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Spontaneous vs. Responsive Desire: Understanding the Two Types of Sexual Desire

By Dara Foti, LMFTA

When it comes to sexual desire, many people assume that desire is only something that happens spontaneously. Pop culture makes it seem like people are supposed to get turned on super easily, as if a switch can simply be flipped. When this isn’t how YOU experience desire, it can make you feel broken, like something is wrong with you. This myth of only one type of desire needs to be debunked.  There are actually two different types of desire: spontaneous and responsive. Understanding the difference between these two types of desire can be helpful in having a more fulfilling sex life.

Spontaneous desire is the type of desire that seems to come out of nowhere. It's the feeling of horniness some people have when they simply think about or see their partner. It is wanting to have sex just because, without much in terms of external triggers. People who experience spontaneous desire may find that they become aroused and interested in sex very easily or without any particular stimulating context. For some people, spontaneous desire may be a regular occurrence (especially at the beginning of a relationship). For others, it may happen less frequently, or even never. 

On the other hand, responsive desire is the type of desire that is triggered by something external. This can be a physical touch, a romantic gesture, or an emotional connection with a partner. People who experience responsive desire may not feel sexually interested until they are already engaged in sexual activity or have had some kind of sexual stimulation. 

It's important to note that neither type of desire is better or worse than the other. What's important is that individuals understand their own sexual desires and communicate them with their partners.

For people experiencing sexual difficulties, understanding the difference between spontaneous and responsive desire can be helpful in identifying what might be causing the problem. For example, if a person is struggling with low sexual desire, they may need to explore what types of sexual triggers work best for them, or work on building emotional intimacy with their partner to help increase their responsive desire. If you have a concern with desire, reach out to one of our trained sex therapists. We are here to help you work through and better understand yourself.

Healing Moments Counseling Therapists who provide Sex Therapy

  • Kimberly Castelo, LMFT-S, CST-S, CEFT-T, & S
  • Kyle Benson, LMFT
  • Nika Gannon, MSW, LICSW
  • Dara Foti, Clinical Couple & Family Intern
  • Eli Etzkorn, LMFTA
  • Hyacinth Kearney, Clinical Individual, Couple, & Family Intern
  • Jennifer Goldsmith, Clinical Individual, Couple, & Family Intern
  • Kristy Fisher, Clinical Individual & Couple Intern

Dara Foti,  Female, She/Her, Relational Therapist in Seattle, Emotional Focused Therapist in Seattle, Sex Therapist in Seattle

About Dara

Dara (she/her) is a relational therapist with a theoretical orientation based in attachment theory. She utilizes Emotionally Focused Therapy to help you create secure attachment in your life. She also uses a somatic approach to explore emotions that are expressed as body sensations.

Dara believes that therapy is a collaborative process, and the client is the expert of their own life. She aims to provide a non-judgmental space that encourages exploration of self and relationships, by examining attachment (in)securities, internalized oppression, and family of origin narratives. She is compassionate and helps her clients to live their most authentic lives. Her orientation is strength-based and she believes that healing happens in the presence of others.