The following excerpts are from an interview by New Scientist’s Alison George with Emily Nagoski, director of Wellness Education at Smith College. In her new book on the science of sex, Come As You Are, Nagoski refutes the existence of a “sex drive,” claiming that such a notion misses the bigger picture.
Why is there no such thing as a sex drive?
A drive is a motivational system to deal with life-or-death issues, like hunger or being too cold. You’re not going to die if you don’t have sex.
But biologists might say that if you don’t reproduce, that is a form of death
Yes. That’s the argument that was used when desire was being added to the way sexual dysfunctions were diagnosed in the 1970s, to justify the framing of sexual desire as a drive. But when it comes to sex, there just isn’t any physical evidence of a drive mechanism.
So what’s going on?
If sex is a drive then desire should be spontaneous, like a hunger. When you see a sexy person or have a stray sexy thought, it activates an internal craving or urge for sex. That’s called “spontaneous desire”. It feels like it comes out of the blue. But there is another way of experiencing desire which is also healthy and normal, called “responsive desire”, where your interest only emerges in response to arousal. So, your partner comes over and starts kissing your neck and you’re like, “oh, right, sex, that’s a good idea”.
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