Years ago, I read a study explaining that men and women perceive desire differently. At the time, it was just another academic paper I was required to read, and I doubted there was any real-world applicability. But today I became painfully aware of its relevance.
About a month ago, I had breast surgery. It traumatized my areolas and nipples. Sensation and function have been improving over recent weeks, then today I suddenly felt sharp pain in both nipples. No idea why. It happened when my husband and I were sitting in bed watching House Hunters. A few minutes later, it happened again but worse. I jumped out of bed cupping my breasts, and went into to the bathroom. My husband followed to see what was wrong. I turned to look at him. BAM! It happened a third time. I then understood that it was happening because I looked at my husband! He didn’t have a shirt on, and his chest was still wet from his recent shower. I wasn’t perceiving anything sexual about the situation, and I wasn’t feeling sexual desire. But apparently my nipples were!
Women are assumed to be more in-touch with their psyche than men are, but when it comes to being aware of sexual desire, men have the advantage.
In Psych 101, we learn the difference between the conscious mind and the subconscious mind. Conscious thoughts are those we are aware of. Subconscious thoughts occur below the surface—thoughts to which the conscious mind doesn’t have access. One cannot claim to be aware of their subconsciousness. If he were aware of his subconscious thoughts, then those thoughts couldn’t be labeled as “subconscious”. An example of subconscious thought is when driving a car. I don’t make every conscious decision about where to put my feet and hands while controlling the pedals and steering wheel. My subconscious mind controls those things without me noticing it, so my conscious mind can focus on what I’m going to buy when I get to Nordstrom.
My nipples demonstrated that my subconscious mind developed desire before my consciousness was aware of it. My conscious mind didn’t feel sexual desire toward my husband, but my subconscious did, then my subconsciousness made my body react. Only after having the physical reaction, did my conscious mind became aware of the physical reaction. This sequence has likely been happening my entire adult life, but I wasn’t aware of it until now. Over the years, how many times have my nipples been slightly hard or my vagina been a little wet without me noticing? Not until the physical reaction was painful, did I take notice. — After the next twinge, I made my husband put a shirt on and “stop acting sexy”. He laughed at me like I was nuts.
For men, their sexual-desire sequence is in the expected order: a stimulus leads to a conscious awareness of sexual desire which then causes a physical reaction.
He looks at her body, then
he CONSCIOUSLY gets turned on, then
his body reacts.
She looks at his body, then
she SUBCONSCIOUSLY gets turned on, then
her body reacts, then
she becomes CONSCIOUSLY aware of her desire.
So what’s the relevance of this gender difference?
Knowing that a woman’s conscious desire for sex follows her subconscious desire, it’s possible that going through the motions can result in her wanting to have sex. When my husband says, “Want to have sex?”, I may think, “I have no objection to sex, and it seems like a pleasant idea, so ’yes.’” We have some foreplay, THEN I start to want sex.
Let me be clear that no one should acquiesce to sex if it’s contrary to their conscious will. Even if my subconscious mind and body say “yes”, my conscious mind can so “no”. Being turned on doesn’t automatically mean I want sex. It may mean that I’ll want it soon, but you’ll have to wait until I (and I mean my conscious I) am ready for it.
The take-home message is for women who lack sexual desire. Your body may be feeling desire, but your mind may not be listening well enough. This is why I encourage women to sometimes just make the decision to have sex even when not consciously feeling sexual desire. Almost every time I start having sex, I then WANT sex, then I want MORE sex.
Let my pain be a lesson to you.