Sexual Desire: Wanting to Want


As one might guess, this is the chapter I really wanted to get to.  It was tempting to skip over the previous sections just to get to this part.  But I persevered.  And the payoff is an encompassing theory that goes a long way in explaining low sexual desire. 


He starts off by being a bit flip in suggesting that the low desire partner is frequently the one with the best adjustment since they simply don’t want sex that isn’t worth having.  Okay, he has a point.


Biological drive is often over emphasized in today’s attitudes about sex.  In fact, for most of western civilization’s history, the emphasis was on decreasing sex drive.  It’s only been in the past few decades that sexual desire was seen as a healthy human expression.  The problem is that the pendulum has swung over so far that now low desire is seen as a psychopathology.  Sexual appetite is seen as natural as wanting food, hence the term sexual anorexia for those with low desire.




Longtime readers will recognize that I followed that one up for quite awhile.  The problem with this, according to Schnarch, is that human sexuality resides in the frontal lobe of the brain, the neocortex, where the most complex of human thinking takes place.  Some still resides in the base area just above the spinal chord which he calls the reptilian thinking area or the more primitive thinking.  Gosh, I’ve bandied the reptilian analogy around a bit, too.  Who the hell wants to have sex with a reptile?  That’s where the biological drive lives, and people who are going after the basic biological instinct are appealing to that lower functioning area which isn’t terribly flattering when you think about it.  But the good news is that we really aren’t living there, sexuality-wise, even though we may talk and act like it.


The problem with the higher thinking type sex is that it pretty much makes us prone to some type of sexual dysfunction.  Because we seem to always set ourselves up for emotion fusion, low desire is apparently almost an inevitable byproduct of long-term relationship.  Differentiation can only really happen within the sexual crucible model and low desire is one of the major engines for this type of growth.


I’ll speak to more of what this looks like in my other blog.  It really, really fits my personal experience.   I should have known.  So should many of you.


So I’m reading along and then Schnarch has a subtitle:


The Person with the Least Desire for Sex Always Controls It.


My mental reaction to seeing that was, “No Shit, Sherlock!  Tell me something I don’t know!”  This has ramifications beyond the problem of frequency.  It has to do with the how and where of it, as well.  The low desire person is the gate keeper of what is allowed as far as specific activities.  So even if sex is happening regularly, it may involve an amazingly narrow repertoire of allowed activities.  Or the attitude behind it is so awful that it makes the other person feel objectified and disconnected.   Even if orgasms are happening, sex can still be aversive thus short circuiting the whole operant conditioning that I might expect as a behaviorist. 


This last is a bit troubling for me.  But it stands to reason that operant conditioning works in the mammalian sense, which is better than the reptilian sector but still below human thinking and functioning.  Basically humans are capable of attaching a lot more to sex beyond the pleasure drive/pain avoidance model. 


Basically, we have 3 choices in regards to how we handle sexual tension in the form of differing desires:

1. Emotional detachment

2. Emotional engulfment and smothering (either by us or by our partners)

3. Greater differentiation.


Any of the first two involves emotional fusion.  Even though #1 looks more like differentiation it is simply the result of emotional fusion.  As our partner becomes more and more significant to us, we have more to risk and lose through either lack of acceptance or even total loss of our partner.  Our capacity to handle this increased significance of our significant other directly correlates to the idea of differentiation.  Differentiation is basically this: how do I handle the anxiety and tension that result in my partner’s growing significance in my life?  I’ll answer that elsewhere, later, for me.


Finally, Schnarch goes into the idea of wanting to want.  In the reptilian sense, we want sex in order to satisfy our lizard-like desire to spread our genes hither and yon.  It also satisfies the biological tensions of not having sex e.g. blue balls.  On another level, we want it in order to validate ourselves.  We want to be wanted and we want to be needed.  We want our partner to desire us with passion.  In fact, the complaint of many HL persons is more often a lack of passion in sex than frequency or specific activities.


Wanting or not wanting sex is a function of wanting or needing to feel wanted and desired sexually.  The low desire partner might feel objectified because they feel like the partner simply wants sex for sex sake, that whole reptilian thing.  Any hole will do.  The other part of the equation is the fear of loss and/or abandonment.  The anxiety caused by the fear of losing the other person can be so great as to actually inhibit sexual desire and passion.  This is why sex can be so fast and furious in new relationships and one night stands.  There is some tension there but there is no emotional fusion and no anxiety about emotional dependency from which a person must withdraw from.   


Both higher desire and lower desire partners are missing out on the intimacy potential of sex but from seemingly opposite sides.  But the marital system is designed to produce greater emotional growth in both partners no matter which side of the libido fence they are on.




5 Responses to “Sexual Desire: Wanting to Want”

  1. FTN Says:

    All that explanation and no answers? Where’s the magic wand that I can wave to fix it?

    “We want our partner to desire us with passion. In fact, the complaint of many HL persons is more often a lack of passion in sex than frequency or specific activities.

    So even if sex is happening regularly, it may involve an amazingly narrow repertoire of allowed activities.

    Even if orgasms are happening, sex can still be aversive thus short circuiting the whole operant conditioning that I might expect as a behaviorist.”

    I admit that I’m raising my hand for much of this. Most of this describes my situation. Plus, I’m wondering if I should go back and delete any old posts where I wrote about sexual anorexia… 🙂

    Actually, looking at old blog posts is really depressing, but at least I can see that I’ve made some progress through the years. Can you believe I had many posts where I was referring to Autumn as simply “Low-Libido Wife” before she had a name? How cold is that?

  2. xianhusband Says:

    There’s some level where the phrase “sexual anorexia” is appropriate. I remember saying something about this in one of my first posts on my blog. Anorexia and overeating are two sides of the same coin, both obsessions about food, and both more about mental issues than the physical appetite.

    So, directly comparing the appetite for food with that for sex may be completely invalid — as I’ve said many times — but it is still something people go all weird and neurotic about in the similar ways.

    I’ve said a lot of times that simply assigning someone the label “low-libido” is completely overly simplistic because it takes something so complex in emotion and intellect and assigns it a merely biological cause. If you don’t consider the underlying psychology behind someone’s low libido and just assume it is purely hormonal or whatever then you are missing the whole thing.

    Us “HL” men and our “LL” wives are really just reflections of each other. We both have issues built up around sex and intimacy just in opposite ways. I once said that we need to ask ourselves why we want sex so badly. The answer is pretty much the same reasons our wives DON’T.

  3. Digger Jones Says:

    You and me and all of us have sort of grown up a bit since those days, FTN. Hopefully we’re getting smarter and becoming more human-like. Part of it has been moving past the contempt and frustration and doing some introspection.

    XH, I do have to give credit where credit is due in that you seem to have caught on to this earlier on. In fact it was you asking “Why do you want sex so bad anyway?” that got me really thinking and diving into this headspace and stepping out of “Lizardspace.”

    We basically gravitate towards partners who share our general level of dysfunction so you’re right; anything we attribute to them comes right back.


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