Sexual Response Cycle and Expression

Sexual activity is a physical expression. This might seem obvious but have you ever stopped and considered the different types of sexual activity that you have experienced throughout your life? This article aims to unpack some of these concepts in an attempt to understand desire, lust and the concept of people’s mind frames or their head space within sex. We will quickly discover in just a few sentences the complexity of sex and that’s even without acknowledging the diversity of sexuality. We often think of sex as just sex, but have we considered breaking it down into facets.

If we break down sex into facets we must look at the level of passion we approach sexual activity whether it’s from primal instinct, desire, lust or passion. The type of sexual activity whether it’s sex, intimacy or the importance of combining sex and intimacy together. Then we look at the length of sexual activity whether it’s a quick-y in a car or a long drawn out sensual love making. The love making session that may begin in the bathroom which progresses to the hallway and finishes in the bedroom. How did the sexual desire come about? Was it through being spontaneous or responsive to your environment and social cues.  There are gender differences in sexual activity including the activeness of the penis, the perceived passivity of the vagina or anus, masculinity with male sexuality, femininity with female sexuality and the gender division or contrast between these thoughts.

Research once reinforced the clichéd notion that a man’s desire and sexual response was always in an active state. In comparison to the woman that had to be ‘in the mood’ to engage with a sexual response which was said to be in an inactive state. According to Esther Perel in her article “Men’s Sexual Desires vs Women” published in Psychologies, the research towards sexual response in women was seven times higher than studies conducted on the male sexual responses. The research reinforced the idea that men were always in the mood. This study placed men under greater pressure to perform in the bedroom.Sexual Response Cycle

Modern studies examined the mental state of both men and women in regards to sexual responses. They more accurately examined a male’s sexual desire, not in comparison, but with, the sexual desire of women. Male sexual performance is often tied into their relationship with their sense of masculinity. Previous ideologies would centre on the notion that an erection would indicate sexual readiness, sexual desire. When in fact, a males physical arousal is not the same as a sexual desire. This is supported by the idea that a man can obtain an erection whilst being raped or when a male sex worker who does not need sexual desire to maintain an erection or the natural occurring erections in young boys.

There is new research with a relatively new concept labelled “Spontaneous vs Responsive Desire” which is changing how we think about male and female sexuality. There is still a long way to go to dispelling notions regarding the relationship between spontaneous and responsive desire.

Spontaneous Desire Responsive Desire
  • Sexual desire feels like it appears “spontaneously” out of the blue
  • Totally normal and healthy
  • Culturally sanctioned as the “expected” desire style
  • May include more frequent desire for sex .
  • May include desire in a wider range of contexts
  • May feel like “too much” desire, in a negative context
  • Sexual desire emerges only in an erotic context, after sexy things start happening.
  • Totally normal and healthy
  • Culturally medicalized as “low” desire.
  •  May include less frequent desire for sex – less than once a week in most contexts
  • May include more context-sensitive desire, preferring things to be “just right”
  • May feel like “no desire,” in a context that hits the brakes

There is still a long way to go to dispelling notions regarding the relationship between spontaneous and responsive desire with general practitioners prescribe medication for anyone with low desire. There has also been a push in the health market for a female version of Viagra. There are a multitude of companies offering pills, potions and remedies to increase sexual desire.

This leads to two questions: What is a sexual desire? Why is it considered to be so important? The idea heralded as ‘successful sexual activity’ is gaining physical arousal through penetrative sex that leads ultimately to an orgasm. This idea has little to no thought in regards to mental arousal through intimacy and trust which can lead to the highest level of emotional and passionate sex. Both forms of arousal can produce a physiological responses including an erection, swelling of the nipples, clitoris and vulva. For both sexes, there is an increase in heartbeat, blood pressure and rapid breathing. Does this indicate that sex is being in the moment though?

The BDSM scene has had an insight into this with the idea of that being in an “head space” is imperative to a scene. What being in a head space entails is an altered psychological state which is induced by adrenaline and endorphin spikes that often occur during a scene. Often the scene manifests into specific actions, feelings and thought processes which may or may not normally exist outside that scene. The practice often prepares the body for the activity that is occurring, or about to occur depending on the scene. The ‘head space’ is a crucial aspect to the enjoyment of a scene and immersing one’s self into the activity taking place. This is known as being “in the zone” or being in the “in the moment”. Surely such an ideology can transcend into sexual practices? If each individual has a different head space that they use when they experience sex, it can lead to them experiencing a different type of sex. If we consider it, this would explain the idea of emotional sex, passionate sex, lustful sex, primal sex and the variety of different activities that occur. It could also explain the idea of masturbatory regret. For example, masturbatory regret is the idea that an individual feels shame and embarrassment at the type of sexual stimulation that they were using in the quest to achieve sexual climax. In BDSM and fetishes head space is something that can occur with any of the individuals within a specific scene. Head space is often labelled by their role in the scene. For example, subspace, top space, dom space, pony space and puppy space.

Porn has disrupted the idea of being in a head space by demonstrating specific actions and verbal cues as ‘common’ pornographic behaviour. A person involved in a particular head space during sexual activity may unconsciously growl, moan, drool, provide aggressive physical stimulation such as slapping. These types of have become associated with standardised porn behaviour many people will force behaviour rather than being in an head-space thus never accomplishing a truly immersive experience into the sexual activity. Think of the common porn scenario which results in one of the partners being aggressively slapped in an effort to spur on and demonstrate sexual arousal. Whilst one person may never do this outside of sexual activity, during a heightened state of sexual arousal they may become inclined to physically manifest that desire in a primal-like expression.

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