If there is no such thing as a sex drive, what is that unmistakable and potent force that moves us, motivates us and pulls us towards the pleasures of erotic exchange? It’s not a drive, it’s desire – the powerful force of wanting, the complex motivational system that allows us to imagine into future states of possibility.
Challenging thousands-old understandings of the human “sex drive,” the latest science suggests a new model of erotic desire – rather than a drive to discharge or satiate a need, erotic desire is a complex system of motivations in relationship with the external and social world. It’s all about motivating behavior to pull us towards imagined future states of pleasure and joy. Desire is a work of the imagination, in deep dialogue with our physical bodies and social selves.
It’s time to welcome back the mystery and power of erotic desire – and that starts with getting curious about what is calling you. If you give yourself more space for wanting, what do you want more of? What do you want to experience? What do you want to feel?
Check out the rest of the Rethinking Libido Series here.
Transcript for Podcast Episode #351: Desire ~ The Pleasure Of Wanting
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Charlotte Rose: 00:00 Welcome to Speaking of Sex with the Pleasure Mechanics. I’m Charlotte.
Chris Rose: 00:04 I’m Chris.
Charlotte Rose: 00:05 And we are the pleasure mechanics.
Chris Rose: 00:06 On this podcast, we have soulful, honest, explicit conversations about every element of sex and sexuality, and the lived experience thereof. We want to know how it feels for you and how we can create a more joyful, pleasurable world for all of us together. Come on over to pleasuremechanics.com where you will find our complete podcast archive. There’s over 350 episodes waiting for you, but don’t worry. We have created some easy ways for you to get started. Come on over to pleasuremechanics.com/free and get started with our free online courses so you can dive in right away. That’s pleasuremechanics.com/free.
Chris Rose: 00:52 All right, we are in the middle of our libido series. We are doing a multi episode deep dive into this question of libido. Because so many people use the language of libido to describe their sexual struggle. So we wanted to really break it apart, invite in our sex therapist friends to help us with this one, and get a grasp on what we mean when we talk about libido struggles. If you are new to this series, check out pleasuremechanics.com/libido where you will find the complete series hosted for you. Also at pleasuremechanics.com/libido are ways for you to participate in this series and share your stories with us.
Chris Rose: 01:38 And we have been getting so many beautiful stories from you all. Thank you. And again, from all different parts of the libido narrative. We’re hearing from couples with wildly different libidos. We’re hearing from people who are in great relationships, but their libido is nowhere to be found. And we’re hearing from so many people with sexual urgency. With this feeling of yeah, I know what I want. How do I get it? What do I do with this feelings of urgency and frustration building in me? So next week we’re going to really talk about sexual frustration and take that on.
Chris Rose: 02:22 But today, I wanted to spend a few moments, a few minutes, the whole episode really talking about we got a lot of questions and pushback on this idea that there is no such thing as sex drive. There is no such thing as a sex drive. And if that is true according to the science, then what is this feeling in me that makes me feel like I’m making so many of my life decisions because of sex? Something is driving me around sex.
Chris Rose: 02:55 The language you use to describe this feeling is rich and wonderful, and really speaks to this idea that something is moving us with sex. We do feel driven, quite literally sometimes across borders. People give up jobs, people change their lives out of passion and desire. Surely we are driven, no?
Chris Rose: 03:21 So we want to talk about why there’s no such thing as a sex drive, what there is instead, and why it’s such a better invitation. Why this reframe will really transform how you think about desire and how we’re going to use this understanding of desire moving forward. All right.
Charlotte Rose: 03:40 So we’re going to talk about why there is no such thing as a sex drive, but we first want to thank Emily Nagoski for translating all of this science into a really manageable, digestible information that is found in her book Come as You Are. It’s a great book. We love it. We love her, is a great thinker. So all of this is mostly from her
Chris Rose: 04:02 From her, and then from her recommended references where we could dig more into the science she cited. She’s so good at pulling up, and by science we’re talking about behavioral science, anthropology, all of the sciences. Physical science, social sciences. Emily Nagoski is so good at pulling out of all of the science what we feel to be true and kind of giving us more clues about our human behavior.
Chris Rose: 04:31 So, sex drive. So by the sciences, drive is a word used to describe something really specific. And that’s an internal state that creates behavior to fulfill our needs. Our needs. And if those needs are not fulfilled, there is predictable, ongoing damage to the system.
Chris Rose: 04:56 So thirst is a derive. You get progressively thirstier. It motivates your behavior, ranging from getting up and getting yourself a drink of water to lapping out of a puddle if necessary. Right? Your thirst will motivate your behavior to satiate that need.
Charlotte Rose: 05:14 Hunger is another drive. When we need to eat, it will take priority over all else if we get to a certain state of hunger. It will increase and increase until we are entirely focused on getting food
Chris Rose: 05:29 And some say that social belonging is also a human need. And that if it is not fulfilled, there is a predictable and increasing state of damage to the organism. So these are our drives, and there has been a misnomer when we talk about sex drive. It was named a drive by a certain field of medicine at a specific time in history, and then it became popularized. But since then, systematically science has debunked the idea of it being a drive.
Chris Rose: 06:01 It was called a drive because it had thousands of years of medical antiquity behind it. And this is when I went to Emily Nagoski’s references, and I discovered this history of medical knowledge going back to Plato, for example. That understood sexuality as something that kind of stirred from within you, built up, and then needed to be discharged. This was our foundational understanding of sexual energy, of desire. It was built up and then discharged through ejaculation, through reproduction of the human baby. And this kind of then was adopted through the sciences over time and through different philosophies. And I’m kind of obsessed with this model. We’re going to be talking more about shifting our attitudes that sex is something to discharge. Because just for a moment relate to that. How much do you relate to your sexuality as something within you that needs to be expelled? Because this is the model that then was adopted and what was discharged was the evil of it, and the sin of it, and the impurity of it. All of this has been mapped into our language, right? And this is often what we think about when we think about sex drive. There is this well within us that gets to an uncomfortable point of tension and needs to be discharged.
Chris Rose: 07:28 Now, what are we motivated by? What are we driven by? What is this thing we all experienced in more or less degrees? What makes us want sex if not a sex drive? It is a less convenient term, but it is an internal motivational system. A complex internal motivational system in dialogue with your social context and physical environment.
Charlotte Rose: 08:00 So that is what your desire for sex emerges out of. That is the landscape internally and externally where desire emerges.
Chris Rose: 08:10 So desire is a motivational system. A motivational system experienced by you as an individual in relation to your external environment and your social context. Motivational system.
Chris Rose: 08:24 So what does that mean? What does that mean? Well, let’s start with what it’s not. A sex drive pushes you towards a behavior to satiate a need. Motivational systems pull you, they draw you. They pull you with wanting and longing towards a perceived future state. You are motivated into action by what this complex, beautiful human body of ours interprets as what will become a positive feeling state. So we are motivated into feeling sexual desire by the call, the longing, the draw, the wanting of specific feelings states, of specific social States, of specific outcomes.
Charlotte Rose: 09:14 Anticipation.
Chris Rose: 09:16 This is the wanting of sex, because this also becomes really important. The wanting of sex is different from the liking of sex. So when we’re talking about sexual desire here, the wanting of sex. That is driven by this complex set of motivations for you as an individual to feel something in the future. It’s very beautiful and poetic, but it’s also very practical, right? So whereas if you’re hungry, depending on how hungry are, you will eat just about anything. It’s not very specific. When you are drawn, this model of being drawn towards pleasure, towards belonging, towards joy, towards kinship, towards what you want. Is so much more poetic and specific to you at this moment, and so much more expansive. Because it’s not just this, “I have this thing in me and I have to get it out, and whatever I like bump into next is good enough.” It’s not this expulsion model. It’s this model that invites us to think about what is pulling us, what is calling us, what are we curious about? What are we longing for? What are we wanting? The wanting.
Chris Rose: 10:38 And this is where desire relates to creativity and all of these other human things. Because when we want something that is not in our current state, right? We want to feel touch, we want to feel an orgasm, we want to see our lover’s eyes as they look at us and I feel connected to them. I want to feel sweaty. What are your wants? That is what draws you into your desire. That’s what gives it specific contours. And equally when you want to see something in the world that does not exist yet, that’s what draws you in to that act of creation, of collaboration. And this is where it all kind of comes together in that eroticism, right? That energy that runs through us and between us as humans that draws us forward into the act of creation, and collaboration, and creating life force energy together.
Chris Rose: 11:36 All right. So if desire is a drawing out, a motivational system, then we can get really specific with what are your specific motivations. And what is tamping those motivations down? What is encouraging, what is exciting, and what is inhibiting your desire? Both within you as a feeling being. You as an individual, human organism. Your brain, your body, your history, your experiences. All interpret this sensory experience of your life, right? So what within you as an individual and within your social context, are influencing your desire? That’s a much broader conversation than what’s wrong with my sex drive.
Charlotte Rose: 12:32 This is so important for us all to hear. The language we hear from people often is that when they’re not experiencing high levels of desire all the time, they feel like quote their sex drive is broken. And this isn’t the case. This isn’t true. And it’s really important for us to know that and register that. We get so focused on this culture, on thinking that is us as an individual. That is broken, doing things wrong, not getting it right. But what the science says about desire is that all of us basically are responsive to our context. That our desire emerges from a combination of internal and external factors. Meaning that there is so much at play that creates our experience of desire in the world.
Chris Rose: 13:26 Right. And I want to pause for a moment because where this gets trippy, right? We can talk conveniently about this individual experience within a social context. But if you think of a fish in water, there’s the biology of that fish, the system of that fish, and then there’s the water, and we can distinguish. But of course, the health of that water impacts the health of the fish. So when we’re talking about your individual relationship with desire, your experience of desire, big factors on the individual level are things like stress, sleep, nourishment. Which are also social factors, right? If you’re working two jobs and are exhausted, where is the space for desire? But you’re working two jobs and are exhausted because of social factors, right? So let’s just acknowledge that. And you can see as we start pulling apart, we can both start getting really specific with all these factors, and it’s easy to get overwhelmed.
Chris Rose: 14:24 So part of our goal here, kind of an operationalizing desire over this series and these conversations, is to help you identify the pieces of this that you have the most control and agency, and to access to. And to acknowledge with love and tenderness the things that you do not have access to, the things you cannot control at this time. Or the things that we can only control together.
Chris Rose: 14:52 So I just want to say that because that fish might be feeling really sick. But if that fish is swimming in poisoned water, of course the fish is sick. I know all the fish in that bowl are sick. So we’re going to work on the fish, we’re going to work on looking around the water, but we’re also going to work on the health of that water overall so all the fish get a little better, little swimmers.
Charlotte Rose: 15:14 And we see clearly in that situation that it is not the fish’s fault. There is nothing wrong with them. They are not doing anything wrong. And that piece I think is so important for us all to install.
Chris Rose: 15:30 I’m just thinking about sad little fish swimming around. Okay. So this is why this is so important. Is because on this podcast in all of this work as a community, yes, we are going to work on becoming stronger swimmers. We’re going to work on expanding our erotic capacity, expanding our relational capacity. Doing sex better, building all of these skills that give us access to more pleasure in our bodies, to more connection with each other. And, why we always go to the social on this podcast is because sexuality is a deeply socially felt experience. So let’s look at some of that context now. I want to talk about this culture of desire idea. Because as soon as you realize that your experience of desire is so in relation to your external circumstances, you start seeing places you can intervene. You start seeing actions you can take within that context and you’re like, “I can put myself in a different fishbowl.” Right now I have the image of two fishbowls side by side and the one smart fish realizes there’s a healthier fish bowl, and he can do a belly flop up and out.
Charlotte Rose: 16:44 Take quite a bit of action to get there.
Chris Rose: 16:46 Totally, I mean we’ve all seen finding Nemo. Fish are amazing. So we’re going to all do a belly flop up and out into a healthier fish bowl. Wow. I do not expect that metaphor today. Okay, so the culture of desire.
Chris Rose: 17:00 When we talk about culture, the smallest culture you are in … so you have your individual ecosystem, your relationship to yourself, all of your thoughts, your attitudes, your body, all of that. We’re setting that all into this cultural context.
Chris Rose: 17:15 The first culture you’re born into again that you can’t control is your family. Your natal family, your situation. So your family is your first culture. And then as you build your own family later in life.
Charlotte Rose: 17:31 For those that do.
Chris Rose: 17:32 Well, we all have different families, right? So family is a culture and then community is a culture. Your neighborhood, your work community, the people you interact with. We’re kind of doing a ever expanding circles of community here. So individual, family, community and friendships, extended family. And then region, regional cultures and subcultures within regions, nation states, human culture of the globe. Within this particular geopolitical moment, right? That is the culture we’re talking about to the pulse of this globe itself. All of that context affects your desire.
Chris Rose: 18:18 And let’s just start, I was going to start at the micro, but let’s start at the macro. I think we’re all feeling this more than ever right now with the speed of information and awareness about this globe. Global events can impact your desire. How many emails did we get after the last election cycle that’s like where did my libido go? And that partly global events affect your desire because you become aware of them. They’re in your awareness system through the culture of your media consumption and your community.
Chris Rose: 18:55 So the global context of your sexuality, and we’re feeling that more and more. The cultural context, the culture you are born into. What it says bodies are meant to do, what different bodies have access and privileges to, how your body was treated within that. We can see how that has an impact on your experience of desire. Both your position being born into a culture, but then also your lived experience and that accumulated experience of pleasure, and reward, and punishment, and denial, and access to pleasure, and denial to pleasure, and what you’re told your value is and what you’re told your worth is. All of that accumulated experience in our bodies. That’s a big variable. That’s a big variable. Some of it we have control over, some of it we don’t. Again, dialing in the community, the culture that we live in day to day. Does that support the emergence of your desire? Does it inspire you? Do you feel erotically relevant in your community? Does your sexuality have a relevance in your day to day life, or do you live your day to day life as a very desexualized being with no erotic turn on, with no erotic relevance, and then you expect it to just show up on Friday night?
Chris Rose: 20:21 From there, your individual media consumption, the subcultures you’re a part of, the media, the books, the TV you watch, all of that has a deep impact on what is available for you to respond to. What will wake up and stir your desire. What will inspire you, what will call to you. And then again, the community of our home, our family. What are all of the factors there?
Chris Rose: 20:45 That is all of what mean when we talk about context. You wake up in this world in a whole series of different cultural contexts that all have influence over your experience of desire.
Chris Rose: 21:02 So when I get these emails that are like, “I don’t know why I’m not feeling sexual desire. I must be broken. What’s wrong with my libido? Fix my libido.” And then they lay out their life circumstances, we start to think what in those life circumstance makes sense for you to want sex right now? If you want to want sex more, how do we shift your life context so it would make more sense for desire to emerge?
Chris Rose: 21:31 So this is where we find the agency. It’s like our desire is not a fixed thing. It is not a gauge within us that I am a high libido person or a low libido person. And that means something about me. Desire is an active engagement through our bodies with the entire world.
Chris Rose: 21:51 One quick example of this where I become so aware of all of these different factors is when we go visit my family in Portland, Oregon. So when we go visit my family in Portland, Oregon, the town is crawling with queer, specifically queer women. And all of a sudden, my desire and sexuality wake up in the most an expected places because in the grocery store, there’s all these dikes flirting with me. And I’m sexually relevant to the community there.
Chris Rose: 22:23 And the baristas and the ice cream scoopers are loving our family and giving us winks and nods and free scoops, and it’s like our sexuality is irrelevant in the social community. So it wakes up, it is excited, is given gas, right? It is accelerated through that social context.
Chris Rose: 22:43 But then when I go to my mother’s house for example, everything about that context is the most quashing, inhibiting experience that even when Charlotte and I were there alone, and we were staying in my mom’s house and we had Portland all to ourselves, we couldn’t really get frisky and go to the strip clubs and make it an erotic vacation. Because we were staying at my mom’s house and it was such an inhibitor for me for so many reasons.
Chris Rose: 23:13 So this juxtaposition, right? What are all of the factors at play that will excite you or inhibit you? That will give fuel to your desire or quash it for now. And to remember that is an ongoing dynamic process. Everyday changing, always renewing, always ready for your active engagement in that process. Beautifully said. So it’s just exciting to think about what the pieces that you can have agency over. Where can you make small changes, big changes, dramatic changes, or micro changes that can really make a difference to you? If you know yourself, you know your relationship.
Charlotte Rose: 24:02 It’s a really powerful question. And if this all feels overwhelming, that is completely understandable. It’s just astounding what impacts and influences our sexuality, and what we want to do about that.
Chris Rose: 24:15 So again, if we can think about desire as a motivational system towards positive feeling states, then we can think about what motivates us and what those states might be. And then we can think about what is encouraging that desire and what is inhibiting. What is giving gas to it and what is putting the brakes on it. Emily Nagoski talks about the dual model control of arousal. So what puts gas and brakes on what feels good. And let’s start talking about the dual model control of desire. What puts the gas in brakes on what you desire, on your experience of desire, on what you are allowed to want. On what you are allowed to want.
Chris Rose: 25:04 Because these motivations, when we talk about the motivations, that sounds vague. Here are some motivations for wanting. I want sex because I want to feel loved and connected to another human being.
Charlotte Rose: 25:18 I want sex because I want to feel the pleasure of orgasms.
Chris Rose: 25:23 I want sex because I want to feel touched. I want my entire body touched, naked. All of it.
Charlotte Rose: 25:33 I want sex because I want to feel connected. I want to eye gaze, I want to feel loved, and intimate, and hell.
Chris Rose: 25:41 I want sex because I want to release some tension in my body and I want to get sweaty, and grunt, and feel messy, and just let it all out there and not hold back and be polite any more. This is fun. We could keep going. So add in your own. Why do you want the sex you want? Because we don’t all just want this vague idea of sex. You want a specific kind of sex. And we didn’t even talk about, so let’s do another round. I want sex to feel valued and that someone cares about me, and that someone will take care of me.
Charlotte Rose: 26:18 I want sex because I want to feel desired.
Chris Rose: 26:20 I want sex because I want to feel powerful, and I want to feel social status, and I want to demonstrate my social status to others. I want sex because I want to feel chosen and I want to feel special. What is motivating the kind of sex you want to have?
Chris Rose: 26:40 When we get honest about that, and I think we’ve talked about this in kind of the first episode. We’re thinking libido, when we get honest about what we want, there are more ways to get what we want. Those options are expanded.
Charlotte Rose: 26:53 So you’re saying when you get specific about the experience that you crave and long for, then you can find multiple ways, sex being one of them, but also other ways to try and seek out and create those experiences?
Chris Rose: 27:07 Yeah, and in this there’s a recognition that sex is very potent. So we’re looking at our motivations. We’re getting really honest about that. What is pulling us towards wanting sex? What is in that heady mix. And in the literature, they nod to the idea that the combination of the motivations is often headier than anyone individually. Which is why these packaged deals of someone choosing you, and then looking at you, and they love you, and they desire, and they want your body and you’re good enough and you’re chosen. And then you get touched and then you get an orgasm, and then you get that afterglow, and then you get pancakes. That is a wonderful mix of motivations all wrapped up into a desire to be taken home on a Saturday night, or a desire for your partner to give you the kind of attention that he used to give you.
Chris Rose: 28:02 What are your desires, what are they motivated by? And only then can we look at agency within this system, agency within yourself as an individual. And then agency to affect your context. To start playing with some of these gas and brakes pedals and looking at what will make watershed differences. Where are the gas and brake pedals that are constricting your desire so intensely? You’re barely feeling it anymore. How do we release some pressure there? How do we amp up gas in certain areas? This is the work of sexual agency. And it’s complicated, and it can be overwhelming. But we’re here for you.
Charlotte Rose: 28:46 So one of the questions I want to leave you with is what have you given yourself permission to want? What have you let yourself desire? And can you give yourself a little bit more room around that?
Chris Rose: 29:00 Are you talking about sexually in life? All of it?
Charlotte Rose: 29:04 I think it’s great to do all of it. To look in life because I feel like it’s an easier warm up. There’s more permission around that, and then move into the sexual realm. Because so many of us have constrained what we see as possible for ourselves. So give yourself permission to want. And as you walk around in the world, notice what else do you want more of. What sensual inputs are delighting you right now? Are you craving more of, are you interested in? And let yourself be guided. Let your curiosity be a part of your sensuality and sexuality.
Chris Rose: 29:43 But we need to, this is the anticapitalist sidebar. When we’re talking about wanting to want, we’re not talking about things and objects, and consumables. Because that is where all of this has been trained to focus. So when Charlotte says, “What do you want?” All of us could come up with a list of objects on our Amazon wishlist. This is not that question. It’s what do you want to feel? What do you want to experience? What do you want to create? What do you want to collaborate on? What do you want to feel and experience? Are the most important questions here. And even better if you can answer things that are not contingent upon spending a dollar. I want to feel artistically alive. I want to feel intellectually challenged. I want to feel deeply engaged. I want to feel more connected to nature. I want to get back into my love of art and color. What are the wants that have nothing to do with buying anything? Those are the erotic wants. Those are those sparks of life that are yours specifically.
Chris Rose: 30:52 And this is all a process of getting all of the breaks out of the way, all of the inhibitions. And we’re going to do another episode because I’ve been really geeking out on this idea of trained inhibitions. Trained inhibitions. If we get our inhibitions out of the way, give our desire a little more space. Feel your wanting. And we’re going to get really specific with that as the experience of desire. It is not a poison in you that needs to be discharged. It is not a pressure valve within you that’s going to because you to explode. These are old models, they are not accurate. And we are going to shift into a model of desire that is about active engagement with the world through and with your body, and you specifically. Specifically your desire. How do we activate that?
Charlotte Rose: 31:49 I just want a name for some people they may have the experience that those first things you were talking about, they might feel like they’re a pressure cooker that are going to explode. And partly, that’s because we have named that experienced that way over, and over, and over again in culture. So you may relate to that. And as we begin to shift our language and offer you other models, be curious and see if what we’re talking about does match what you feel, and if you can rename the experience.
Chris Rose: 32:17 And that’s what we’re going to do next week. We are going to tackle sexual frustration and reframe it. So if you have experiences of sexual frustration, if you are hearing all of this and you’re like, “Those ladies don’t get it. They don’t get what it feels to have like a rock hard penis that wants to fuck something.” First of all, I want to say I do get it. I do get it, because our bodies actually have the same amount of erectile tissue. But I do get it also because I have been in deep erotic engagement with thousands of men over the decades, and I have listened to you, and I understand what you’re feeling. And I want to understand more.
Chris Rose: 32:55 When you offer me your words and your experience, and this is true for all of your beautiful bodies that are in community with us and in dialogue with us. I just want to put out there that I am actively, deeply engaged with ongoing communities of men about their sexual experience. And I want to hear more. I want to hear more from all of you. But specifically for next week, I want to hear his stories of sexual frustration. Of feeling pent up, of feeling ready to explode. And tell me specifically what that felt like, and we will address it next week. Come on over to pleasuremechanics.com/libido, where you will find this complete libido series hosted for you. If all of this is just feeling really exciting, and overwhelming, and you’re ready to deeply engage with this topic. Right now if you’re listening to this podcast in September, 2019, our friend Vanessa Marin, the fabulous sex therapist, is about to throw open the doors on her wonderful course about libido and walking you through all of this overwhelm with friendly wisdom and a guided tour of what’s going on in your libido.
Chris Rose: 34:11 So check out the show notes page for that resource, other resources from our trusted friends. And again, this entire series is all together at pleasuremechanics.com/libido. All of the resources and episodes are there for you. We are so grateful for all of you for being part of our community. Thank you so much to those of you who support our work. And if you love this show and want to support the work we are doing in this world, come on over to pleasuremechanics.com/love and show us some love. All right, we will be back next week to talk about sexual frustration. I’m already excited about that. Contribute at pleasuremechanics.com/libido. All right, I’m Chris.
Charlotte Rose: 34:55 I’m Charlotte.
Chris Rose: 34:56 We are the pleasure mechanics.
Charlotte Rose: 34:57 Wishing you a lifetime of pleasure.