I don’t know what turns me on. What next?
August 26, 2017 2:23 AM   Subscribe

I enjoy sex when I get turned on enough, but have trouble getting turned on. I want my SO to woo me and help me get in the mood. But I have no idea what gets me in the mood and there doesn’t seem to be much consistency in what works for me. How can I get in touch with what turns me on?

My SO, bless them, has really tried. Date nights, massages, gifts, flowers, showering me with attention, giving me space, giving me time to unwind my own way, sexting, drawing a bath, etc. These are all really nice (except sexting, that’s definitely a turn-off) but 70% of the time these stop at “nice” and don’t really get my motor running. What’s especially frustrating to both of us is what worked one time won’t necessarily work again. So I end up frustrated because I don’t feel wooed in a way that turns me on, and my SO is frustrated because they’re trying hard but literally everything is hit or miss. I don't think it's a lack of physical foreplay - when I'm turned on the amount of foreplay is great, but I have trouble getting to the "feeling ready even for foreplay" stage.

I’ve read about “responsive desire” and that definitely describes me. But it doesn’t really help with my desire to be wooed, because my SO and I have no idea what I respond to!

Are there books / articles / something else that I can read/do to explore this, and find what gets me going?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (19 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

I'm assuming you're attracted to S.O., they have good/compatible skills in bed, and no medical maladies or emotional stressors are interfering with your desire.

Maybe it's more cerebral or physical than you think. Most of what you list here is Hollywood romance, acts of service... aka kind, routine and selfless giving. BORING!

What if you're turned on by other things? Could be: Novelty. Cruelty. Surprise. A certain look or turn of phrase. Watching yourself be desired. Being naughty. Being the boss. Giving up power. Fantasy. Roleplay. Extreme sensations. Extreme feelings. Adventure. Feeling dangerous. Feeling threatened. Free-wheeling conversation. Laser sharp or really diffuse focus. Unusual mental states. Pain. Loss of control. Getting out of your head. Denial. Ignoring. Having to work for your pleasure. Humiliation. Roughness. Tenderness. No holds-barred energy exchange. Laughter! Brattiness! Boldness! Silliness! Games! Teasing! Providing. Being treated. Secrets. Openness. Anticipation. Seeing your S.O. be competent or admired. Going all in on a project, side by side...

The times where it works and where it doesn't – what are the emotional overtones? What's happening in the background? What's sexy to you?!

I believe there's a common thread here, if only you can find it!
posted by fritillary at 3:04 AM on August 26, 2017 [43 favorites]


*come as you are* is consistently recommended for a reason- it's really good and the first step I'd take if I were you.

There's two main avenues Id explore if I was a doctor/psychologist of some kind looking at the problem presented (Im not) -physical and mental.

You didn't really talk much about either, so I'm left making some guesses.

If it is medically/biologically based, the first questions aside from basic health are "what medications are you on" and possibly "have you ever had your hormone and vitamin levels checked?"

Both can wreak havoc on desire.

Second, psychological. You didn't mention any traumas or unusual circumstances, so for Askmeta purposes I'm assuming none exist. You did, however, mention very few things overtly sexual (just sexting) and a lot of things I'd label Romantic.

How comfortable are you with your body? How comfortable are you with sexual things in general? How comfortable are you having mature conversation about sex outside the bedroom?

Please don't force yourself to do anything that sounds upsetting or painful (consent is important!) but have you experimented at all with skipping the romantic woo-ing and jumping straight to foreplay or even outright sexual things?

Have you tried being the initiatior, or submissive? Do you have any fantasies you've thought about a few times? Would being gently pushed against a wall and having your neck nuzzled and nipped be exciting? Hair pulling? Spankings? Costumes? Masks? The world of bedroom adventures is vast and there is generally something for everyone, no matter how unusual.

Coming (heh) from the kink world, a BDSM checklist is a good way to find activities ranging from "looks fun" to "do people really do that??" to "horrific, not sexy, 100% hard No, never!"

Some last ditch ideas are you aren't attracted to your partner, you and your partner can't figure out how to connect sexually, you and or your partner are doing something in bed that just isn't working (no mention of orgasms for example) or even that your partner is of the "wrong" gender (for purposes of your sexuality, that is; there are very very few things inherently wrong in the world of sex)

But mainly, I'd say experiment and explore. Being wooed isn't really working much, sounds like.

And as always, a good therapist and or couple's councillor can work wonders.
posted by Jacen at 4:23 AM on August 26, 2017 [2 favorites]

There are probably worse ideas than to have a read through some random stories on Literotica and see if anything strikes you. Writing quality is variable but there's everything from gentle romance to heavy kink there.
posted by corvine at 6:16 AM on August 26, 2017 [2 favorites]

What turns you OFF? Figure that out and stop doing it.
posted by hyperion at 6:30 AM on August 26, 2017 [1 favorite]

It's possible you have undiscovered kinks, but like. What if your turn-ons are kindness, attention, romantic gifts, and acts of service, and those are the things that will put you in the mood if anything does — but you also sometimes like to receive them just because, with no pressure to put out afterwards?

Because honestly, nobody has a 100% reliable turn-on that will always put them in the mood every single time, even if they're super in touch with their body and their turn-ons. And people running on estrogen tend to be less reliable about that than people running on testosterone. And just about everyone, regardless of hormones, finds pressure-to-get-turned-on to be a turn-off. So the situation you're describing sounds super normal to me, and would be super normal even if your turn-ons were "bondage" or "werewolf porn" or "thinking about clowns farting" or whatever. Part of life in a long-term relationship is learning to stop looking at the massages that don't "go anywhere" as Failed Massages (or the bondage scenes that end in giggles and "welp, we'll try again another time" instead of orgasms as Failed Scenes) and start looking at them as nice moments you share together.

Or, I mean, let me put it another way: If your 70% figure is accurate, and the deal is "to have good sex a few times a month, set aside time for a couple low-key low-pressure dates, a couple hot baths, a nice lazy snuggly backrub or two, maybe he brings back flowers once when it's his turn to get groceries, and he brings you coffee in bed sometimes on the weekends" — is that so terrible?
posted by nebulawindphone at 6:33 AM on August 26, 2017 [7 favorites]

Though, like, please don't think I'm pooh-poohing the idea of exploring more — it's great, like actually mindblowingly life-changingly great, to learn about what works for you.

Just maybe recalibrate your expectations so that "this gets me going about one time in three" gets filed as "...so I guess that means it works for me pretty well" and not "...so I guess this isn't really my thing."
posted by nebulawindphone at 6:57 AM on August 26, 2017 [1 favorite]

What’s especially frustrating to both of us is what worked one time won’t necessarily work again. So I end up frustrated because I don’t feel wooed in a way that turns me on, and my SO is frustrated because they’re trying hard but literally everything is hit or miss.

Robots aren't sophisticated enough to write in for advice yet, so no, it wouldn't. it's very strange that your partner would expect it to, with you or with anyone. An enjoyment of variety and an interrupted routine is one of the most standard and ordinary sexual tastes there is or ever was, for all sexes and sexualities. You aren't one of those kids' toys where the operator has to follow an increasingly complex series of beeps and lights in the right order every time to win the game.

If you can kind of imagine the slate wiped clean and a fresh start, try to think about this as the wrong problem. don't try to figure out the answer to it, try to figure out the right question, and answer that one. I would start with: what turns you on when your partner isn't there? (I see what you said about "responsive desire," so I don't mean wait and see if it strikes you when you're busy making spreadsheets and analyze what's sexy about that, I mean imagine some people and situations and offer yourself some physical sensations to respond to, to go along with them. See how not only these particulars affect you, but how being alone to think about it affects you.) Having to wait around like a patient schoolteacher while your partner plays initially eager but increasingly frustrated bad student is definitely a sexual taste, but a very specific one and one that neither of you appears to have.

(like for example, is the pull of being "responsive" a physical practical necessity or is it the essential exciting idea? don't assume that just because e.g. you don't start thinking about sex until someone reminds you to, that that therefore means passive or responsive acts will be the most exciting ones.)
posted by queenofbithynia at 7:33 AM on August 26, 2017 [1 favorite]

Factors to consider:

How much sleep you have had. If you are fatigued nothing may work.

Where you are in your hormonal cycle, if you are female. In general, if you are female with a new partner or someone you are in love with you will be more likely to be aroused 14 days before your period starts, and if you are with an old partner or someone you are not experiencing a love high with you will be more likely to be aroused immediately after your period, or sometimes starting just before. (The first coincides with most fertile time; the second coincides with least fertile time.)

Try having a somewhat full bladder. The internal clitoral horns wrap around your bladder, so if it is full they will be getting some pressure from the inside.

Try turning off your verbal brain. Often a mental track can be distracting enough that it turns off the responsive animal of your body. This is one reason why many people like that joint or that drink, or that Enya/Kitaro tape in the background. Mindfulness or yoga or whatever works to get you into your body instead of your head might be fun to try.

This is for fun. There are no failures. Any time spent with beloved partner is good. Any time learning more about your body is good. You have to have 10,000 episodes of intimate physical self-knowledge to become an virtuoso. Therefore the sooner you get started on the 10,000 episodes of intimate physical self-knowledge the sooner you will develop the understanding necessary to instinctively know what to touch where, to do whatever you want to whenever you want to.

It is very possible to be in a state of physical intimacy overload, if say, you are nursing a baby. At that point skin-to-skin is not going to work.

Consider what books you like to read or what type of movies you like to watch and what kind of scenes work for you. Consider what books/movies annoy you and make you skip pages or want to fast forward. Clues may be gained there.

Try acting out arousal, obviously with your partners fore-knowledge and feedback. Sometimes that can provide clues also. For example you might find yourself grinding in a particular way that seems absurd at a particular point, or flopping over drunkenly into his arms declaring theatrically, "Kiss me, My Angel! Ravish me with your kisses!!" Even if you both break up into giggles, it's all good fun, and can provide information as to what type of sensation you would like. It also can help with the trust/inhibition that can be holding you back.

Figure out what you need to enjoy sex even if you don't get turned on. Let's say the two of you spend a lazy Saturday morning having sex in bed and you don't get turned on. What would make you consider that a morning well spent even if you didn't get turned on? Make sure those conditions are met. This may mean adding non-sex elements to the Saturday morning in bed, like brunch, or cartoons, or him painting your toenails, or you getting to read him your poetry, or you getting to hear his poetry, or whatever, but make sure those conditions are met so that you both continue to look forward to having sex, whether or not your get turned on.
posted by Jane the Brown at 7:47 AM on August 26, 2017 [4 favorites]

How can I get in touch with what turns me on?

Rather than spend time when you're not horny worrying about how to get horny, could you perhaps consider making notes - actual written ones, in a little notebook, with a pencil - as soon after sex as you can, about what was going on in your day and your mind before it got started?
posted by flabdablet at 8:05 AM on August 26, 2017

Do you masturbate? If so, what do you think about to get turned on in that process? There might be some clues there.
posted by under_petticoat_rule at 8:16 AM on August 26, 2017 [3 favorites]

This might be a crude suggestion, after all it is called This Week in Jackin', but it might help you explore different things that arouse you. It is hosted by a male and female comedian and they interview their guests about what gets them going. They have a fair number of female guests and their interests range from the bog standard to very niche and specialized. I can't seem to find good episode descriptions save for in iTunes so you might want to read some of the summaries and download the ones that are interesting. At the very least you might get a good laugh out of it.
posted by mmascolino at 8:23 AM on August 26, 2017 [1 favorite]

There's a part in the book Driven to Distraction by Edward Hallowell (I am 99% sure that's the right book!) where a woman with ADHD describes this very problem and how it improved once she got treatment. I'm not saying that you have ADHD necessarily, just that you are not alone.
posted by corey flood at 9:55 AM on August 26, 2017 [3 favorites]

This may sound silly, but if you have any particular celebrity crushes, you might try heading on over to AO3 to read some smutty (tagged "Explicit") fanfic about the characters they play. The quality varies widely (I'd try looking for stories with high numbers of "kudos," which are basically "likes"), but the range of activities described is vaaaaaaast and most of it is written by women, for women, so tends to be a little more interesting for women than what you get in porn written for dudes.

Now. You may not actually want, in real life, to have sex with Captain America while riding a motorcycle and being shot at. But (a) you may be able to find some ideas that turn you on and that you might actually want to do; (b) it's no-pressure and you can explore all you want til you find something that works and thereby reassure yourself that your libido is still in there; and (c) you're allowed (sorry if you already realize this, but some people don't) to indulge in a fantasy that gets your motor running while you're warming up with your own partner, and that exploration should help you find some. People telling you to get your hormones checked, etc., aren't wrong, but if the body isn't specifically blocking you, the brain is the most important erotic zone.
posted by praemunire at 11:02 AM on August 26, 2017 [3 favorites]

The one thing that's really clear is your desire to be wooed. But you and your SO are approaching this as a real-life desire, not a fantasy:

Date nights, massages, gifts, flowers, showering me with attention, giving me space, giving me time to unwind my own way, ... drawing a bath, etc. These are all really nice ... but 70% of the time these stop at “nice” and don’t really get my motor running.

What if wooing is a fetish/kink/roleplay scenario? What would that look like? A mutual kink, of course: something that person's SO winds up excited by, the same way people with SOs into BDSM cultivate a taste for the reciprocal role -- even if part of the game is to pretend you're not excited. Also, as in many fantasies, it might be hotter if the two SOs pretend they are not (yet) SOs.

Experiment with that in your head. Imagine a man who wants to play the Wooer in this fantasy role-play scenario. How might he enjoy demonstrating the extravagance of his desire for a female Crush?

Perhaps the Wooer wants to act out a fantasy in which he kidnaps his fantasy object of desire, and holds her captive in a very polite way, e.g. tie Object of Desire to a velvet chair and feed her chocolates while murmuring into her ear his best imitation of Rudolf Valentino. Or perhaps he wants to show her photographs he took during Real Life, of how gorgeous she is, and to explain this in detail.

Perhaps the Wooer wants to propose marriage/hijinks, on bended knee, for N minutes? Success determined by roll of die. The Crush/Desired Fiancée chooses winning numbers: number of winning numbers must be >0, but also less than 6.

Often, fantasy roleplaying isn't a trick to 'get you in the mood' -- it's the main course, so you'll want a scenario that incorporates both parties' desires -- if only as a possibility. So maybe some dice-rolling-outcomes include a blow-job from the Crush, even if the person who plays the Crush isn't super-duper turned-on, but just pretending to have been swayed -- because that's all part of the game. Or not! Choose your own adventure!
posted by feral_goldfish at 1:08 PM on August 26, 2017

Would you be open to smoking a little weed beforehand? I've lost most of my libido due to hormonal changes from menopause. I can't take hormone replacements. A little pre-coital joint has been a real game changer for me.
posted by marsha56 at 3:42 PM on August 26, 2017 [2 favorites]

Not sure if you are a woman, but if you are, I highly recommend reading and doing the exercises in Come As you Are by Emily Nagoski
posted by nuclear_soup at 6:15 PM on August 26, 2017

Also, in no way connected to the site, and it does cost money, but if what you'd like to do is explore specific physical techniques, the site OMGYes.com can be really helpful. It has short (3-5m) interviews with various real women describing specific types of touch they like, and then an interactive picture of a vulva to practice on. It's pretty cool.
posted by eglenner at 7:02 PM on August 26, 2017

Exercise can help increase libido (because, endorphins, blood flow, smidge of testosterone if you lift), worth adding that in if it's not already there.
posted by cotton dress sock at 7:50 AM on August 27, 2017

Do you want your SO to help you get in the mood, or do you want your SO to get you in the mood? That is, how much are you taking responsibility for your own arousal?

A lot of cultural messages say that lust is supposed to come from something your partner does (especially if you are a woman). There's also a huge value placed on sexual spontaneity, and on a dynamic in which one partner passively receives desire. For a lot of people who grow up hearing these messages, it doesn't necessarily feel "right" to plan to have sex, let alone to plan to get aroused beforehand.

The thing is, movies, TV, books etc. are kind of terrible models for sex and relationships, in some ways. If you are looking for a way that your partner can reliably arouse you, the way it happens onscreen, you might be waiting a long time or forever. So.

Two "unsexy" options that may be hard to get used to, but which might be more rewarding if they lead to more fun sex:

1) lowering your threshold for "feeling ready for foreplay." The saying that "action precedes motivation" can apply to getting some action, too. I'm not saying that you need to force yourself to have sex you don't enjoy, or fake it, but reminding yourself that "hey, I tend to enjoy myself once things get going, so let's give this a shot" can be useful. Can you kiss without being turned on? Enjoy touching skin? Can you just make out for a while, or a long while, until you're in the mood for more? Starting to be sexual before you're turned on might be one of those things that's "not how it's supposed to be" things that's better than the situation you're in now.

2) Can you get aroused all by yourself? This is something you can practice. You can make a choice to try to be sexual with yourself, even before you're feeling spontaneously inclined to do so. For example, you could lie down in your bed and fantasize, and see if any ideas come up that you are inclined to follow. Maybe an idea that turns you on one time won't work the next, but if you're by yourself and not on a timeline, you have less pressure to get aroused. You could also consume the erotic media of your choice - this could be anything from a song that makes you feel turned on, to hardcore pornography, or anything in the vast range in between these. There's a huge range of erotic stories you could check out, too, or dirty tumblrs, etc. A lot of erotic material will undoubtedly turn you off, but if you're patient and curious, you may find some that work for you. Another option is to start touching your body, patiently, and see if you can bring yourself into a state of being turned on. As with sex, masturbation doesn't have to follow arousal; it can provoke it, too.

If you know how to get yourself turned on, and understand that arousal can take a while and might not respond well to pressure, you can then bring that feeling of desire to a more mutually-responsible encounter with your SO. I empathize with your desire to be wooed, but in some sense, I think it's unrealistic to expect someone else to make you want to want sex. It's also unfair - and I'm not criticizing you, here: it's a dominant narrative we live within. However, if you can get in the mood by yourself at least some of the time, then you're likelier to be receptive to your partner's advances, and they will probably enjoy wooing more if you can let them know when you're feeling particularly receptive.

If you get yourself aroused and your partner isn't in the mood, you have to be prepared to either satisfy yourself, or accept doing something else, rather than getting sad or angry at being turned down. To be fair, this seems to be the situation your partner is currently in. If you're used to being the pursued, not the pursuer, it can be really hard to get turned down when you make the effort (and if that turns out to be the case, the internet can help you with that problem, too).

Alternately, you can schedule sex, and include time to get aroused before that in your planning. No, this isn't spontaneous and romantic in the way that we're told sex is supposed to be. But if can be fun, and gratifying. And what's especially nice is that sex can lead to the desire for more sex: remembering recent hot experiences can be part of what responsive desire can respond to. Planned sex might lead to more spontaneous sex. But even if it doesn't, planned sex can be pretty darn nice, too.

TL; DR: practice getting turned on without getting wooed
posted by Edna Million at 6:05 PM on August 29, 2017 [2 favorites]

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