Myth-busting Monday: Sex is a drive.
When we refer to sex as a drive, it implies that the act is critical to survival. Hunger, thirst, sleep, thermoregulation are drives1, as these are critical to survival. I suspect human connection is a drive too2.
Sex, on the other hand, is not a drive; instead it is an internal motivation system1 that pulls you toward an incentive or reward. It might assist you in thriving or meeting a desire. But, as Frank Beach said, “No one has ever suffered tissue damage from lack of sex”1, i.e. you won’t die from lack of sex.
Calling sex a drive unnecessarily pathologizes people with low desire1,3, and having low sexual desire is normal for some people as an orientation, during a period of their life, or within the dynamics of a relationship. Further, conceptualizing sex as a drive lends itself to a sense of entitlement around sexuality, and this sense of entitlement is deeply problematic.
“It seems to me that if you believe your erection means you have a ‘basic survival need’, then the sex-as-drive mything – combined with long-standing cultural attitudes that women aren’t allow the same sexual agency as men – turns toxic, fast”1
In other words, the terminology of sex as a drive perpetuates rape culture.
Sexual desire might feel like a drive, but those feelings don’t make it an actual drive. Those are feelings about your feelings1. For example, you feel frustrated that you haven’t been able to engage with someone sexually, for instance. Discomfort is a great learning experience, but it doesn’t make a certain behavior a “drive”.
How would our culture change if we recognized sex as a motivation system rather than a biological, survival need? Would we be less tolerant of certain entitled behaviors around sexuality? Teach more consent and coping-with-discomfort skills? How does reframing sex as a motivation system change the way you conceptualize your own lived experiences?
If considering your own experience is challenging or painful, please seek the assistance of a trained sexual health professional (counselor or therapist).
To move us all forward, if the self and collective work feels too daunting, at the very least, let’s refrain from calling sex a drive – it is a want, not an entitlement, not a survival criteria, not a need.
Happy myth-busting, community. Wishing you all hands-at-your-back and fire-at-your-feet as we work to change our culture from sex and body negative to informed, body-diverse, and sex-positivity empowered.
Resources and additional considerations:
- Nagoski, E. Come As You Are (this is one of my favorite books on sexuality; if you haven’t read it, please do)
- Studies show how critical social connection, touch, and belonging are to survival. For more info see Vivek Murray’s book Together and studies regarding survival of orphans when not touched, discussed here: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/born-love/201003/touching-empathy#:~:text=But%20touch%20is%20even%20more%20vital%20than%20this%3A,that%20orphanages%20are%20not%20suitable%20places%20for%20infants. And https://www.huffpost.com/entry/how-orphanages-kill-babie_b_549608 Maybe this is the conflation and confusion here – as adults, sex meets our basic need for touch and belonging. There are few other spaces and places where we can belong and be touched outside of our sexual relationships, and often, touch is sexualized. Separating touch from sex can be revelatory for adults, allowing for appreciation of the need under the want. I have also had clients that have ceased touching their partners or allowing touch from their partners altogether, as touch has a sexual expectation behind it in their relationship, which can close down authentic communication, navigation of consent, etc.
- See my posts on Low Desire here: http://ignitewell-being.com/low-desire-means-there-is-something-wrong-with-you/ and Responsive desire here: http://ignitewell-being.com/spontaneous-sex/ Women are more likely to be labeled as having low desire and their sexual desire itself tends to be responsive. In a culture that privileges a cis-gender man’s lived experience, low desire and/or responsive desire are seen as atypical or deviant and this pathologizes other people’s lived experiences as well as detracts from their sexual agency.
- The picture I chose for this piece is an image of bread. In the Christian tradition, bread is symbol for the body. Here, I use the picture as a allusion to body hunger and sex as a drive
The above content is written by Dr. Allison Mitch, PT (DPT), RYT500; sex-positive, trauma-informed sexuality counselor and educator (she/her/they); copyright protected, please cite accordingly. The picture is from Pexels4.
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