In my post on the difference between enthusiastic consent and explicit consent, I mentioned that in long term relationships, people sometimes have motivations for sex other than libido. People have sex to build intimacy, try to get pregnant, release stress, for relationship maintenance… There are a ton of reasons to get up close and personal with someone’s body to try to make them feel good that aren’t the wildly enthusiastic abandon that is spontaneous physical arousal.
Sometimes couples have one-sided “shrug” sex. What is that, you might ask? It’s where one person in a relationship is really turned on and wants to have sex, and when they ask their partner if sex is on the table, their partner shrugs and says “sure”. They aren’t turned on, they weren’t looking to have sex, but they aren’t opposed to the idea of having sex.
When this happens in my relationships, I will sometimes use the word “seducible” to describe myself. As in, “I’m not turned on right now, but if you get my body on board by physically seducing me, I could be interested in having sex.” I’m seducible.
People certainly can have sex when they aren’t physically aroused, but it’s way less enjoyable or safe, depending on what kinds of activities you’re calling sex.
Anything that involves penetrating a vagina will be more comfortable and less risky when that vagina is aroused. An aroused vagina will often be lubricated from secretions from the Bartholin’s glands.
An aroused vagina will also be deeper, wider, and more flexible than a non-aroused vagina. All of these contribute to more comfortable sex, and also reduce the risk of labial tears and a bruised cervix (ouch!).
Anything that involves penetrating someone else with a penis will be more feasible if that penis is hard. Not all sex with penises needs to involve vigorous penetration, but if the person with a penis
isn’t aroused, it will be more difficult to penetrate any orifice that squeezes tightly (vag/butts).
As a person with a fairly low libido, I rarely feel spontaneous arousal. Most of my partners have a higher libido than I do, and I’ve frequently felt the gatekeeper of sexual activity in my partnerships.
That feeling comes from the sex negative culture that we live in. Have you ever heard “not tonight – I have a headache” used as a punchline? It’s because comedies use the dynamic of a horndog man and his unaroused woman partner as a frequent joke – he is already turned on when he gets to bed, and she just wants to go to sleep. He’ll usually try to initiate intercourse right away, or kiss her neck a few times and then go for her underwear. She’s clearly unaroused and begs off sex by claiming a headache.
That dynamic used as comedy creates a culture in which men do the asking and women have to subject themselves to something unpleasant, or forbid their partner from experiencing pleasure in that moment.
It sets women up to be the gatekeepers of sex, which is an unhealthy position for any person in an equal partnership to be. They are responsible to allow or forbid sex from occurring, which builds resentment. And I’m not saying that a person not wanting have sex with their partner will make their partner resent them – rather, partners with lower libidos resent their partners for forcing them into the tough position of disappointing them, but genuinely not wanting sex in the way that it’s presented to them: as a “let’s have sex right now” option.
I’m usually not *opposed* to having sex on any given evening, but I’m also not raring to go. “Do you want to have sex?” my partner may ask, so I’ll respond, “I might be seducible.” It’s not a yes, because
nope, I don’t want to have sex – yet. It’s not a no, because I’m open to the idea of sex happening.
When I tell my partner that I’m seducible, I’m letting them know that in theory, sex sounds nice or fun or fine, but that my body isn’t aroused. As a cisgender woman, it takes me on average 20 minutes
from initiation of sexual activities until I’ve reached the point where my body is aroused enough for penetrative intercourse. My partner needs to spend some time seducing me: kissing me, touching my body, massaging my back or butt… After we make out and roll
around for a while, only then do I really make my decision.
“Yes!” I might say. “Yes, I’m turned on, and now I totally want to have sex!” or “No! Making out with you is fun, but I still don’t think I want to have intercourse tonight.”
It’s a scary thing to say sometimes: thanks for trying, I appreciate the effort, but I’m still not interested in having sex with you. It feels like letting my partner down. But I rarely get to this point with anyone that I don’t explicitly trust to honor my decision, and to celebrate my setting a boundary. When I say, “no thanks,” even after giving it the good ol’ college try, they know that I value the sexual connection that we sometimes share but that my body isn’t on board for those activities tonight. They then have the choice to cool down, or masturbate, or put something else sexy on the table. (“Would you mind going down on me?” or “Can I jerk off on you?”)
Communicating that I’m seducible reminds my partner that I’m not uninterested in sex as a concept, but that getting to a state of physical arousal isn’t a quick move for me. I need some more time and care put into seeing if I’m actually interested in having sex. It takes a little more effort but is worth that effort because my partner sees that I am genuinely motivated to maintain a sexual connection with them, even if my low arousal makes it look, at a cursory glance, like I’m not attracted to or interested in my partners.
If you’re a person with low arousal and you have a partner with a more active libido than you, try seeing if you’re seducible. It might be that with some sexual physical contact your sexy bits get with
If you have a partner with low arousal and you usually just ask if they want to have sex and then give up, try spending a good chunk of time (like, more than 20 minutes) just making out and groping each other. See if they just need some extra time to warm up.
I am NOT saying that you should try and force an uninterested partner to get aroused by physically stimulating their body until their genitals react. This is a method only to be used if the partner
with the low libido wants sex in theory, but just can’t always get their body on board (because remember – unaroused vaginas and penises have less enjoyable sex). Communicate clearly and explicitly what you mean when you talk about seduction – does your partner want to make out, or receive oral sex, or something in between? How long do they want to try before they decide if they’re turned on or not? Will they feel like they’ve failed you if they still aren’t turned on after you’ve massaged them for 20 minutes?
Explicit consent is your friend in this situation. Make sure you’re both (or all) very clear about what you consent to, enthusiastically or not.
Seduction is a great way to try and balance out a mismatch in arousal – the partner with the higher libido gets to rub all up on their sexy loved one, and to make excited aroused noises. Grr! The partner with the lower libido gets some time to experience sexual stimuli, to see if their body will respond to different kinds of sensations or experiences, and to take a longer period of time to decide if they actually don’t want to have sex, or if they’re just panicked at the idea of having intercourse with a set of unaroused or uncomfortable genitals.
Communicate clearly and try to seduce your partner today!