By Taylor Harmon
Sex drive, sexual desire, arousal and libido are terms almost every college student has heard at some point in movies, TV, songs and from peers. Mainstream media depicts sex in a certain way, and many people who are first exploring their sexuality base their experiences off of these depictions, which can lead to feelings of inadequacy or abnormality.
The complexity of sexuality is left out of the conversation.
“The media message is that the first time you have sex it’s going to be great. When it’s not, it can make people think something is wrong with them,” said Kinsey Institute research fellow Shari Blumenstock. “And for people first learning about their sexuality it can be very scary.”
Sex drive is malleable over time, Blumenstock said.
“Research suggests tremendous variability across individuals and across time,” Zoë Pederson, senior scientist at the Kinsey Institute, said. Age, place in life and relationships can affect sex drive. The only problematic level of sexual desire is if it is causing you distress.”
Desire can be identified through a person’s Sexual Excitation System (SES), according to expert Emily Nagoski, who wrote about sexual desire and arousal in her latest book. The SES is the accelerator of your sexual response, which receives information about sexually relevant stimuli. And the Sexual Inhibition System (SIS), which is the sexual brake and which notices all potential threats. One way to identify your brakes and accelerators is by filling out Nagoski’s sexual temperament questionnaire.
A person’s brakes and accelerators will change over the course of their lives. A person’s age, place in life, relationship status and other factors can affect their sexual drive.
Sexual excitation can decrease with age, but sexual inhibition is less tied with age, Pederson said.
People may become less inhibited when they are older because they have fewer fears about reputation or pregnancy, and sex usually becomes less painful for women. However, certain sexual problems can increase with age, like erectile dysfunction.
Although exploring your own sexuality can be anxiety-provoking or taboo, it can help you experience desire and arousal in the context that you want to have it.
“Don’t be afraid to mentally go down to your genitals, even though there is a lot of shame around it, especially toward people with vulvas,” Pederson said. “Approaching yourself non-judgmentally and having an open mind about your sexuality is really important for having empowering, satisfying, feels-good sex.”