you and your partner(s) can discuss each of your CETs, this can help to make sex more enjoyable (see my articles: How to Talk to Your Partner About Sex - Part 1 and Part 2).

Getting Help in Sex Therapy
Sex therapy is a form of talk therapy (see my article: What is Sex Therapy?).

There is no physical exam, nudity or sex during sex therapy sessions (see my article: Common Misconceptions About Sex Therapy). 

Individuals and couples attend sex therapy for a variety of sexual issues (see my article: Common Issues Discussed in Sex Therapy).

A skilled sex therapist can help you to overcome the obstacles that are keeping you from having a pleasurable sex life, so rather than struggling on your own, seek help in sex therapy.

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.

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.