The human desire to have sex is often called the sex drive, or the libido.

Sigmund Freud first coined this term libido to mean “sexual and/or life urge or energy”- a feeling of need or want to engage in sexual activity.

Freud sex drive sex life libido accelerator brake emily nagoski

It’s often thought that our libido is a drive similar to thirst or hunger- a constant force that pushes us towards sexual gratification.

Although Freud did much to push forwards our understanding of sex and sexuality, naughty old Sigmund tended to think women and the way they worked was a bit bizarre, so much of his theory was built on men and male sexuality.

But more recently, we’ve discovered that desire (especially for women) might just be a bit more complicated than that!

A new normal….

Emily Nagoski (a fantastic scientist and feminist who actually likes women) came up with an alternative idea of how our sex drives work in her book “Come As You Are: the surprising science that will transform your sex life” (*affiliate link*).

In it, she talks about the “Dual Control Model”

Instead of our sex drives being in constant motion, she believes we have:

  1. a sexual accelerator (the things that turn us on) and 
  2. a sexual brake (the things that turn us off)

These two energies are in a constant state of flux, and becoming turned on means looking at the balance of how much brake and how much accelerator you have at any one time.

Increasing the accelerator and decreasing the brake makes it easier to become aroused, and visa versa.

We are all different in what makes us feel open to sex, and what closes us down. So finding out your own preferences and obstacles to desire is a really important part of owning your sexuality.

Interestingly, Nagoski thinks that women have much more sensitive brakes than men, meaning that for many women they face more barriers to getting turned on.

Knowing about the sexual brake and accelerator are as important to understand as the different sex drive models (read more about these here) to help you understand how you *actually* work (and to dispel some of the myths around desire).

If you’re all finished up here, why not check out the understanding desire series part three- the problem with “diagnosing” a low sex drive.