It’s an entirely familiar trope: Someone stays in a relationship that’s entirely chaotic, maybe even unhealthy, all because the sex is great and exciting. Similarly, early relationships, where things aren’t yet certain, are often associated with fun, spur-of-the-moment sex that fades as the relationship continues. And it’s not really a coincidence. Sex is great and exciting in new and unstable relationships because the relationship is unstable. But according to some TikTokers, this isn’t a futile cycle. Instead, the fix involves having a better understanding of “responsive desire.”
In a recent video, creator @happinesswrath comments on a video from another TikToker discussing how her sex life always disippates in relationships. She explains that people often use “spontaneous desire” to reinforce relationships we perceive as insecure. By “spontaneous desire,” she is referring to exactly what the term sounds like: unplanned, mutual horniness that happens, well, spontaneously. Citing Come As You Are, a book on women’s sexuality and brain science by Emily Nagoski, @happinesswrath goes on to say that when our brains feel “safe” in a relationship that isn’t under threat, the need for spontaneous desire subsides. In a relationship that continues to feel unstable, however, we will still experience spontaneous desire in order to cognitively stabilize the relationship.
But instead of placing so much value on spontaneous desire, she says, we ought to be thinking more about responsive desire. This is exactly what sex expert Joan Price discussed with MEL in a previous conversation around how long is too long to go without sex in a relationship. There, she describes how spontaneous desire often works with the brain deciding it wants sex and the body following, whereas responsive desire follows the opposite dynamic. When spontaneous desire has subsided, women in particular often need responsive desire in order to want sex — i.e., making out or cuddling so as to allow the body to become horny so that the mind will follow.
The problem, as Price, @happinesswrath and other TikTokers have stated, is that there’s often a cultural belief that spontaneous desire is better or more “real,” which convinces us to stay in bad relationships or to become sexually unsatisied with stable ones. The thing is, the solution is pretty simple: Allow yourself the time to get horny. There’s nothing wrong with requiring some foreplay, or exploring what feels good before deciding whether or not you want to have sex with your partner. This is another reason why Price and others are big proponents of scheduling sex — because when you know sex is on your calendar, you can find yourself getting mentally excited about it, or at least have a planned opportunity to see if you can initiate your responsive desire.
Regardless, it can be comforting to know that what you think is some magical connection between you and a shitty partner or what you perceive as a lack of sexual interest between you and a stable partner is just your brain acting out. Once you learn to have a better understanding of your own desire, though, you can hopefully navigate such situations with a much clearer head.