August 25, 2014

Understanding The “What” In “What Do You Desire?”

Examining the "what" in "what do you desire?" provides deeper understanding to the nuances of the motivation behind sex.

Print More
desire

desire

Sure, most people desire sex. But what do you really desire when you desire sex? Many people desire closeness, intimacy, or touch. Others desire sexual release, orgasm, or pleasure. Maybe you desire to be desired – to feel like your partner wants you – and that is achieved through engaging in sex.

The “what” in what we desire is an important question that has not received a lot of empirical attention thus far.

Recently, I published a paper with colleagues of mine, where we examined heterosexual couples’ sexual desire by answering questions about the “what” in “what do you desire?” It was published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine’s latest issue.

We found that men and women overall tend to experience different objects of sexual desire.

The top 3 objects of desire for men:

  1. Pleasing their partner
  2. Pleasure
  3. Sexual release

The top 3 objects of desire for women:

  1. Love
  2. Intimacy
  3. Feeling sexually desirable

Men were significantly more likely to endorse desire for sexual release, orgasm, and pleasing their partner than were women. Women were significantly more likely to endorse desire for intimacy, emotional closeness, love, and feeling sexually desirable than men.

In the context of these gender differences, we were also curious whether it mattered if two individuals within a couple desired different things. So what if you desire love but your partner desires sexual release – does that impact the extent to which you feel sexual desire for your partner?

We found that when men have a higher desire than their partner to feel sexually desirable, their reported desire for their partner was higher. When women have a higher desire to feel sexually desirable than their partner, men’s desire for their partner decreased.

When women have higher desire for sexual release, touch, and excitement than their partner, their reported desire for their partner was higher. When men have a higher desire for sexual release, touch, and excitement than their partner, their partner’s desire for them was lower.

So why does this matter? First, it confirms that desire is expressed in a multitude of ways [36], and understanding the “what” in “what do you desire?” may be an important piece to understanding sexual desire and figuring out ways to improve desire in people who are struggling with low desire.

Desire does not have to look the same in every relationship, and variations within the relationship can be positively linked to overall sexual desire for your partner.